Reflections on the Excavations at Truckle Hill Roman Bath-House

I have had the pleasure this year of taking part in the excavation at Truckle Hill Roman bath-house. Though this year the excavation was part of the ‘Celts and Romans in North Wiltshire’ project the community effort to excavate this engaging site has been ongoing since 2007. It is thought that the site of the bath-house and two earlier period buildings has already taught us all we might learn through investigating the area where the excavation has been taking place. For this reason the next round of excavation out on Truckle Hill will be moving to a different location. The following is a reflection on the last four years of excavation made up of comments, stories, photos and video provided by the volunteer’s whose hard work and dedication to the site has produced such fantastic results.

 

‘Truckle Hill is the only dig I’ve ever been on where the director makes the tea!’

 

- Stella Maddock 
 

Two Important Things about Truckle Hill

Jayne O’Connell writes about her experience volunteering at the 2010 Truckle Hill excavation:

3 Jayne excavating at Truckle Hill.
Image from the cover of the 2009
Interim Report.

There are two very important things about the Truckle Hill dig. One is the 4 fantastic layers of occupation and use at the site. The other, and just as important, are the people who have been involved in the dig.
 
Firstly, the Wessex Archaeology team are, to put it mildly, brilliant. Phil, Darren and early on, Nessie, have been wonderful. Bearing in mind I am probably one of the only regular volunteers who have not been digging for an eternity, they have been a great support.
 
Margaret has been a great contact within Wessex, and never more so for me than when I contacted her late last year.  I knew that the report for last year's dig was not going to be ready until January or February 2010 and that my picture was going to be on the front cover.  My father had a great love of history and archaeology and indeed had in better days taken the bus from Wetherby to York to take a look at the Hungate dig.  He was always delighted to hear how things were progressing at the bath-house.  My father had been ill for a number of years and now being terminal I knew that he would not live to see the report along with the photo of me on the front cover.  So I contacted Margaret at the beginning of November and asked if I could have a copy of the photo to send to my Dad.  Margaret very kindly organised this for me, I sent the picture to him and he was thrilled to bits.  I explained to Dad what exactly was in the picture and how exciting the dig had been because of the discovery of the new structure under the bath house.  My Dad died on 20th November, a very sad day for me.  Apart from Niall my husband, Dad was probably the only other member of my family who was as enthusiastic about archaeology and history as I am.
 
It has also been great over the past four years to have met people like Paul and Clive.  Paul seems to have spent the past four years disappearing down ever deepening holes.  This year while the digger was removing the top soil off our huge 10 x 3 metre trench Paul took us on a grand tour of the area around the villa at the top of the hill and on a walk along the valley.  Paul in years gone by had done a geophysics survey of the field where the villa is situated, along with many other interesting features, several being Iron Age.  His knowledge of this field and the surrounding area is very in depth and it was great to listen to him and discuss the possibilities for next year's dig.  Clive is much in demand by the Hungate team so was only with us for a couple of days this year and then dashed off back to York to do some planning and digging for them.  Again he has great skill purely from years of experience in the field.
 
I have got to know wonderful people like Shaun, Mary-Jane and Stella - all of whom have boundless energy and insight which far outweighs my own and I love to sit and chat with them.
 
And of course we could not do without Dooey.  Those endless cups of tea and coffee would not have existed without him.  I think he looks forward to us being there every year, and I think we all enjoy his company.  This year I even acquired some very fine fresh eggs from him, so I had some wonderful scrambled eggs for tea one evening. Delicious! 
 
It has also been a pleasure to be there and meet and listen to experts such as Roy Canham, Mike Stone and Grahame Soffe when they have visited. 
 
It has been great to see how a site develops over time.  Truckle Hill has given us this, and I think it is a fine example.  I am astonished at how some of these walls are still in such beautiful condition bearing in mind their age, and I have marvelled at the end of each year's dig at the quality of their skill as builders. 
 
In 2008 myself, Stella and Darren took time out from the bath house and dug the feature further north of the site (close to the loo!), at what we thought was going to be a nymphaeum - well that's what we thought.  Every morning I said to Darren and Stella "come on lets go find a nymphaeum".  But it turned out to be a lime and mortar preparation area.  I understand these are quite rare so I felt privileged and thankful that I volunteered to tear myself away from the bath house for the 2008 season.
 
In 2009 I was so pleased to find a lovely floor from the newly discovered building under the bath house, and also to touch but not be able to see (much to my disappointment) the dip in the floor for the water to drain away.... perfect!  Surrounding this lovely floor was also some beautiful wall plaster, and in the corner and the join between the floor and walls of this tank or pool the wall plaster was curved outward. I'm sure Professor Henig gave me a name for this, but for the life of me I cannot remember what it was.  I also took on the small role for Phil in 2009 - purely by accident it has to be said - of giving visitors tours of the site.  I think Phil felt that I'd been there long enough to know a little bit about the place.  Well I have to say I did enjoy myself. In preparation for doing the same tours this year I read the 2009 report from cover to cover, but to my amazement a new person arrived on the scene, Allison, who did the job wonderfully well when she was around.  Apparently most of the visitors came at the weekends so I didn't do any tours this year - and after all that preparation!
 
When I finished the dig in 2007, I couldn't wait to get back in 2008. I felt the same at the end of the dig in 2008, and so it has continued.  I am looking forward to getting back in 2011 and tackling the field at the top of the hill above the bath house.  I cannot wait to see Phil's updated plan of the site with the new walls in situ. It will make for interesting discussions about where the building is going - further under the tent. Will we dig a trench just above the tent to find those steps…? I think it’s worth a shot!
 
It has been a pleasure to dig here and as a volunteer I have felt appreciated for the work I have put in.  In 2007 I was interviewed on site by BBC Radio Wiltshire. I sounded like the cat that got the cream and I have felt like that every year on the dig. 
 
- Jayne O’Connell