Final Days: Silchester ‘Town Life’ project 2014


Silchester TownLifers!

Silchester TownLifers!

This is the 18th and final season of the Silchester ‘Town Life’ project, and we thought we would share one of our final days with you! This project began in 1997 and has run seasonally every summer since. In 18 seasons we have introduced more than 5000 people to the delights of field archaeology, and have trained over 1500 University of Reading students in archaeological field techniques. Our students have spent nearly 2 million hours on this project…and their collective efforts will bring this excavation to a close on Saturday 16th August 2014. I am Amanda Clarke, Director of the Silchester Field School and Assistant Director of the Town Life project…..this is my life!

Amanda doing tour

Amanda On Tour

This season we have up to 150 people on site every day, including 40 staff members – all very necessary for keeping the show on the road. An excavation this size is a mix of people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities……an archaeological melting pot. They are all characters in their own way, and each has a story to tell.

The Director of our project is Professor Michael Fulford; Mike has been excavating at the Roman town of Silchester for 40 years now, and the Silchester ‘Town Life’ project is his brainchild. Mike is on site almost every day during the digging season, and here he gives us an insight into the Day in a Life of a Dig Director……

Michael Fulford –  Project Director

Professor Mike!

Professor Mike!

Keeping on top of the archaeology is my principal concern from day to day. We are digging two quite different areas within the Roman town: in Insula IX we have almost completed our excavation through some 500 years of Calleva’s history. What remains to do consists for the most part of recognising, and then excavating, features like Iron Age post holes, beam slots, and pits which were cut into the natural subsoil of gravels and clays. This isn’t always easy when conditions are dry as they are now and important features can show one day and then be quite hard to recognise the next. Apart from completing the excavation of the >3000m2 of our trench, we also have some specific objectives, such as recovering as much information as we can about the extent and character of our great, late Iron Age halls.
Insula III is very different. Here we are re-assessing the findings of the Victorian excavation simply by digging out their original excavation trenches. Sometimes recognising the cuts is difficult and in 2013 we definitely under-estimated the extent of the Victorian interventions. Once we have definition, following along the line of the trenches is relatively easy. What we are beginning to see with fresh eyes, with all the knowledge gained from more than 100 years of archaeology since the 1890s, is a very different from the Victorian interpretation of the remains. Quite minor-seeming observations have major implications. For example, the Victorians considered everything they found to be more or less contemporary, but we can see a great chronological difference between the construction – and robbing – of walls which from their position can only be early Roman and other structures, such as a hearth and a corn-drying oven, which are at the very top of the stratigraphic sequence, and date from the very end of the Roman period, if not later.
Thinking through the archaeology as it emerges from the ground, relating it to the finds as they are washed and laid out to dry by Elise and her team, and discussing developing interpretations with Amanda and the supervisors of each of our areas fills much of the day. Then there are visits, some planned, but many unannounced, from old friends returning for this, our last season, but it is always a pleasure to share with them the ever-evolving excitements of our discoveries and what they mean for the history of Calleva.
By the end of the day, sitting down for a chilled glass of wine is very, very welcome!

Other than Mike of course, one of the most important people on the project is my assistant Jenni…here is her day!

Jenni Eaton Project Assistant

Jeni and her Lists

Jenni and her Lists

Lists! Lists! And more Lists! That’s essentially what I provide for the Field School Director, supervisors and participants on site. It could be a list of who’s on which rota (there are 6 of them and well over 100 people on site each week!), on-site talk sign-ups for students, timetables & who’s having lunch! There are many more and they are all important and can change daily.
I do get out of the cabin occasionally and can catch up with the Science & Finds Manager to see what new things have been unearthed! This gives me the opportunity to take photos and add them onto our Facebook and Twitter pages so we can update the public with what’s being found each week.
Thoroughly enjoy working out in the field, even though I’m not digging. The change of scenery for 6 weeks is an added bonus!

Next up is Jon Tierney, my Site Manager. Jon has been with the project for 10 years and it is safe to say that the project would not be the same without him!

