Day 12

Another Saturday of digging and everything ticking over nicely. A new group of people have joined our number, although we lose Chrissy (champion cake baker) to the Orkneys for a week. Alice, the Roman pot specialist, is in today and we eagerly thrust pottery in her direction. Luckily she is pleased with our pots. We have a lot of wasters (in pottery terms rather than in our digging team) meaning that we have pottery production on the site and the bits that the potters messed up in the kiln are turning up in the trenches. So the kilns can’t be that far away. We always knew that there were early Roman kilns on the site but it’s likely that pottery production continues into the late Roman period, which is pretty exciting if you don’t get out much.

Trench 1, with Giles and Mick and their crew, is resolutely refusing to produce the large circular feature that was apparent on the geophysics, which is a bit unfortunate as it calls into question the director’s “big prehistoric settlement” theory. He will doubtless modify it to suit the new circumstances and spout about “the importance of testing hypotheses” while trying to think of a way to get Boudica into the revised theory. There are, however, what seem to be Neolithic or Bronze Age features, which is certainly worth the price of admission.

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Giles instructs his followers in the ways of the context sheet.

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Troweling studies, overseen by Obi Wan Boyle.

Mr Haddock, the grid peg man, comes up with the goods on the steel peg front, allowing some grid lay-out action on trench 2, using the last of the exciting yellow mushrooms purchased to prevent grid peg related injuries.

In the church trench the last of the fascinating large roof tile dump is removed, which presumably relates to the creation of the church’s current slate roof. The position of the tile dump suggests that the roofers simply chucked the tile off the roof and left it there. Why the vicar did not complain about the 3 ft deep layer of roof tile surrounding his church is not recorded. The slow-worm has not been seen again and so we are unable to provide a photograph. However, we have come across this informative artist’s impression of a slow-worm and hope this will serve as an acceptable substitute.

Today’s sword sales: poor.

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An artist’s impression of the Caistor slow-worm.

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Day 11

Another day of serious wind, although the marquee stays firmly rooted. Sadly we lose members of our week 1 team (Alan, Carole, Neville, Pam, Jenny, Linda, Wendy) although some will return at later stages. Tomorrow we will get some bright and happy new faces, ready for the joy of discovery (or scraping some exciting layers of gravel) and for selling high quality Caistor merchandise to an expectant public.

Trench 1 is now revealing some very nice features and final cleaning takes place to allow excavation to start on them tomorrow. The flint count is steadily rising, and it seems as if we are going to be in prehistory with a vengeance, although the director is still hoping for the late Iron Age, which will allow him to make spurious claims about Boudica. John Davies arrives with more copies of his “Land of Boudica” book, which has been flying off the table, evidence that Boudica is good for shifting product. The Caistor publication will therefore feature a warrior princess on the cover, plus chariots and flames, although it is possible that the punters will want a refund when they discover a lithics report inside.

Trench 2 is producing significant quantities of late Roman material and some lovely pits (only archaeologists can really talk about lovely pits) but the church trench is still winning hands-down on the quantities of Roman pottery coming out. Who knew that digging a septic tank could be so exciting? Plus we sold another 4 swords. So a good result all round.

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A lovely pit.

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Dave B models a high quality plastic sword. Every home should have one.

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Day 10

This is the windiest day of the season. The director has coincidentally decided to be absent leaving Hazel and Dave to try and hold the marquee down with the addition of extra straps. “Hmm, not much I can do from here”, says the director helpfully, speaking on the phone from his house 130 miles away.

On the archaeology front, trench 1 is cleaning up nicely and features are starting to emerge, including pits and ditches, and it seems possible that we may find our prehistoric settlement after all, although the nice round thing that we saw on the geophysics is looking increasingly geological, although we reserve the right to alter the story on that on a daily basis.

The church trench is also progressing and most of the area affected by the new toilet/kitchen is taken up by a huge dump of medieval peg tiles, probably resulting from a re-roofing of the church. This looks like it could be good news for the construction of the toilet although there is still some way to go. The other church trench, however, is full of (unstratified) Roman pot, including some nice colour-coated ware (Poundstretcher Samian as John P. refers to it).

It’s a pretty poor day on the weather front with frequent downpours, which will hopefully soften the ground somewhat. We also get a coroner’s license for the removal of human remains, given the presence of the skull in trench 2. Whether the skull has an accompanying body is as yet unclear. However, finds in the surrounding fill clearly suggest that it is Roman, making it a rare find in these parts.

Tomorrow Mr Haddock will arrive with grid pegs. There’s always something to look forward to at Caistor.

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Formation troweling in trench 1.

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John P expounds wisely on piece of tile number 923. Sophie is obviously impressed.

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Day 9

After a wild and wet night, the campers awake to find the marquee surprisingly remains intact. The last day of machining and we wave Bob off into the sunset, before the team return to troweling trench 1. The circular thing that was apparent on the geophysics is gradually becoming visible, although the jury remains out on whether it is a natural or man-made feature. This is the problem with geophysics – it makes for a great story until you start digging it up. Trench 2, however, is looking quite gripping. As the last of the subsoil is removed by the team, the features show up clearly including some nice pits. Two of these contain pieces of the same broken pottery vessel, indicating that they are contemporary. This is the sort of thing that gives archaeologists a feeling of warmth and satisfaction, although you might argue that they should get out more.

Following the Mesolithic axe from the topsoil, trench 1 is revealing some nice lithics (i.e. bits of struck flint). Some of these are very fresh, so it is possible that we are close to an important Mesolithic site. Peter Robbins, Norfolk’s chief lithics man, will thankfully arrive on Sunday and give us his opinion.

