Read Our 2005 'Dig Diary'
Our summer training dig for 2005 has now come to an end. See below for a day-by-day account of the progress of the excavation. Next year's excavation season begins on 10 July and will last for four weeks; for further information visit the Training Excavation page.
Lindum Heritage Training Excavation
Dig Diary 2005 Season
Opening up the site!
Weather: Very hot and Sunny
Welcome to the Lindum Heritage Dig Diary; the Diary will chronicle the progress of our excavation at Sudbrooke in Lincolnshire over the next few weeks. The site is located in an arable field and all the signs (stray finds, fieldwalking, geophysics etc.) indicate that it was once the site of a Roman villa. Mind you archaeological excavations don't just happen by themselves, months of planning and research go into making them successful. But today was the first day on site and the sun shone.
Three main activities filled the day. First locating the trenches - relating where we were in the field (quite a big field full of wheat) with the previous findings. Having done that it was the turn of the excavator to open up the trenches, in this instance our chosen tool was not a trowel but a JCB ... but only for removing the topsoil! Finally the big event of the day was of course the construction of the site hut - at last somewhere to get out of the sun and make the tea.
Another day in the sun
Weather: Overcast then very hot and sunny
Actually the day started rather overcast but at least it was a little cooler. This morning was spent completing the setting up of the site hut and making sure that everything we need - tools, paper work, finds processing materials etc. - was where it should be. Then we got ourselves organised enough to set out the site survey grid for the main trench. After a good deal of tape pulling, plumb-bob dangling and stake hammering we had a fully functioning grid across the site based on 5m grid squares. By that time the sun burnt off the clouds and it was extremely hot ... so we chose the sensible path and took an early tea-break!
It's just occurred to me that if you have secured a place on the dig you should already know who I am, but if not I suppose I should introduce myself. I'm Craig Spence director of the excavation and an academic. I spent a number of years working as a professional archaeologist before choosing the college life (less chance of knee damage!) I've worked on some 30 or more excavations ranging in date from prehistory to the 20th century, though much of my earlier digging was for the Museum of London and so often included Roman period stratigraphy. So much for me, over the next few days I'll introduce the rest of the team...
Weather: Still very hot
Yet another hot day but at least we had some extra help today. First job on the agenda was to build the main site shelter ... hopefully the weather will be kind to it and it will survive the next month without blowing away! Then we moved onto the public side of things; we have four heritage studies students from Bishop Grosseteste College in Lincoln working with us during the excavation. Their role is to provide public interpretation including display boards, tours and childrens activities - especially in association with National Archaeology Week (16-24 July).
Today the students concentrated on constructing stands for the display boards they have produced (see David and Mick toiling in the sun above left), while Penny and Jonathon set about sieving the topsoil to provide clean soil for a children's 'digging pit' that we will 'seed' with finds for next weeks activities (above right). The sieving has begun to produce some unstratified finds, especially interesting are some very small (5mm across) tesserae, as well as larger pieces and plenty of roof and flue tile.
All systems are go!
Weather: Sunny and thunderstorm
Today's activity on site focused on making sure that everything that needed to be in place for the start of the excavation on Monday was where it should be. And quite amazingly it was (except for the regulator on the calor-gaz stove ... so no tea today!)
We had a visit from Lynne, our official site photographer, to run through the training session on photography that she will be leading each week. She also took a view of the site from up a ladder (see above). Another new arrival was Iris, an archaeology student from Holland who will be helping to manage the finds processing side of things (also above). Jonathon, and his friend Adam, came back to do some more sieving to fill up the children's 'digging pit' and in the process found a few more tessarae, and a nail or two. Some more painted wall plaster fragments also came to light. The day ended in spectacular fashion with a torrential down-pour during a typical Lincolshire thunderstorm. But hopefully this will help to soften the ground up a bit after a very hot and dry period.
All in all its been a very exhausting week, setting up an excavation is hard work, but looking over the main excavation area today, seeing some cleaned up finds appearing from the processing area, and anticipating the work we will be doing over the next few weeks seems to make it all worthwhile.