Jon Tierney, Silchester Site Manager

My Archaeology Day consists of getting up early to unlock the excavation gates, whilst waiting for Amanda’s arrival in order to have breakfast. Much of my day is spent running between the various parts of site, delivering messages, shouting instructions and organising people to carry out the rotas. At breakfast Amanda and I discuss how the day will pan out. I then collect our commuting students from Mortimer Train Station in the minibus. Throughout the rest of the day I help and aid people on the site with a number of tasks including taking students down to the local surgery, driving to the nearest supermarket and hardware store to collect various items, and heading down to St. Mary’s Church to set up the facilities for Michael Fulford’s afternoon lecture. I spend some time emptying the food waste bags on site, carefully checking that no items were in them other than ‘food’… wrath will know no bounds if I catch anyone putting non-food items in these bins….. I also taught two young men the advanced skill passed down through the Silchester generations…….the transferable skill that is Portaloo cleaning……followed by site litter picking with bin bags. After much trepidation these young men are now adept in this important life skill! Later I will drive again to Mortimer Train station, this time to return the commuting students. After a rushed, stand-up supper, I will then drive the minibus full of students to Aldermaston Nuclear Research Facility for a shower. We will all then rush back to camp to dress up as a pirate and head down to the local pub, the Calleva Arms. For the last 200 metres to the pub I will scream profanities in a mock pirate accent and run full pelt at the pub screaming as loud as I can……this is the infamous Silchester Diggers’ Pirate Charge Just a typical day for me as Silchester Site Manager.


Pirate Jon

The On-Site Team: Nick’s team, East central area
Matt Cano – Assistant Supervisor
I woke up this morning, feeling a lot more optimistic about the workday than I had the previous day, this was in main largely due to the fact that I could count to three without feeling like my head would explode. I had got a good night’s sleep having watched the World Cup Final and had gone straight to bed without a single hint of alcohol in my system.

I should introduce myself, my name is Matthew Cano and I am an Assistant Supervisor working in the East area of Insula IX. Last year at Silchester I worked as a Trainee Supervisor and was offered a job with Oxford Archaeology in the commercial sector! I have spent my year working on a couple of fantastic sites (Hampton Court Palace and Woolwich Arsenal) and the rest of the year battling floods down in Bexhill.

This year at Silchester I have taken a large step up, I am involved in decisions about how to tackle the key areas of site and spend most of my day supervising. I have enjoyed this step up immensely, I like responsibility and to be put under pressure, I think it is making me a better archaeologist for it and once again I am learning a lot at Silchester).

The previous day I had spent the evening removing the last bits of rum left in my system by mattocking a large expanse of cultivated soil (15884). This soil expands across most of our area and extends into other areas as well. It is possibly the last thing remaining until we hit the Iron Age for sure. So this morning I continued removing it and was also looking for the negative features which cut through the natural geology beneath. It was a good morning, I managed to get a few helpers, Emily (our trainee) and Kristyn, an Australian Masters student at Oxford. It was a very hard morning’s work, the features popped up and then disappeared as the sediment dried rapidly in the burning sun. I came up with the idea of tagging all the features we found so then when it came to planning we wouldn’t have to re-clean the whole area to find them once more. Throughout the day, (usually when I was too tired to continue mattocking for a bit) I would go around the site helping people and updating myself about what is happening.
There is one particular part of site where we have ‘gone commercial’: to the south there were three intercutting wells excavated previously, but the confusing part is the vast amount of slumping here, suggesting another deep negative feature. However, when sectioning, the natural came through much higher than anticipated. This was confusing, but after countless minutes spent looking at the section it became apparent that, due to the high content of organic matter within this feature there must have been a lot of decay which led to the slumping. Now all that is left to do is separate the finds by different numbered contexts, draw the section and then knock out the other side and record its leftover profile.

All in all a good day with a lot of progress, our aim of finishing all the archaeology by week 5-6 is still on course!

Assistant Supervisor Matt

Assistant Supervisor Matt

The On-Site Team: Sarah Lucas’ team, South-East corner, Insula IX

All university of Reading students have the opportunity to apply for Placements and Traineeships on the excavation; it is an excellent addition to the curriculum vitae of all those who wish to go on and work in commercial archaeology.
James Billson, Site Trainee (3rd year, University of Reading student)
My position is as a Trainee in Sarah Lucas’ group this season. Having conducted teaching roles with the new intake of first time diggers into our team (section drawing etc) I now am in the process of removing the last layers of the ‘Ankle-Breaker’ ditch (stratigraphically, naturally) before being assigned to a new role.
For the rest of my digging experience I have excavated for the Silchester project for three consecutive seasons (two weeks in the first, four in the second, and now the whole time in the third.) In addition to this I have four weeks at the Anglo-Saxon site of Lyminge in Kent, four weeks working for Kent County Council, and soon two and a half weeks in Israel.