Most importantly, Chrissy brings more cake and several gladiator key rings are sold. Hottest ticket on the souvenir stand, however, is John Davies’s Land of Boudica, showing that the warrior queen is still good box office. The connection between Boudica and Caistor remains tenuous, although this does not stop the director mentioning the “B word” every time he is within earshot of the press.

More pictures to follow tomorrow. Hopefully, they will not show the marquee scattered across the field, but the forecast is not looking clever.

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Day 8

Day 8 dawns bright and cheerful, despite dire predictions of rain from Rob McElwee on the BBC (who I suspect exaggerates the severity of the weather to improve his viewer ratings). The JCB is back from its bank holiday break with Dave the driver being replaced by Bob the driver. We commence stripping again, cleaning and metal detecting as we go down. We are working in a grid of 2.5 m squares to get spatial distribution in the topsoil finds, which in most excavations tend to be discarded. Bob looks on in puzzlement at what must look like unnecessary faffing about, but this means that a cracking Mesolithic flint axe head from the topsoil can be securely placed. This is definitely the best find so far, although several thousand years earlier than what we are expected. Once again the finder is Mick, who regular readers may recall pulled the Roman melon bead out of the sheep dung on day 1. Dave L continues with the detecting (among his many other tasks), while Hazel L. (without whom the whole dig would collapse) gets stuck into organising the finds. We are visited by the Mike Dixon from A Plant and Philip Fellowes-Prynne from May Gurney, who have supplied the shiny spades and barrows that are the envy of the professional archaeologists who are supervising the trenches.

Trench 2 is also showing some very nice archaeology, with pits and gullies appearing. They are quite difficult to see, and some of our volunteers express initial doubts as to their existence. They wonder why we are not getting finds as nice as those donated by Margaret How, who gives us a wonderful collection of material dredged out of the Tas in the 60s, including stamped bases of Samian bowls (the lovely shiny red pottery that the Romans made in Gaul). We will use this material for future displays.

The church trench diggers keep themselves to themselves, closeted away in the graveyard. Chief discovery from there seems to be bucket loads of medieval peg tile, which must represent an earlier phase of the church roof. Quantities of Roman pot from the septic tank trench, suggest that major Roman deposits may lie below. We live in hope!

Another 100+ visitors today, although plastic sword sales remain low.

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Mesolithic axe from trench 1.

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Day 7

Bank Holiday Monday and the eager hordes come to Caistor. Over the course of the 3 day weekend we have had more than 500 visitors, and a number of gladiator key-rings have been sold. In terms of archaeology, trench 1 is producing lots of nice flints and there is an impression of early prehistoric activity down on the river terrace. The director, however, wants the Iron Age and Roman periods and is heard muttering dismissively about “rocks”. It is quite difficult archaeology but a story is emerging. In trench 2, good cut features are emerging and this is looking more like the sort of thing that we put in the brochure.

The church trench is also shaping up, although there have been no further sightings of the elusive slow-worm. Under the instructions of Mickey Finn the ecologist, we use a finds tray to construct a slow-worm hangout in the corner of the trench, so slow-worms who blunder in can hide from marauding birds. We hope to photograph the slow-worm soon so we can share it with you.

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Action at the church trench with Sophie (Notts student) getting valuable educational experience with mattock.

A number of our visitors were metal detectorists, and we have had a few curious visits from strange white vans. If any night-hawks are reading this, we can assure them that the field has been thoroughly pillaged in the past, although if they are interested in iron nails then this is definitely the place to come. We are detecting the trenches constantly and all metal finds are lifted so there will be poor pickings for illegal detectorists.

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Mick thrills to the discovery of iron nail number 293.

Tomorrow, the machine returns and we can get on with the important task of making the big trench bigger and hopefully slightly more comprehensible than it is at present. Otherwise it will definitely be ritual.

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Day 6

Day 6 is the Sunday of the Bank Holiday weekend, but the stalwart diggers of the Caistor Project are hard at it. Trench 2 has some visible features that surprisingly appear to reflect the geophysics. Of particular interest is what appears to be a human skull in a very fragmentary condition sitting in a possible linear feature. This is pretty exciting as human remains of the prehistoric and Roman periods are very scarce in Norfolk. To have a separate human skull cast into a ditch or gully hints at some fairly interesting activity in the past. Incomprehensible past activity is normally explained by archaeologists as “ritual” and at present the skull seems to fall into this category. The director, mindful of his media profile, inquires hopefully after signs of cannibalism, although sadly there is no indication of this so far.

Trench 1 has revealed what appears to be an extensive cobbled surface. Frequent struck flints are also found and the positions of these are plotted accurately in case their distribution proves significant. It’s hard going but looking good.

The church trenches are also started and significant quantities of Roman pot are found in the area where the Church is hoping to put the septic tank for the new toilet. Find of the day, however, is a rather surprised slow-worm, which pops up in the trench. The church ecologist, Mickey Finn, suggests that we build a slow-worm refuge, given that they are an endangered species, so a slow-worm des-res will be duly constructed.

Big thanks to Caistor Hall Hotel who let the campers who are maintaining a 24 hour presence use their showers. The Caistor Hall Hotel has an excellent restaurant and bar menu and we strongly advise readers of the blog to partake. Say the Caistor Roman Project sent you and maybe they will let us use the showers again.

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Excavation in trench 2 with the skull in the foreground.

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