Allison Marcucci's blog
On Tuesday 18th of January work started on two finds processing activities related to the project Celts and Romans in North Wiltshire, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Volunteers have been visiting the Wessex Archaeology office in Salisbury for a couple of days every week to wash, mark, box and bag finds from this year’s Truckle Hill excavation and the field walk that took place at Chiseldon in November.
For the first year since it started the Truckle Hill excavation has produced more than just a few pieces of pottery and piles of CBM, stone and wall plaster. (All of these are of course very interesting in themselves, but not particularly interesting to wash.) Instead volunteers have had the opportunity to wash pottery as well. Almost all of the pottery looked like dark lumps before it was cleaned because most of it was found in the black soil from the Roman crop drier. (Take a look at Truckle Hill: Digging a Roman Bath House – Day 6 if you would like to read about the excavation of this area.) Two volunteers have spent two days washing all of the pottery, as well as the usual CBM, and plaster, but despite all their hard work, there is still a lot of washing and marking to be done.
Another pair of volunteers has been working patiently to organise and record four years’ worth of wall plaster from Truckle Hill. As I said before, the wall plaster is really very interesting, with all of the different colours of paint, patterns and materials that have gone into making it. Recording and photographing all of that detail is very time consuming, but produces great results! It is particularly exciting when the pattern of the painting slowly gets pieced back together.
After two weeks’ work there is still a lot of plaster to be recorded but our very dedicated volunteers will continue after a short break this week, and I am sure they will continue to produce wonderful results.
If you would like to learn more about what happens to artefacts after they’ve been excavated by coming to help out please feel free to contact me. Helping hands are always welcome.
As often happens when we ask questions, we haven’t received answers… just more questions! Instead of revealing the outline of an enclosure, which would have told us ‘Yes’ there is a settlement here, or revealing nothing, our geophysics results have left us wondering what was going on where the cauldrons were found.
In the field where the site was located a plethora of anomalies have shown up. These are the scatter of dark spots in the picture. The cauldrons excavation took place within the square outlined in blue. Given how close the anomalies are to where the cauldrons were found it is quite possible that a good number of these are pits.
On the south side of the field boundary there is much less activity. The dark spots in this field represent a different sort of anomaly. They are probably horse shoes and other iron farming objects that have ended up in the field. If you take a good look at the south west corner, however, you will see a faint circle. On the ground this circle would be 25 metres across. It could be a ploughed-out barrow or a timber circle.
I hope you enjoy taking a look at the results… but I have a word of advice. Don’t stare at them too long. After awhile the image starts looking like a ‘Magic Eye’ picture, and shapes start appearing all over the place.
Getting out to the site of the Chiseldon Cauldrons to start our geophysical survey was a bit disorienting. The entire field was covered in a blanket of thick fog, and once we were driving along the path through the field the hedges that marked the edges of the field were out of view. When we reached the site and got out of the cars the ground was frozen, slippery and covered in patches of snow. Those of us who had been out to the site for the field walking were grateful that the wind that was blowing that day wasn’t blowing now… It was cold enough in the field. There was work to be done, however, so we disappeared into the fog to set up a grid. With that done, one of the volunteers and I retreated to the vehicles and our flasks of soup and tea. A geophysics team of two from Wessex Archaeology started working on the survey. By lunch time they were finished work on the north side of the field boundary that’s near the cauldrons site. The results for the first half of the day were uploaded onto a laptop.
After lunch a group of volunteers joined us to take a look at the survey process and the equipment. After learning how everything worked they had the chance to try doing the geophysics themselves. Before anyone could have a go, however, they had to make sure they were metal-free. The results produced by the equipment we were using (fluxgate gradiometers) can be distorted by any metal objects near their sensors. It’s a challenge to find clothing - and particularly warm clothing – without any metal on it. Take a moment to think about your own wardrobe – how many articles of clothing do you have without any metal on them? (Even small items like zip-pulls count.) Unfortunately some of our volunteers had metal pieces on their boots and their coats. Far from being disappointed at not having the opportunity to try out the equipment, they just seemed thankful for their warm winter clothes.
Throughout the afternoon volunteers arrived on site to have a look at the survey in process, and left the site in search of somewhere warmer. A few hardy people stayed to see the results at the end of the day.
Once the work on the south side of the boundary was finished the second half of the results could be uploaded onto the computer and put together with the results from the morning. No Iron Age enclosures popped out at us once the results were one the screen… but that doesn’t mean that the results weren’t interesting. We’ve found out some new information about that field boundary, and we have maybe found some other interesting features as well. However, it’s hard to interpret a black and white picture when your laptop is on the back of a truck and there’s snow falling all over the screen. Now that we’re back in the office the results will get a good looking over. I’ll be able to tell you more about what we have learned once that has happened.