Trainee James

Trainee James


Georgia Wood, Site Placement (2nd year University of Reading student)

This year at Silchester I am working as a placement in Sarah Lucas’ group. In the few days that I have been on site I have been attempting to understand the stratigraphical make-up of the southern baulk. Having spent 3 days on this task it has become quite tedious but is still interesting when interpreting each layer and it’s possible back story.

It is so great to be back on site again this year for the final season of excavation. If this season is anything like the last, I am sure it will be full of hot days, aching muscles, awkward sunburns and heaps of fun!

Placement Georgia

Placement Georgia

Imogen Kate Burrell, 1st year University of Reading student of Archaeology
I have been undertaking my first section drawing of a 3 meter section of stratigraphy along the north facing side of Insula IX which has been quite challenging. The section has changed day by day and been redrawn multiple times as each person who has viewed it has identified new inclusions and features. The section is a good example of how interpretative archaeology can be and how each layer can tell a story. My word of advice is to never get attached to any plan –  and hopefully with time my archaeologist’s eye will sharpen!

Archaeology student Imogen

Archaeology student Imogen

Alex Agar – long-time Silchester excavator

Alex Agar

I have mostly been working on a section of the main North – South road that runs through the town. With a colleague, I have been exposing a section of the road using mattocks for the initial digging, and trowels for tidying up the surface and making it as nearly vertical as possible.

When this had been accomplished, we established a datum line and drew a section drawing of the feature. After this,we are completing context cards for each layer that we exposed, and we are now using electronic devices for the first time (an iPad mini), instead of paper and pen.


Silchester's east section, a slice through Roman town life

Silchester’s east section, a slice through Roman town life

Sarah Lucas' area: revealing the Iron Age

Sarah Lucas’ area: revealing the Iron Age

The life of a Roman Town as seen through its layers

The life of a Roman Town as seen through its layers


Gareth Dennis, Site Trainee (3rd year University of Reading student)

The team I have been a member of since my first season in Silchester (2012) is currently engaged in the identification and excavation of the final remaining features in the SW corner of Insula IX. Since 2012 the amount of available archeology in Insula IX that has not been completely worked through has dramatically reduced; with the inevitable but still frustrating result of a reduced working area. In previous seasons more senior team members took over ‘fiefdoms’ comprised of portions of the trench, to which other staff were allocated to support and train; which was extremely satisfying. This season more senior team members are jumping from task to task as activities present themselves, and placements and trainees are often not doing activities greatly more advanced than the new intake, which is far less satisfying. Clearly it cannot be too long before the amount of tasks available begins to reduce and a ‘too many cooks’ scenario results.

This is still not occurring at present; I spent my day checking through and completing paperwork and updating plans with new archeology found when the southern baulk was straightened, moving a wheelbarrow bridge on site to facilitate access to the remaining ditch section, I taught someone that they didn’t need the site total station to get a coordinate, and I trained some of the new intake to complete context sheets so that they can hopefully complete them independently rather than just being able to complete the one that they just received instruction on… I’ll check on this after the tea-break which has just started….

Trainee Gareth

Trainee Gareth

James Peddle – longtime Silchester Friend and Excavator

Today at Silchester has been a bright sunny day, I’ve been cleaning natural gravels to find a beam slot but found three charcoal patches instead – who says archaeology is boring !  (half sectioning one of the patches looks like we have a post hole).  The ‘saught after’ beam slot is a possible extension of of a short beam-slot for one of the long houses of the ‘late iron-age’/’early roman’ period which Prof Mike thinks he can see extending into the side of the excavation (we can’t see it {yet!} somewhere in middle of experimental panoramic photo.  There are several sets of beams slots for houses of this period in Insula IX –  one of which may be the longest ‘long-house’ in Europe.

Panoramic shot of the south section

Panoramic shot of the south section


At lunch time today took a walk down to Insula III where some of the Victorian trenches are being excavated – brought back memories for me of the early years of this excavation (17 years ago) when we were doing the same thing in Insula IX.

