a day in the life of an archaeological field unit – Essex 2016

The Colchester Archaeological Trust is a busy archaeological field unit based at Colchester in Essex in the UK. We have been working in the construction industry for over 50 years and our operational area is primarily Colchester, Essex and Suffolk: we are a CIfA-registered professional field unit and both a registered charity and a limited company. Our building is the former NAAFI of the Artillery (Le Cateau) Barracks of the famous old Colchester garrison and it abuts the site of the only known Roman circus in Britain. We also maintain our own Roman circus visitor centre and tea room! Our remit as a charity includes informing and involving people and promoting the archaeology of Colchester and so, as part of that, we maintain a blog on our web-site and also publish all our fieldwork reports online, in tandem with the wide range of archaeological projects which we undertake for clients. We work as a team and we are lucky to have a great team of volunteers, and so I have written this post about all our Day of Archaeology here at the Trust.


The Trust’s HQ and Roman circus centre, with part
of the site of the circus marked out in front.

On the Day of Archaeology (Friday 29th July), we were all busy, either here in our HQ or out on site or a bit of both! Indoors, Trust director Philip Crummy was preparing the lecture which he was presenting on Saturday to the ARA (Association for Roman Archaeology) at the University of Essex, to be followed by a guided tour of Roman Colchester on Sunday morning, including the Roman circus site and centre. Senior archaeologist Howard Brooks spent the morning on site in Billericay: in the afternoon he was working on a group of finds from an excavation at Wormingford for the CAG (the amateur Colchester Archaeological Group). Trust volunteer Hannah (currently helping us before she starts at the Sixth Form College) was washing the Roman material from a very recent Trust site at a property in Lexden, Colchester.


Howard working on some of the small finds from
the CAG excavation on a rural site at Lodge Hills in
Wormingford (2007-2011). The metal finds from
the site are varied and include two jetons, a
cloth-weaver’s seal, decorative buttons, lead shot, and
several coins, ie an Elizabeth I sixpence, a Charles I
farthing, a William III sixpence, George II halfpenny,
a George III halfpenny of 1799, and a Roman barbarous
radiate coin, of Tetricius or Claudius, with the figure of
Laetitia on the reverse.


Trust volunteer Hannah with a fragment
of Roman tile from the site at Lexden in
Colchester, showing an animal paw-print.

Trust archaeologist Don Shimmin was working on the report for a long-running watching brief which he conducted at Abbey House in Colchester, which used to belong to the old garrison, and which stands within the precinct of the medieval St John’s abbey. Trust archaeologist and pottery specialist Steve Benfield spent the morning on site in Maldon, and in the afternoon he was studying the mostly late Roman pottery from our recent site at Great Chesterford. Trust archaeologist Laura Pooley was writing site reports and, later, selecting finds from our site Area J North within the old garrison at Colchester, for a small display which our client Taylor Wimpey will be mounting in their sales suite when they open it at their new development at Flagstaff House, which is also within the old garrison and just round the corner from our HQ. Trust volunteer Wendie was helping Kate in the tea room in the afternoon, after a morning of marking pottery and talking to circus centre visitors and also giving guided tours. Trust volunteers Shirley H. and Shirley W. were also helping here in the morning. Kate had made a special cake which her daughter Pip decorated with a Roman chariot, and this was on display on Friday – we are presenting a summer season of free events here on Saturdays, and that Saturday was a full day with our archaeological roadshow, a lecture on Martello Towers in Suffolk, and a guided tour of the circus site and centre!


Laura with the two Roman picture lamps
from the site at the old garrison. This was
the site of a large Roman cemetery and the
two lamps were excavated from two cremation
burials, one of which has been dated to
the mid/late 2nd-early 3rd century.


Steve doing some online research on the late Roman
pottery from our site at Great Chesterford, where we
uncovered a 2.3 metre-wide robber-trench which seems
to represent the Roman town wall.

Out on site, Trust archaeologist Mark Baister was supervising an area excavation in the grounds of the University of Essex, on the site of a new block within the Innovation Centre at the campus, which is on the outskirts of Colchester: he was working with Trust excavators Sarah, Beth and Alec, assisted by student Callum who works with the Trust during the summer. Trust archaeologist Adam Whiteman was supervising an urban excavation in Brentwood town centre with Trust excavators Nigel and Jane. Trust archaeologist Chris Lister was out conducting a watching brief on construction works for the new residential development at Flagstaff House. In Maldon, Steve investigated the possible boundary ditch of the Anglo-Saxon burh, in a footings trench in a back garden. Mark and his team were excavating pits and ditches producing medieval pottery which suggest the site of a settlement in the vicinity. Brentwood is a large town on the historic main Colchester-London road: our site there is not far from the ruins of the medieval chapel of St Thomas of Canterbury. Our site includes a huge well and evidence of previous buildings which seem to represent a previously-unknown street, including the site of a probable coaching inn with a carriageway to a rear yard.

And some of our members of staff were on leave! – ie Trust archaeologists Ben Holloway, Emma Holloway and Robin Mathieson, and tea room manager Lauren – and other members of staff were not at work on the day, for example, archaeologist Pip Parmenter and office manager Jules.
With thanks to all the Trust members of staff and our great volunteers, to all our clients, and to our circus centre visitors and tea room customers!

All the Trust’s fieldwork reports are published online at http://cat.essex.ac.uk/ . Visit our web-site at www.thecolchesterarchaeologist.co.uk/ .


Trust volunteer Wendie in the tea room.


Some happy circus centre visitors on the Day of Archaeology.


The Roman chariot cake.

The images show the Trust’s HQ and Roman circus centre; Hannah with a fragment of Roman tile; Howard in a back room with the finds from Wormingford; Laura with two Roman picture lamps; Steve doing some online research; Wendie in the tea room; some circus centre visitors; and the cake…  (No photos of Philip or Kate were permitted… and I was in the building all day and wrote this post!)

The site photos below show our work on that Friday at Maldon, Brentwood and at the University of Essex.

Maldon-burh w-s

On our site at Maldon, the footings trench was excavated
through a large feature which was not bottomed at a depth
of 80 cm: we think that this represents part of the Anglo-
Saxon burh boundary ditch. The photo shows the dark upper
backfill of the ditch and a possible tip-line (by the measuring
rod). The other end of the trench may have exposed the western
edge of the ditch (not shown in photo.). The feature has produced
pottery fragments dating to about the 12th-14th centuries.

Brentwood w-s

Alec working on the medieval street on our site at Brentwood.

university w-s

The university site photo shows one of the features
which we investigated on the Friday.