Excavation Day One
Weather: Warm with plenty of cloud
At last the excavation has got underway. This morning the first group of volunteer/trainee diggers arrived at site. They came armed with trowels, kneeling pads and great enthusiasm. We spent most of the morning doing all the usual induction stuff - health and safety, site systems, recording methods etc. etc. By the end of all that the enthusiasm was, amazingly, still there! The group was then split into two teams allowing everyone to get a chance to experience all aspects of site work from digging and dry sieving through to finds processing and making the tea!
The first trowel over the site ...
The digging started with a gentle trowelling across the surface of trench A, a good introduction for those who had never excavated before. Although still in the lower levels of the topsoil we came across signs of our first 'feature'; a linear mortar-streaked line that may well represent a foundation/wall of some sort?
Later in the day we were visited by Bill Bee, a seasoned excavator who has been studying the excavation site for many years. He came to show the aerial photographs he had taken the previous week. The crop marks are exceptionally good at the moment - some are clearly visible even at ground level. The photos showed a previously un-recognised large double-ditch enclosure to the west of our excavation area. Certainly something for future investigation...
Excavation Day Two
Weather: Cloudy, fresh and windy
Only the second day of the excavation proper but already everybody seems so comfortable with each other that it feels like we must have been hanging out in the field for months... Today began where we left off yesterday with more trowelling, well almost - first we had to remove the plastic sheeting across the site and the large amount of muddy water that was on-top of them (another Lincolnshire thunderstorm last night). With the whole of trench 'A' cleaned it was possible to be sure that the mortar streaked line of very compact material was real even if it was still essentially top-soil. But with further excavation during the course of the day the team revealed what seems to be the remnants of a hard exterior(?) surface and at least two (maybe more) postholes.
The training part of the day focused on surveying and levelling. This went well, even the complexities of the national grid and ordnance datum ... until the practical part (see above) when the sun hide behind the clouds, the wind picked up and it actually got quite cold! Everyone was pleased when lunch came around and we were able to retreat to the shelter of the trees at the edge of the field. Then followed one of the highlights of the day, as everyone digested their lunch (Lincolnshire sausages, yum yum) a few determined souls fanned out to search the field edges for stray surface finds ... no luck until Iris had a look beside the site hut. There on the surface was a small (1x3cm long) piece of worked flint (most likely a prehistoric knife blade) ... some people have all the luck!
Excavation Days Three and Four
Weather: Cloudy and very windy
A special double edition today - I was away at the Graduation Day for Bishop Grosseteste College yesterday so didn't have time to post a report (feeble excuse I know but I enjoyed it!) Anyway in my absence the site was left in the capable hands of Zoë Tomlinson, archaeologist, project manager, and company director. Wednesday began with more digging, especially the final big clean of trench A. After tea Lynne, our 'resident' photographer gave everyone a great workshop on taking archaeological photographs. Lunch was followed by another workshop when Barbara Precious and Maggie Darling, noted Roman pottery experts, provided a marvellous hands-on pot session (see below). The day ended on a high note with a visit to the local pub, though tempered by having to say goodbye to Kathleen and Rachel who had travelled all the way from Boston USA to spend time on the excavation.
Thursday saw everyone getting down to the business of serious recording. Having identified a range of posthole and stakehole type features; context sheets were compiled and plans drawn - a steep learning curve but one fully mastered by the end of the day. Of particular note was a relatively small posthole excavated by Colin and Victoria, which we soon realised was actually the post-pipe within a much larger postpit ... and by the end of the day the pit seemed to be at the end of a substantial trench or beamslot. Anyway it's all becoming very interesting.
Also interesting was our first public tours, including loads of kids as part of National Archaeology Week. The BGC students did a great job of meeting, greeting and guiding the visitors around the site. The children had lots of fun digging for finds in their special digging pit, having a go at dry-sieving, pot washing and of course drawing and colouring their own mosaics ... some became so absorbed by all the archaeological fun that we had a job to get them off the site at the end of the day! Many thanks to everyone who helped with this event.