If you would like to know the results of our geophysical survey please keep checking this blog. The results will be posted here.
On Monday the 22nd of November we – members of the Chiseldon Local History Society, staff from the British Museum and from Wessex Archaeology – met up in a farmer’s field in Chiseldon. Grey skies and cold, damp, winter weather greeted our party as we got ready to do some field walking on the site of the Chiseldon Cauldrons.
I had the wonderful opportunity to meet some of the Chiseldon Local History Group that I had not met before. I also met two ladies from the local community, out for a stroll, who remembered watching the excavation. They used a bedroom window to keep an eye on the site when work wasn’t going on to make sure that the site wasn’t disturbed. Members of the local history group who had been involved in the excavation got the opportunity to catch up with Alex Baldwin and Jamie Hood. Alex and Jamie are the British Museum conservators who are working on the cauldrons, and the last time Alex spoke with the volunteers was when the cauldrons were excavated. Though we were cold it was good to have a little time to catch up.
By the time the grid was set up we were desperate to get started – and get moving to fend off the cold. We worked in pairs collecting finds from within grid squares that were set out in the field. The purpose of the field walking was to answer a question: was there an Iron Age settlement where the cauldrons were buried? Hopefully the finds that we collected throughout the day will help to answer that question.
Among the finds was a small piece of bronze that led to a lot of joking about more cauldrons being buried in the field. As exciting as more cauldrons would be, it was decided that this would not be the most welcome find. It will take Alex and Jamie over a year to conserve the 12 cauldrons that have already been excavated. A quern stone was also found in the field along with an assortment of pottery.
To our surprise by lunch time we had finished walking one hectare. After lunch we set out a second grid and continued to work. We managed to walk almost two hectares of the field in one day, before everyone decided it was time to head home, or off to somewhere warm. It was definitely a successful day, and hopefully when the finds are washed and examined we will be closer to answering our questions about the site of the Chiseldon Cauldrons.
The Chiseldon Cauldrons were excavated by Wessex Archaeology, the British Museum, and volunteers from the Chiseldon Local History Group in 2004. Though the excavation of the cauldrons was completed so long ago there has never been the opportunity to complete any further research on the area. The Chiseldon Cauldrons site has been paired with Truckle Hill Roman bath-house this year under the Heritage Lottery Funded project ‘Celts and Romans in North Wiltshire.’ This is giving us the opportunity to complete the research on this exciting site.
On the 14th of October I finally had the opportunity to meet with members of the Chiseldon Local History Group and the metal detectorist who found the Chiseldon Cauldrons. We met at the Patriot’s Arms in Chiseldon, on what turned out to be a very cold, grey afternoon, to discuss what further fieldwork and research could be done to better our understanding of the site where the cauldrons were found.
The discussion at our little table did not stay on topic. The decision making process was littered with breaks to discuss other local history and archaeology: a near by Roman Villa, some ancient land boundaries – I even got to hear a local legend about some treasure buried in a barrow not far from the Cauldrons site. We were the last group in the pub that afternoon because we spent so much time talking about archaeology. The group’s local knowledge really shone throughout the entire conversation.
Despite getting distracted the meeting was successful, and by the end of the afternoon we had decided what fieldwork we wanted to do and what would come first. In the next few months the Chiseldon Local History Group and some other volunteers will be doing some field walking, geophysics, and even a structured metal detector survey of the site, along with some research into the other archaeology in the local landscape.
A few weeks after the meeting and we’re well on our way to planning the field walking, and after that there’s a wealth of work and research to follow. I’m sure that a group with so much enthusiasm for local history will produce some wonderful information about this exciting site.
Find out more about the Chiseldon Cauldrons.
Now that this year’s Truckle Hill excavation has finished its time to start trying to answer all of the lingering and difficult questions we still have about the Truckle Hill Roman bath-house and the mystery buildings underneath it. It is for this reason that the Truckle Hill Research Group has been formed. The group is made up of volunteers from the Truckle Hill excavation. Its purpose will be to increase our understanding of the Truckle Hill site by tying it into the context of the other Iron Age and Roman Archaeology of the area.
The group met for the first time on the 29th of October at the Chippenham Museum and Heritage Centre. The meeting was a great success. The Museum provided tea and coffee, I brought milk and biscuits, and once everyone had a cup of tea we started discussing all of the topics that could be researched that would help us understand the site better. As is to be expected there was some debating as well… particularly about the identity of the base… column, statue, or altar? We still don’t know. Maybe that will be one of the questions that the research group will answer.
