Celts and Romans in North Wiltshire

Celtic Feasts and Roman Rituals event at Barbury Castle a big success

Despite threatening skies, the rain held off for the HLF-funded Celts and Romans project "Celtic Feasts and Roman Rituals" event at Barbury Castle hillfort near Swindon.

233 Celtic storytelling

Hundreds of visitors took the chance to hear more about the community project. Volunteers who have taken part in activities at Truckle Hill and Chiseldon joined Wessex staff to greet visitors and the conservators from the British Museum who are working on the Chiseldon Cauldrons also paid a visit.


Activities included Celtic story walks around the ramparts of the hillfort, meeting Vindex and Huctia, a Romano-British couple, talks, making Roman mosaics and Iron Age torques, and a Scavenger Hunt quiz.


The Chiseldon Local History Group Visits the British Museum

Recently members of the Chiseldon Local History Group had a wonderful opportunity – a behind the scenes tour of metal conservation at the British Museum, and a chance to see the work that has been done on the Chiseldon Cauldrons. We were met at the British Museum by Jamie Hood, one of the conservators working on the cauldrons and guided through a maze of hallways and backdoors to the conservation department. There Alex Baldwin and Jody Joy gave us a talk on the cauldrons – recapping their discovery for those in the group who weren’t there, and giving us more information on Iron Age cauldrons in the UK and Europe.

173 Members of the Chiseldon Local History Group at the British Museum

After the recap we split into groups to visit the different labs where metal conservation takes place. In one lab we had the opportunity to take a look at the cauldrons that are being worked with at the moment. For a few people on this trip this was an opportunity to see what has happened to the cauldrons, disguised as large piles of rust and mud, that they watched being removed from a farmer’s field in their home town. For others it was an opportunity to see the cauldrons up close for the first time. Either way the experience was wonderful. The cauldrons – and pieces of cauldrons – that we had the opportunity to see were still in the process of being conserved, but definitely look more like cauldrons than what was removed from the field in Chiseldon. The metal that the cauldrons were made of truly is wafer thin, and though the metal may still be crumpled, and in some places in fragments, the details that Jamie and Alex are slowly uncovering are amazing.

172 Looking at the Iron rim of one of the cauldrons. All of the containers on the table also have pieces of cauldrons in them.

After looking at the cauldrons we moved on to another metal conservation lab where more metal artefacts were being worked with. Here we got to see an Iron Age wine strainer, an Iron Age mirror, an Anglo-Saxon dagger, and an Iron Age bucket. Once again we had the opportunity to pepper the conservators with questions, and exclaim at the amount of patience that the very precise conservation work must require.

174 Looking at two cauldrons that were buried, and have corroded, together.

When our behind the scenes tour was over we ended the trip with a late lunch, and then a quick trip around the European Iron Age displays. We had the opportunity to take a closer look at some of the cauldrons that Jody Joy mentioned in his talk. Seeing a picture of the excavation of the cauldrons included as part of a display on eating and drinking in the Iron Age ended off the trip nicely.

175 Looking at a display on eating and drinking in the Iron Age – including a picture of the excavation of the Chiseldon Cauldrons.

Thank you very much to Alex Baldwin, Jamie Hood, Jody Joy and the other metal conservators at the British Museum for giving us the opportunity to come and see their work in progress.
If you are interested in the conservation of the Chiseldon Cauldrons a blog covering their conservation can be found on the British Museum website.

Truckle Hill: A Walk in the Woods

While the weather was still cold and the trees were still bare the Truckle Hill research group went for a walk in the woods near the Truckle Hill Roman Villa.  We were quite excited to have the opportunity to look around, as it was possible that artefacts and building material from the villa might be exposed on the hillside. The walk proved to make for a very interesting morning.

167 Taking a look at some geophysics results for the area

We started the walk off by looking at the path of a Roman road, barely visible on the ground. While we wandered through this section of wood, heading vaguely in the direction of the Bath-House we found some other interesting features. We spotted a number of quarries, probably used during the construction of the villa, or during the construction of the Bath-House.

168 Looking out for artefacts

Nearer to the site of the villa the volunteers spent most of their time looking at the ground, trying to pick out the shape of artefacts and building material, covered by the wild garlic growing all over the side of the hill. Though we didn’t find anything too spectacular, the work was well worth it.

170 One of the day’s finds: A piece of Roman pottery

Throughout the morning we spotted bits of roman pottery, stonework, pieces of roof tile and ceramic building material. We recorded everything we found during the day by taking photographs. By lunch we had covered quite a bit of ground, and photographed some nice artefacts from the villa.

169 Volunteers with very large piece of tessera

The weather warmed up nicely as the morning went on and we ended our trip by taking advantage of it. We sat outside, at our lunches and had a chat about some of the work and research that the volunteers have completed on Truckle Hill. Most of the conversation was taken up discussing the wall plaster that two of the volunteers have been working on recording since January. After a great deal of work the volunteers have recorded all of the wall plaster, from all four years of excavation at Truckle Hill. The record that they have created includes a very detailed set of notes over 160 photographs! Their hard work will be contributing to a report on the painted wall plaster at Truckle Hill.

171 Some examples of painted wall plaster from Truckle Hill

Learning About Finds

Many of the volunteers from Celts and Romans in North Wiltshire have asked for an opportunity to learn more about the artefacts that they have been working with.  So we organised an Artefact Identification Workshop for Thursday the 3rd of March in order to give them an opportunity to do just that. The workshop was hosted by the Wiltshire Heritage Museum, who put us up in their lovely lecture hall, lined with a collection of old books. (Some of the volunteers were just as fascinated with these shelves of old books as they were with the artefacts). Katie Hinds and Richard Henry from the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Lorraine Mepham from Wessex Archaeology presented our volunteers with a wealth of information and a chance to look at some fantastic objects.