Excavation Day Five
Weather: Cloudy and mild
A day of excavation, planning and more excavation. We began early with the recording and excavation of a series of post and stake holes that cut through an area wide layer of very compact material full of frags and flecks of mortar, stone and tile ... possibly a deposit that underlay a later masonry-built villa (most of which is now in the plough soil!)? Planning the extensive deposit caused a good deal of head-scratching but we got there in the end and celebrated at tea-break with strawberries and cream courtesy of Ann (see below).
The rest of the day was spent getting to grips with the mattocks ... yes the time had come to get down through the big layer to earlier features. Everyone had a go at it, except Colin whose post-pit had developed a peculiar slot trench, complete with recut and rotted plank(?) ... Another happy day on site until 5.00pm when the bulk of the diggers had to say goodbye, there was much weeping and wailing ... OK in truth they all went down the pub!
Excavation Day Six
Weather: Cold and damp
Today was the first day of week two of the excavation and we had a whole new digging team to go with it. Everyone was very keen to get on with the archaeology but first it was time for the health & safety, site systems and recording methods run through. By the time that was over its true to say every one was freezing ... July? I don't think so! The weather has turned dull and damp, great for the archaeology making the colours stand out and the deposits soft and manageable, but not so good for the trainees. Still it didn't actually rain.
After lunch we did do some digging. We started in area B, to the south of the main region of Roman occupation and potentially within an external (courtyard?) area of the 'villa' complex. This weeks excavators proved remarkable able at 'speed-trowelling', so much so that we ran out of buckets and there was a significant sieving backlog by tea-time! (See above) Later we returned to area A and began mattocking off context , now suitably softened by the weekends rain. Tomorrow we continue in the hope of revealing even more complex archaeology below...
Excavation Day Seven
Weather: Mild and sunny
Today was enlivened by one of Lynne's marvellous photography workshops ... never were so many photographs taken by so many photographers of one posthole! After lunch the sun came out ... as did the mattocks! (See below) Having recorded everything in site (geddit) it was time to take off another layer of mid-brown silty-sandy or was it clayey-silt?? For those of you in the know we seem to be seeing fewer and fewer tesserae but have started to pick up more Samian ware. Of great excitement at the end of the day was the discovery of a tiny (<1cm diameter) metal disk, tentatively identified as a late Roman minimus coin ... but of course it wasn't found during sieving but spotted during ... mattocking!!
Never argue with girls wielding mattocks!
Excavation Day Eight
Weather: Overcast and then rain
Another day in the trenches, but only after Barbara's Roman pottery workshop, which was greatly enjoyed by everyone. Today the weather began to change for the worse, by the late afternoon it had actually started raining. Mind you this didn't affect the enthusiasm of the finds processors, Emma and Geraldine in particular who seem to like nothing better than washing very small things, putting them in bags and writing numbers on them - at least until we find a skeleton for them to really get their teeth into! (Note: we do not at the moment expect to find any skeletons...)
Fed up with the tiny tooth-brushes Emma and Geraldine consider using a slightly bigger brush...
As the rain began to threaten the 'housekeeping' team went into action and soon the site was graced with two fine new shelters. Especially useful in Area B where the archaeology, though not as deep as area A, is shaping up to be just as interesting. Running across the southern end of the trench is what seems to be an E-W aligned robber trench backfilled at one point with a very dense deposit of limestone rubble ... definitely not more mid-brown sandy-silt!
The archaeology gets serious in Area B
Excavation Day Nine
Weather: Rain, Rain and ... Rain
We knew that it had to happen one day and today it did ... RAIN! Actually it wasn't too bad, though the first couple of hours of the morning were marked by constant heavy drizzle. It was enough to fill every depression, hollow, and shelter canopy with a bucketful or two of water. Having prepared for the worst we started the day in the hastily booked village hall and focused on processing the finds backlog. This was actually a very useful activity and included dealing with a number of small finds, mainly iron nails and other unidentifiable metal objects. By mid-morning - and not wholly convinced by the programme of indoor surveying training - a hardy group volunteered to get back on site. After much bailing out we then managed to get several hours of useful digging activity completed. We made good progress in Area A and revealed the full extent of the apparent robber-trench in Area B.