By the end of the meeting the Truckle Hill Research Group had decided on what needed to be investigated, and on the form of their next meeting. The main topics of research for the group will be the Iron Age and the Roman archaeology and landscape around Truckle Hill, the wall plaster and the CBM from the site, and the connection between the Truckle Hill bath-house and the Truckle Hill Villa. Some volunteers will be going to records offices and investigating old maps, others will be exploring museum collections for finds from the excavation of the Truckle Hill Villa, and others will be searching for parallels to the earlier period buildings under the bath house.
The group’s next meeting is being planned for January, and will take the form of a field walk and photographic survey to look for material that has fallen away from the villa. I’m sure that by then the Truckle Hill Research Group volunteers will have some new and interesting information to share with each other.
The last day of excavation has come and gone (quite a while ago, actually, my apologies for the delay). Since I was unable to be on site for the last day one of the volunteers, Jayne O’Connell, has been kind enough to send me an update and provide me with photos.
Day 14 definitely had better weather than the day before, and thankfully did not involve as much mud, or as much standing around watching a select few try to work. The day was given over to finishing touches – cleaning, photographing, and recording. Despite this the team still managed to reveal yet another wall! The paved floor received a final cleaning, and along with the column/statue base/altar that had received a good bath the day before, succeeded in making the trench look quite stunning.
One of the main projects of the day was completing more of the drawing. This included an incredibly massive section drawing of the west section of the trench, which tells the story of the site so beautifully.
As always there was a fair bit of discussion on site. It being the last day the talk was turned to next year’s excavation. A wall was discovered in one of the smaller trenches on the west side of the site that seems to head off in the direction of the villa. This led the group’s collective imagination to produce a set of grand stairs running down from the villa and towards the bath house. Investigating any possible path from the villa to the bath house, however, would mean putting a trench in behind the tent and deck chairs that have been on site, in the same spot, for the past four years. It would also mean moving into the woods and facing the challenge of digging through tree root.
The last day of an excavation like Truckle Hill is always somewhat melancholy. Along with the excitement of imaging next year’s excavation and new discoveries goes the task of saying goodbye to the people and the site, at least until the next excavation. At the end of this season this holds particularly true, as it is unlikely that there will be an excavation on the site of the bath-house again. Rather than give you my thoughts on this, I would like to share Jayne’s.
"I felt great sadness on the last day that we wouldn't be digging at the bath-house again, but I suppose, other than digging that one last trench up the hill behind the tent, we have probably learnt all we could about the site. Now we need to conserve it and make sure those glorious walls remain intact.
I have always found it really hard to leave the site on the last day of the dig, it’s such a beautiful, calm, relaxing place. It was very tough to say goodbye to the site this time maybe because I know we won't (I assume) be digging there in September 2011. I had the most wonderful time, even though most days Shaun and I just seemed to be shifting rubble all day and not finding anything. It’s the camaraderie, discussions about this site and many others, that makes it such a special dig."
The excavation at Truckle Hill is indeed special. I cannot end this blog without thanking all of the volunteers for their hard work, dedication and enthusiasm. It is their hard work that has made learning so much about this site over the past four years achievable. You all form one very incredible team!
Though this is the last blog post for the Truckle Hill Autumn 2010 excavation, it will not be the last blog or update concerning Truckle Hill. If you are interested in keeping up with what happens after the excavation please keep returning to this site. The site report for this year will eventually be available here, and I will continue to provide updates as more work gets completed.
We have had fabulous weather out at Truckle Hill. Most days everyone out at site has needed to put on sun screen. Today is the exception. It was raining hard when we all arrived on site, and making the clay in our main trench very sticky and slippery.
So, what do you do when it rains like this? You keep the kettle boiling, gather under the gazebo, and hope for a dry spell. When the weather clears again you can get in the trench and dig. Until then, you chat.
During the day that I have been gone the identity of the base, first a column, then an altar, has changed again. The base is now being identified as the base for a statue, which is estimated to have been either 3/4 size or life size. Unfortunately no hint of the statue itself has been found. The flagstone surface alongside one of the forecourt walls has been entirely uncovered, and though incomplete, looks remarkable. Animal bones have also been discovered in amongst a collection of roof tiles that have been revealed in one of the trench sections.
