Seeds and Silchester

As the University of Reading Insula IX ‘Town Life‘ Project draws to a close, so does the PhD that i’ve been writing on it over the last few years. As Silchester has dominated my archaeological life over the last five years, it seemed right that I spent most of my Day of Archaeology 2014 there (technically yesterday). I have been studying the macroscopic plant remains from the excavations since 2009, when I turned up as a recent graduate, searching for good archaeobotanical dataset to study for my masters (I chose well!). I’ve sorted and identified 1000s of charred, mineralised and waterlogged seeds from Insula IX. The insights gained range from finding out that olives were consumed at Late Iron Age Silchester, to showing that residents of the oppidum were growing and processing their own cereals. After spending a few summers working in the Science@Silchester team, elbow deep in a flotation tank for 7 weeks, I was just returning for the afternoon to teach a session on Archaeobotany at Silchester to the field school students, passing on some of the knowledge I’ve gained over the last few years.

My day kicked off with coffee number 1 at my desk at 8:30am, finishing off a beautiful powerpoint presentation on the many wonders of charred plant remains. I may have gone a bit overboard, but you need lots of images to explain how bags of soil magically turn into tiny plant remains. After squeezing in an hour of PhD chapter editing, I headed off to the train station to make my way to Silchester. The cycle between Mortimer station, spiritual gateway to 100s of field school students, and Silchester takes me through tiny country lanes. The soil around Silchester is a mix of clay, sands and gravels, so there’s more in the way of pasture and orchards than cereal fields. Eventually making it on to the droveway, the stench of portaloos tells me i’ve made it to Insula IX!

Blue skies over Insula IX

Blue skies over Insula IX ©Lisa Lodwick

After a quick catch up with the Science@Silchester team (you can read about them in last years Silchester post), I’m bundled in to the mini bus by Amanda Clarke to take me off to St Mary’s. It feels a bit strange to be teaching in a church, but the students were very keen, and I hope they learnt something. I also got to show off some of my favourite plant remains, including the charred olive stones from the final day of the 2012 season, and some beautiful spelt grains from a pit excavated back in 2006.

Archaeobotany teaching at Silchester

Microscopes and plant remains set up in the church! ©Amanda Clarke

I head back up to site to see how flotation is going. As the archaeology in Insula IX is running out, there’s unlikely to be any more ‘deep features’ this year producing waterlogged or mineralised plant remains, but hopefully the remaining pits will produce some good charred assemblages to complement those studied for my PhD research. Mike Fulford’s site tour kicks off at 4:30, so I’m able to catch up on the all new developments in Insula III – the most exciting (for me) is the discovery of a (probable) corn drier, interpreted by the Victorians as a hypocaust. If this feature can be dated, it will provide great evidence for how the agricultural role of Silchester changed over time.

Science assistant Rory manning the flotation tank

Science assistant Rory manning the flotation tank ©Lisa Lodwick

Flotation sample at Silchester

Disappointing number of plant remains.. plenty more samples though! ©Lisa Lodwick

After getting my fill of archaeology for the week, I’m off to home to continue with the PhD editing. I’ve produced lots of new evidence for how, where and when the residents of Late Iron Age and Roman Silchester were supplied with food, and I’m looking forward to finally finishing so I can discuss the findings with the rest of the project team.

The Insula IX excavations are coming to an end this year – open day dates are Saturday 26th July and Saturday 9th August.

Follow Amanda Clarke’s wonderful blog from the excavations

Silchester Twitter @silchexcavation

I tweet about plants and archaeology @LisaLodwick. You can read more about my AHRC funded PhD research at the University of Oxford here.