Lunch was served in the village hall where a confrontation with the local carpet-bowling team was narrowly avoided when it was made clear that the double booking wasn't our fault! The rain unfortunately scuppered the public site tours that were organised for the afternoon, but the excavation team and students put on an alternative display and talk indoors, for the few hardy souls who did turn-up. The day ended with the all inclusive dinner in Lincoln in the evening - a great deal of laughter (especially by Sally, Joe and the vegetables...) accompanied what was an excellent meal. That wasn't enough for the younger members of the team however who rounded the evening off with some serious clubbing in downtown Lincoln.
Excavation Day Ten
Weather: Overcast but dry!
So the end of another week and time to say goodbye to another group of trainees. We have made great progress over the last five days and some very interesting archaeology is now in progress. Area A is beginning to show signs of building debris and possible surfaces, as well as a fascinating 'ghost' fence alignment within the lower levels of the 'top-soil'. Area B is shaping up to be just as good with a clear E-W robber trench backfilled with limestone rubble, mortar and painted wall plaster. By the end of the day the site had been thoroughly cleaned - and photographs taken - and all is in place for next weeks diggers to take over. Keep an eye on the diary to see how things shape up during our last week of digging for the 2005 season...
Excavation Day Eleven
Weather: Generally mild and overcast
So we begin the final full week of excavation. Lots of new trainees this week and some carrying on from last week. So Monday began as usual with the health & safety and general induction sessions, followed in short order by some initial trowelling. Everyone was very keen to get digging and we made some good progress in both areas. In area A we extended our excavation of the last of the grey-brown clayey silt horizon and began to reveal layers with increased mortar and building material. In area B we continued general excavation and completed recording what we assume is some sort of rubble backfilled robber trench. To keep us motivated and focused on the job in hand we gained the extra support of Fred Coupland an experienced field archaeologist who is keen to get the dig moving along at least as fast as he can cycle... Anyway by the end of the day everyone had had a go at almost everything, including making the tea, and we all went away looking forward to tomorrow - and apparently better weather?
All human life is here...
Excavation Day Twelve
Weather: Warm and sunny
After a slow start - basic surveying and levelling training - we cracked on with the archaeology. We seemed to have had endless numbers of people on site today, trainees, staff, hangers-on, visitors and journalists ... it's surprising we got any digging done at all. But we did; in area A the area around the feature once known as "Colin's trench" has been lowered down to the level of the mixed clay surface/horizon. Fred has made great inroads with this area, while the rest of the team in the trench continued to investigate the northern fence(?) line.
In area B however things took a rather unexpected turn. The once clear robber trench vanished! Well not entirely but on excavation what were thought to be the edges of it were found to be the edges of the surrounding deposits which overlay a much wider extent of building rubble - apparently in situ? Also notable in area B was the discovery of several small pieces of painted wall plaster - red, white, blue, pink and possibly yellow; a couple of fragments had more than one colour. And there seems to be lots more yet to be excavated.
Excavation Day Thirteen
Weather: Heavy showers, wind and sunny intervals
Today began with the weekly Roman pot workshop, on this occasion conducted by Maggie Darling. We all had a great time and many interesting questions arose in connection with both the great collection of pot on show and about our own findings. Despite threatening rain clouds we then headed for site and got on with the digging. It wasn't long before first one gazebo, then another and after a short pause the third all gave way to ever strengthening wind and one by one crumpled. Mind you they performed one last service before this by providing welcome shelter from a couple of brief but fairly heavy downpours.
Work in area A continues to progress, the northern fence line is now clearly visible and recording will be completed tomorrow. Later in the day in this area, down in the south-west corner, Fred produced a couple of large (articulated) pieces of op sig (Roman 'concrete') which seemed to have a slightly curved face. While studying these closely it became apparent that the op sig actually comprised two skims - a coarse first render then a finer and thinner finishing skim. Area B is also shaping up nicely with its own piece of 'moulded' op sig this time with a very pronounced convex profile. This piece was found in a deposit (at least 1.5m x 1m) of mixed painted wall plaster debris. The paint colours include; blue, red, pink, white, yellow ... tomorrow (if we can get David to relinquish his paint brush and let Katie in with a mattock - to clear the layer above the plaster, not the plaster itself!) we can begin lifting. These architectural pieces and continuing amounts of tessarae confirm that the site was that of a high-status Roman residence ... but we are still in search of any remaining in situ structures.