The rain eventually let up a bit, and reduced to a light, wet mist. It was just enough for a few people to get into the trench and continue working. In one section of the main trench rubble and clay were still being removed to reach the surface of the flagstone paving. In another, an investigation of some of the re-exposed painted wall plaster was undertaken. A group of volunteers formed a bucket line from the edge of the trench, to the few who were down on their hands and knees in the sticky clay. We were trying to make sure people didn’t have to walk around in the trench too much. The people stood in the trench, stationary, waiting for the next bucket, soon discovered that the clay was not entirely willing to give up contact with the bottom of their work boots. The sound that lifting a foot out of the clay made eventually got dubbed ‘the indescribable squidge.’ Even with the bucket lines formed, however, there wasn’t quite enough digging work for everyone with the ground so wet. One pair of volunteers took the time to try and identify the coin using an iPhone that had signal and the magnifying glass from utility knife.
Using water that had been collected throughout the day from the run-off of the site shelter Phil took the time to clean any remaining dirt (now mud) from the statue base. The base almost shone once the dirt had been cleared. A groove on the bottom piece of the base marking out a rough square surface where the top half should have rested became very clear. The top piece of the statue base has either shifted in the ground, or was never placed exactly where it was meant to be. With the base clean the two volunteers that worked so hard to reveal it posed for a photo that will be used on the cover of this year’s site report.
We made it, working very slowly and very little in the wet conditions, until afternoon break. Then it started to rain again. We escaped the rain to have one last cup of tea, and it was decided that it was time to call it a day.
Here is hoping that tomorrow, the last day of excavation, will have blue skies.
Today was an open day for people from the local villages of Castle Combe and Ford. As predicted the day was lively and exciting.
The volunteers are still working to reveal more details of the forecourt, and continue to excavate in the area of the newly discovered wall. There is a stone surface just starting to emerge alongside one of the forecourt walls. The area around the ‘altar’ is also still being investigated in the hopes of discovering a surface remaining at its base.
I spent my day giving tours to people who decide to come out for a walk and visit the site. Mid-day, just as I said good bye to the first tour group, I heard someone call Phil. There is an unmistakable tone to someone’s voice when they have found something exciting. When I turned around to see what was going on a volunteer was standing up in their trench, holding something small in the air. A Truckle Hill first had been found - a coin! As our tour group had not quite left, they had the opportunity to take a look at the coin just after it was found. We couldn’t have hoped for a more exciting finish to the morning.
Enthusiasm at an all time high, lunch was spent passing around a book on the Shrine of Apollo at Nettleton. Nettleton is one Roman Mile from the site, and the book had some wonderful examples of altars in it, though they don’t seem to quite match the base that has been uncovered here at Truckle Hill. After lunch the volunteers returned to the work they had been doing in the morning, and I returned to giving tours. The day continued to be a success, with a large number of visitors arriving for the afternoon’s tour, and the stone surface, in-fact flagstone paving, partially uncovered near one of the forecourt walls.
As today is day 11 of a 14 day excavation things should be starting to wrap up. I won’t have the opportunity to visit the site again until day 13, and can’t wait to see what else changes while I am away from site.
The day started with a light rain. As we had two different groups from the Young Archaeologists Club visiting today this was a little bit worrying. However, the wet weather did give us the opportunity to have a cup of tea under the gazebo. This was the perfect time to go over what has happened on site in the last few days.
Another wall was found at the very end of the day on Friday, which has confirmed the existence of the forecourt. A large collection of roof tiles have also been discovered. They are in line with where one of the forecourt walls might continue on, and in line with the collection of roof tiles found on Day 6. A new picture of this period 1 building is now emerging. It seems that it not only had a forecourt, but also a covered walkway on the forecourt’s north side. This building was destroyed, it now seems, by some sort of major event – a minor earthquake, or a major rain storm - that caused a land-slide on the hill.
Since I was on site last it has been decided (for the time being at least) that the base belongs to an altar. It has been a tradition on this site to find something spectacular – something that requires another season of excavation on this spot - on the last or second last day. In 2008 the uncovering of a section of intact painted wall plaster resulted in the discovery of an unexpected earlier building underneath the bath-house. The running joke now is that there will be an Iron Age temple underneath the period 1 building.
Thankfully the rain stopped before the first YAC group arrived, and our visitors had warm and sunny weather while they were on site. The additional company of the YAC groups definitely made the site very lively. Our visitors spent their time on site excavating in a trench a bit further down the hill, where they were finding pieces of wall plaster, tesserae, and CBM (ceramic building material). They also spent some time testing their knowledge of the site with some activity sheets. I was impressed with the enthusiasm and creativity of these groups of Young Archaeologists.
Tomorrow is an open day for people from nearby Castle Combe and Ford, and will surely be just as exciting and lively as today.