The project ‘Celts and Romans in North Wiltshire’ is connecting two exciting archaeological sites through community collaboration in archaeology. Truckle Hill, near North Wraxall, is the site of a Roman bath-house that has been excavated by Wessex Archaeology and a large group of dedicated volunteers since 2007. In Chiseldon twelve Iron Age cauldrons were found by a metal detectorist and excavated by a team made up of staff from Wessex Archaeology, the British Museum, and Chiseldon Local History Group. Both of these projects began with community members getting involved in researching and caring for their community’s heritage. The aim of ‘Celts and Romans in North Wiltshire’ is to build on this community involvement by working with current volunteers to get more people involved in these projects and excited by the Iron Age and Roman heritage of North Wiltshire.
The aim of the ‘Celts and Romans in North Wiltshire’ project is to explore and conserve the Iron Age and Roman Heritage of North Wiltshire through community collaboration in the investigations at Truckle Hill and Chiseldon. The project will improve the understanding of what the area was like, what traces of this heritage are left and how they should be preserved for the future.
The project worked towards these goals:
- Working closely with existing volunteers, local interest groups, and new volunteers, including them in every stage of the project. These participants will receive training in a variety of archaeological investigative techniques, and will work towards producing archaeological data of sufficient quality to inform the future designation of both the Truckle Hill and Chiseldon sites.
- Bringing the site to the attention of a wide range of people by providing a variety of informal and formal learning opportunities. These opportunities will include: school visits, talks, open days, tours, displays, leaflets, web pages, blogs, a Google Earth trail, and geocaching resources.
- Acting as a conduit for cultural exchange for the volunteers, local interest groups, and other participants of the project. Opportunities for participants in the project to come together will be provided so that participants from different communities within North Wiltshire can share their interpretations and experiences of this heritage with one another.
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Celtic feasts and Roman luxury
The Heritage Lottery Fund is awarding a grant of £36,600 to an exciting new project which aims to put people in north Wiltshire in touch with their prehistoric past. ‘Celts and Romans in North Wiltshire’ will investigate the rich archaeological heritage of north Wiltshire and involve teams of volunteers in exploring the Iron Age and Roman legacy of their area.
The project focuses on two sites, Chiseldon near Swindon and Truckle Hill near Chippenham. Until a few years ago both sites were unknown and then within a couple of years of each other, a unique hoard of Celtic cauldrons was unearthed at one and completely new Roman buildings were found at the other.
Commenting on the award, Margaret Bunyard, Education Manager for Wessex Archaeology said "The grant will mean that we can help volunteers really take part in the exciting business of archaeology. We’ll be able to support them as they do the research, field-walking and excavation for themselves. A number of partners are helping us with this project, and together we’ll make sure as many people as possible know what’s going on. We’ll be sharing the results through open days, guided walks, and a big celebratory event next summer."
Explaining the importance of the award, the Heritage Lottery Fund's Head of Region for the South West, Nerys Watts, said: ‘We are particularly pleased to be able to help this project which brings two important and exciting archaeological sites to the attention of a wide range of people, particularly the young and disadvantaged. One of our key aims is to help people become actively involved with their heritage so we were keen to support this project that will involve volunteers at every stage.’
Barbury Castle event
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.
Ativities 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.
Visit to 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- The Portable Antiquities Scheme
- The British Museum (Collections Database)
- Roman Republican Coinage
- Wild Winds – Greek, Roman and Byzantine Coins