Thursday, June 19, 2008

What we found in Trench 001

Last time we promised (possibly threatened) to fill you in on our discoveries/finds and otherwise at the High Gate Lane excavation on the 31st of May 2008 (as opposed to just posting a number of pointlessly captioned photographs like we did in the previous article).
And, no doubt, some of you have already been following our excavation exploits over at the forum. However, working on the assumption that most of our readers can’t be bothered clicking the link in the right hand column (well…it’s hard work on the index finger) it’s time for a recap (albeit pracied considerably) here at the ‘main board’.
First up, then, our ‘Small Finds’ scan:

One: An old rusted mudguard. (Definitely not Roman. Probably off a kid’s bike or a ladies’ shopper, if the length’s anything by which to judge.)
Two: A flat piece of bone. (Most likely a cow’s rib buried by Mick Sanderson’s overenthusiastic dog.)

Three: Now this one’s a bit unusual. It’s a lump of ironstone. Not the sort of thing you’d expect to find occurring naturally in soil. Ironstones were often placed into graves in prehistoric times to act as protection from evil spirits. Perhaps that wasn’t a cow’s rib after all then. Ah well, it’s too late to call the police in now.)
Four: A shard of brown pottery glazed on both sides. Looks like it might have once belonged to a teapot.
Five: Two bits of coal. (Not enough to sink a mineshaft and follow the seam it must be said.)
Six: Several bits of broken blue and white pottery. The drawing of the bird on one fragment tends to suggest the plate was probably Willow Pattern…fitting really, considering it came up next to the Willows.
Seven: Some rusted bits of something or other. Probably connected to the annoyingly stubborn length of old wire we found a couple of inches down.
Eight: Two fragments of glass, one green, the other white, milky and twisted. Haven’t got a clue what they were originally but I think we can safely bet that it wasn’t anything important.
So, you’re probably thinking, that was a waste of time then. Fill the trench back in and head for the pub. That’s where you’d be wrong of course. All of this junk came up in the topsoil and was the sort of detritus you’d typically expect to find ‘marling’ the fields of Wyre.

No…what was really important about this trench was the stratigraphy; those layers created by variations in the soil colour and consistency. You see, below the top soil was the pale base clay which, far from being flat as you’d expect in any other old field, actually formed the classic shape of a cambered Roman agger and ‘V’ ditch.
Here’s a photograph that we’ve borrowed from David Ratledge, taken at the east end of the trench, showing the ‘V’ shaped ditch in all of its archaeological glory.

To the untrained eye it probably doesn’t look like much; a hole in the ground with a big lollipop stick in it and a few yellow pegs arranged along the edge. But us to smart-Alec, know-it-all archaeologists, that’s as good as proof positive that a Roman road lies just below the surface of the ground.
It’s always difficult to see the differences in stratigraphy on photographs, so you’ll just have to take our word for it that we’re not making any of this up.
The pegs were there to help us with the measurements. The way to take an ‘Interior Trench Face Contour Record’, you see, is by levelling a string along the side of the trench (and it has to be perfectly level otherwise everything goes completely out of whack), placing pegs into the ground at regular intervals, then measuring down from the string to the stratigraphy being recorded. After transferring the data onto acetate/tracing paper overlaid on a graph board, you end up with an accurate scale diagram.
Here’s one we made earlier, showing the same ‘V’ shaped ditch, along with its accompanying pale yellow, clay agger.
Now, that’s what we found in Trench 001! Obviously we have to extend the trench to the west to uncover the rest of the road, and the other ditch and stuff. But that, to all intents and purposes, is what a genuine Roman agger looks like when it emerges for the first time after two thousand years underground.
A couple of days after we’d backfilled the trench, Frank Smith took a few willing members of Wyre Archaeology up in his plane to obtain some aerial shots of the site. There are plenty of them already posted over at the forum if you want to take a gander, but we thought that we’d leave this article with one final shot captured by Ivan Carey:

At the time of writing we’ve still got a long way to go with all this, but I strongly suspect there’ll be a number of articles on this board in the near future detailing our further endeavours to build up the fattest casebook for the existence of a Roman agger ever to land on the County Archaeologist’s desk.


Feral Beast said...

You might have a iron age grave in the ditch, and if it wasn't in there, maybe plowing moved it, 'coz romans did buried their dead in the ditches on the side of the road.
And they might have found the bones and moved them there with the rock by accident.

Brian Hughes said...

Mr. Beast,

My thoughts exactly! (Smart lad...I can see you've been studying this sort of thing.)

Unfortunately we're going to have to wait until autumn to find out now, because the farmer's using the field for something else at the moment. But, if you're right and there's a body in there, it should be fun because we'll then have to call in the police and the whole place will turn into a potential crime scene.

Let's hope there is one, eh?

fiona said...

Hi Brian,
yes, finds' number 2 is (by the looks of it) deffinatly animal bone! Is there a picture of the posterior of the bone?? If it looks the same as the front and it completely flat then it is most likely a rib bone, or perhaps part of the skull.

here is a link to BAJR where you can purchase archaeological equipment.. such as 'finds bags' in various sizes, trowels, measuring and recording equipment etc... its not that pricy and may be an idea in investing if anything needed.. perhaps you should have a word the chairman and state who I am , where I am and and what I am upto if he can't remember who I am since I last attended in September!
(Sarcasm intended)

However, I shall be joining you all for July's meeting and I am quite excited!

Not much to report from Wessex Archaeology, although I have been wet sieving a Bronze age human cremation from Old Sarum (IA hill fort) this week which was rather interesting!

Fiona said...

Oh p.s. have some examples of sample sheets etc if you would like a look?
can copy due to them being copyrighted.

Brian Hughes said...


The bone's flat on both sides. If it doesn't belong to a cow, it must have been a very big boned human. Not that it matters because the cat's been gnawing on it all week.

I'll be seeing Mr. Chairman on Sunday and I'll pass on your message. (Having said that, he has provided us with lots of equipment recently. I only hope the axle doesn't break on his car seeing as he's going to be carrying it all down to the site for us this weekend.)

"I have been wet sieving a Bronze age human cremation..."

Add a few spuds and a turnip to that and it'll cook up a treat.

"p.s. have some examples of sample sheets etc if you would like a look?"

Bring 'em home with y'. There's nowt better than examining a few samples before breakfast I always reckon.

See you in permitting.