108 Katie Hinds speaking to volunteers about Iron Age and Roman metal objects

Katie Hinds spoke to the volunteers about a plethora of different Iron Age and Roman metal objects. The volunteers went away from her talk with information on bracelets, finger rings, metal weights and a number of other useful and decorative items. Richard Henry spoke about Roman coins and how to recognise different types. The number of little clues that a coin may have to tell you when and where it was made is absolutely astonishing. The headgear of the person on the coin, the legend, and the mint mark are only some of the little details that contain all this wonderful information.

109 Two volunteers from the Chiseldon Local History Group working hard to decipher the information on their coins

Working with books and guides - and with tea and coffee to sustain them - the volunteers had the opportunity to try their hands at identifying a selection of coins. The task seemed a bit daunting given all of the information they had just learned. The coins are small, faded and most of the time difficult to read. Despite the challenges, however, our volunteers got on fabulously. The trick to identifying a coin is, as Richard told the volunteers, to write down what you can see first, and then to try to identify the type of coin it is.

110 Lorraine Mepham speaking on Iron
Age and Roman Pottery

After a lunch break Lorraine Mepham talked to the volunteers about Iron Age and Roman pottery. She went through all of the different types of information that a pot can give us, about how it was made, where it came from, and sometimes even what was stored in it. Afterwards the volunteers had the opportunity to go through a fabulous array of pottery set out on the back tables. The volunteers handled the objects, and got to feel the differences in the various types of pottery. Lorraine answered questions about the items, and even quickly identified small collections of pottery that volunteers had brought with them from their own explorations.
The workshop was a great success, with everyone going away having learned something new. Thank you to the Wiltshire Heritage Museum for the use of their space, Katie Hinds, Richard Henry and Lorraine Mepham for making it such an interesting session.
If you’re interested in learning more about Iron Age and Roman objects here are some online resources that can help:

111 Having a chat about some beautiful pieces of Iron Age and Roman pottery

We’re Throwing a Party!

Celts and Romans in North Wiltshire’ has been working with volunteers to get more people involved in the Iron Age and Roman heritage of North Wiltshire. In order to truly celebrate the fantastic archaeology from the Chiseldon Cauldrons site and the Truckle Hill Roman Nymphaeum and Bath-House site we are hosting a day of family fun. The event ‘Celtic Feasts and Roman Rituals’ will be taking place at Barbury Castle on Saturday 23rd July 2011 from 11:00am to 4:00pm, and will be part of the CBA Festival of British Archaeology.
The day will include tours of Barbury Castle, storytelling, Celtic and Roman themed arts and crafts, and the opportunity to learn about the Chiseldon Cauldrons and Truckle Hill. The event has its own dedicated space on the ‘Celts and Romans’ event page, where we will be posting more details about tours and activities as the day of the event gets closer.
Please join us in celebrating the Iron Age and Roman heritage of North Wiltshire!
If you have any questions or comments, or would like to be involved in the event, please contact: a.marcucci@wessexarch.co.uk.
If you would like to look at our Festival of British Archaeology event listing you can find it here: http://festival.britarch.ac.uk/whatson.

Processing Finds at Wessex Archaeology

55 Organising four years’ worth of wall plaster

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.

56 Washing the finds from Truckle Hill

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.

57 Wall plaster pieced back together to show the painted pattern

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.

58 A shelf stacked full of trays of clean artefacts

Finds Processing with South Wiltshire Young Archaeologists Club

As we continue the work to find out more about Truckle Hill and Chiseldon one of the tasks that needs to be done is to clean the finds from the autumn excavation and recent field walking. Members of the South Wiltshire Young Archaeologists’ Club, who came to visit the Truckle Hill excavation in September, were eager to help us start this process during their January meeting.

49 The Young Archaeologists started the finds washing for the artefacts from the autumn 2010 Truckle Hill excavation.

During the session the young archaeologists started the cleaning process, working to get the dirt and clay off of the pottery, bone and ceramic building material. The young archaeologists worked in groups and while some were working on finds washing another group tried their hands at marking finds. Each find needs to be labelled with the site number and context in the smallest writing possible. It takes a steady hand to keep the writing legible, and some of the young archaeologists were naturals at this task.

50 Some of the Young Archaeologists were naturals at labelling finds with small, neat writing.

We found the first and only coin discovered at the Truckle Hill Roman Bath-House this year. Another group had the opportunity to take a look at a few examples of Roman coins, and learn about all the information these small finds can contain. Then they got creative, and designed coins of their own.

51 The Young Archaeologists got into designing their own coins after looking at some Roman examples.

The finds processing session with South Wiltshire Young Archaeologists’ Club was a great start to working on the artefacts from Truckle Hill and Chiseldon.  I’m sure the enthusiasm will continue while volunteers from Truckle Hill visit the Wessex Archaeology offices to wash and label the rest of the artefacts. They will also be starting to record all of the decorated wall plaster from Truckle Hill.
Make sure to read this blog in order to keep updated on the progress.

Chiseldon Cauldrons Geophysics Results

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.

48 Preliminary geophysics results on the site of the Chiseldon Cauldrons

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.

Chiseldon Cauldrons - A Day of Field Walking

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.

38 Catching up and discussing the landscape around the site

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.

39 Field walking on a grey, cold day

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.

40 David holding up a small piece of bronze

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.


41 The quern stone and bags of smaller finds collected through out the day.

Planning Further Research on 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.
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