A Day On Two Sites

Hello I’m Cornelius, one of the partners at L – P: Archaeology. I’ve been doing commercial archaeology for 25 years now, and I know that the following short story will be very familiar to a lot of you, but anyone who has never been involved in a trenching evaluation be warned- this rollercoaster ride of thrills, despair and elation is not for the faint hearted. Some images may contain brickearth.

As described in my earlier post, we are currently conducting a 5% sample evaluation below a car-park in Egham, Surrey. First thing this morning we broke the tarmac on a fresh new trench, full of possibilities. We started to machine away the modern overburden deposits below the surface, taking care to avoid the large water pipe we knew to be in the trench. As our very skilled machine driver was doing this I got a call from another site.

51 miles away to the south lies the lovely house of Brambletye in Keston. An extension is currently being built on the house, which involves digging some small but deep footings. As the house lies next to the Scheduled Ancient Monument of Keston Roman Tombs, even very small scale work needs to be watched closely, so I leave the trench in the capable hands of my colleague Mike and zoom off down the M25.

When I get to Brambletye the crew have a small 3-ton digger ready, and have soon dug the footing. There is absolutely nothing in it but natural clay, with not even a stray sherd of Roman pot in the topsoil. My disappointment is offset by a very fine cup of tea, and then back to Egham to look at the trench.

In my absence Mike has cleaned and recorded the trench beautifully. A single linear feature in the trench has been sectioned, and is clearly a wall footing of early 20th century origin- possibly the wall of the doctors surgery we were told about by the very helpful staff at Egham Museum, who were kind enough to show us their collection of old maps. There is no other archaeology visible in the trench, so I survey it using a Smartrover GPS system and we fill it back in. I lock up the site and head home to write up the days results. Which are that I have driven about 150 miles, shifted a few hundred tons of earth and found nothing of archaeological interest whatsoever.

But it was mostly sunny, and I was out in the fresh air, and I got a close look at a very cool Roman tomb complex. And the tea was very good.

Altogether a fine day.

Photos copyright L – P : Archaeology

Virgil Yendell: Geoarchaeologist and his lovely sediments

Here are some shots of a trial pit under a former pub in Victoria. The lovely sediments from the base show c. 10,000 yr old fluvial gravels over lain by sandy deposits of a substantial tributary of the Thames, possibly the Tyburn, running through Victoria. During the prehistoric this river appears to have silted up and a waterlogged woodland is evident from the brown peaty deposits, which later developed into possible clayey water meadows that would have been used for pasture during the historic period.


Excavation at Appleby Magna- Getting children involved in archaeology!!

The Sir John Moore Foundation run a programme during the summer which allows children from the age of eight to get involved with an archaeological dig on site. I had the pleasure of attending and helping out on the dig for the day. It was truly fantastic to see young children getting involved in an area of study which I enjoy so much. There was in all three small trenches which were dug out in accordance to the finding of a wall in the summer past.

From local maps, we understood that there was some kind of building located in this area marked by a large dark area. In digging in the trench located next to that of the wall. I found that from about one metre below the surface there was a large amount of charcoal discovered along with a large number of nails. Bricks were also uncovered scattered from about one metre below the surface point. As I dug further down and extended out the trench I found a number of other items. From the remains of glass bottles to sherds of pottery thought to be that of the late Victorian period of the 1850’s. The children involved were completely engaged throughout the day, and it was great to see how excited and competitive they become upon excavating new items. Not only were they excavating but also learning how to mark out areas, measure the trench, clean finds, photograph finds and record finds in the correct way.

The initial finds from the excavation helped me build a picture of what I thought the dark area found on the initial maps may have been. The large amount of burnt wood discovered is certainly evidence for the possible destruction of the site itself. There were a number of sherds of pottery found with dark black smudges on which one could not remove when cleaning. Furthermore there was a large amount of glass bottles found. If, as I predict, a fire destroyed the settlement that stood in this area it is highly unlikely that the temperature of the fire would have been strong enough in order to melt the glass; as glass is only burnt at temperatures starting from as high as five hundred degrees depending on the glass type. The pressure would have caused glass and pottery to break, which would coincide with what was found in the trenches. I would argue that there was certainly some form of building in this area. Possibly with a brick/stone foundation with a wooden structure predicted from the evidence found in the excavation. It may have been that this site was then used as storage or some kind of out building or workshop. Further excavations will reveal more and hopefully reinforce the initial findings.

All in all, for me the most important element of the dig, without a shadow of a doubt, was getting young children involved in the world of archaeology. Archaeology is a career that I aspire to be in once I complete my degree and maintaining an interest in this area is essential. The programme runs every year with a number of dates. All the volunteers are dedicated to helping the children understand the history and the archaeology of the area, providing them with a range of skills which would be beneficial not just in this are but many areas of their future. I am not exaggerating when I say that the children loved the entire day. Some of the children enjoy it so much that they have attended not just the current year but years previous to this.  The unfortunate point is the area in which the dig is situated is owned by the local school and therefore once the summer is over the trenches have to be covered over until the following year.

The whole day was fantastic, more community archaeology excavations have cropped up in the recent years, and maintaining a growing interest in this area of work is essential. All be it a great way to get out doors and bring families together for a fantastic fun filled day!

Just a few of the children s finds of the day

Fantastic finds in Appleby Magna!