As the weather improved during the course of the day - and without any shelters to worry about blowing away (they'd already gone!) we all retired to the pub in nearby Scothern for a well earned pint (see above).
Excavation Day Fourteen
Weather: Warm, windy but dry
The day began comfortably enough with another of Lynne's great photography sessions. While those of us of us who'd seen it all before got on with digging everyone else swarmed around the site photographing everything they could find. After tea-break things began to get interesting; Fred's corner as it has become known in the s-w of area A began to show interesting signs, more mortar lumps and tessarae. In area B Sally and Jill finally revealed the full extent of the rubble dump - we apparently have the n-e edge of it - which appears to be lying over redeposited natural, at least at the edge. Planning and recording this and the plaster dump just to the north took up the rest of the day.
After lunch however a message was sent from area A to area B ... "surface!" Much scurrying about followed and before long the entire team were staring at a very small part of 'Fred's corner'. At a certain point during trowelling through the mortar it cleanly broke away to reveal a flat and level mortar surface (floor?), or at least a part of it some 60 x 15 cm. This left most of us speechless ... but then we remembered that it will be the last full day of excavation tomorrow so obviously this is just the time to start to find interesting stuff!
The surface (graphically outlined in yellow) in the very south-west corner of area A, the mortar stain to the north of it may be the remnants of a wall footing(?)
Much contemplation followed, then much cleaning as the public, and the press, were on their way. The public arrived with the Heritage Students, about 300 in all having visited over the last three weeks. The press were actually there to interview the students about their project. So with the last tour completed we looked back into the trench, only to find that the plank-slot at the bottom of "Colin's Trench" could finally be explained; it was the southern side of a plank shuttered puddled-clay wall, possibly with associated floor... Looks like we've got a lot of recording to do tomorrow before the 2005 season draws to a close.
Fred 'tells it like it is' to the last public tour of 2005
Excavation Day Fifteen
Weather: Nice and sunny
So this is it, its all over, no more digging, no more finds washing, no more sieving, no more tea breaks, no more gazebos ... Today was the last formal day of excavation and a hectic day it was. It began with a lot of cleaning, mainly in area A, where many photos were taken of both the mortar surface and shuttered clay wall line, and of the fence line to the north of the trench now expertly recorded, excavated and cleaned by Jenny and Robert. In area B it was a matter of getting organised for the long awaited painted wall plaster excavation.
They've been waiting all week for this!
The removal of the plaster dump produced a fantastic array of coloured plaster including some decorative pieces, including a large piece with some sort of plant/foliage image. The afternoon saw Fred rushing around trying to plan all his 'features' before the end of the day and then the final wind down. We had several visitors during the afternoon, keen not to miss a last chance to see the results of the dig. We also had a piece in the local paper (the Lincolnshire Echo) which was headlined 'Digging Holes: The Best Holiday Ever' - and you can't get better than that!
So the day came to an end and we all said farewell. It has been a great few weeks and we have made some important discoveries about the site. First we have found out much about the lower extents of the 'topsoil' with late Roman (?) postholes and features clearly present. We have learnt much about the character of the Roman structures on the site, through the high quality of the finds - especially the tessarae and the wall plaster. Finally we have revealed in situ structural elements which are sure to be a focus of future investigation. Finally, Zoë says, "Two of the best things about the whole dig was the enthusiasm and enjoyment expressed by those who came on the excavation, and the overwhelming interest shown by local people in this project."
Of course it is not really the end ... there are still a few loose ends to sort out, the trenches to backfill and the site-hut to dismantle ... and of course the finds to process and an interim report to write! Anyway that's for us to sort out, but if you would like to learn more about archaeology why not check out our next Lindum Heritage weekend break - An Introduction to Archaeological Finds - 7-9th October 2005.