Victorian trenches in Insula III 2104

Victorian trenches in Insula III 2104

The site was very different back then: in the first year we only had a tea hut on site – everything had to be wheel-barrowed up the Droveway from the farm (and back again at the end of the day).  See the photo from 2000 – when we had a few more on-site facilities:  notice the ‘wheeled’ caravan type huts, few porta-loos (far left) and the scaffold tower.  The tower was raised occasional with a great ceremony (10 men, hard hats, training…) and an aerial view of the site could be obtained. See the photo of  House 1 defined by the Victorians (the large block of flints in the middle could have been where a mosaic was removed by them).  The last photo shows details of the re-excavated Victorian trenches, you can see how they dug diagonal trenches (far right side of photo) until they met a wall and then chased it round to define the building.

Victorian trenches in Insula IX

Silchester 2000

View from the photographic tower 2000

View from the photographic tower of House 1, season 2000

Victorian trenches revealing the masonry walls of House 1

Victorian trenches revealing the masonry walls of House 1, season 2000

Tony Mears, Assistant Archaeological Supervisor

Hi all, students, archaeologists, enthusiasts, and the plain uninterested. My name is Tony, I work for the University of Reading as an Assistant Supervisor at the Silchester field school! I’ll spare you a lengthy description of the project or self aggrandising paragraphs about myself. I will tell you just about my day.

Today I woke up late, cliche I know…there was sprite, toothpaste and gravel filled walking boots everywhere. Eventually I arrived at work (the 45m to the trench from my tent) and began my days work. This consists of teaching, a small amount of excavating, and a whole load of juggling peoples problems. From my meticulous supervisor, to the questions of my students enjoying their first few days in the trench. It’s something of a blur, the whole morning flies by in a whir of plans, sections, trowels, mattocks and shovels…Lunch breaks the deadlock.
One tuna baguette, one packet of ready salted crisps, one chocolate bar, and 45 minutes of sun. Then it’s over, and back to work, lots of exciting features are turning up, new students are being inducted and introduced. The whole excavation sounds like a quarry.
I have to get back to work now, there are people trowelling for the first time in their lives, It’s 4 years since I had that feeling, the best I can do now is go and enjoy someone else having their first crack at archaeology…I give them 2 days until they’re totally hooked.
Kevin Kallmes – International Placement
I am a recent University of Minnesota graduate in History, Latin, and Archaeology, and this is my second year crossing the Atlantic in order to join the Silchester Town Life Project.  I have a Placement position, which means that on top of the excavation-related activities of any excavator or student, I am responsible for aiding in teaching new students the methods of field work and interpretation.  Silchester is an amazing and unique site to dig at because it is one of the few Roman British towns that has been left largely unoccupied since the fifth century, so the Roman leavings are not affected too greatly by later human activity.  As an American and a student whose fascination and experience outside of Silchester has been centered on books, this ability to touch and interact with the remains of the daily lives of the Romans is practically intoxicating.
My normal day during this 6-week period consists of a mixture of troweling, recording and drawing each discrete layer, and formulating interpretations of the occupation deposits in my area, with the help of fresh students and my supervisors.  I am excavating a hearth that was reused several times, and each layer of use has a different makeup and different contents, which can be used to determine not only what was cooked there, but what culture they were a part of.  While the physical removal is excellent exercise and gives me the chance to practice seeing and feeling the changes in soil and contents, the most interesting–and challenging–part of archaeology, to me, is establishing the sequence of deposits and their differences.  The different layers often seem intent on eluding interpretation as to which overlies which or even what nuances differentiate them, and it is this puzzle that drew me to field work.  In truth, that is the focus of what we do here: establishing sequences and interpreting uses.  Interpretation is a deductive and imaginative art, and there is no better feeling on site than coming to a conclusion of the lifestyles and activities that left each message for us.  My eureka moments usually surround the exact types of materials–reused tiles, clay surfaces, and gravel floors–were used in building successive hearths on the same spot throughout late Roman occupation.  Perhaps I cannot recreate the entire lives of the occupants of Roman Silchester, but their actions are, in part, immortalized in both the soils and in the treasures they have unintentionally left for us.
As a lifelong student of Roman history, this ability to find truly new information about a group whose great authors, cities, and stories I prize so greatly is an amazing opportunity.  Through my day-to-day planning, sampling, and careful removals, I am adding further information to the historical and cultural records.  And even if my contributions are not incredibly famous or widesweeping, the overall understanding of worldwide scholarship is changed by each individual’s efforts, and I find my part in this conglomeration of knowledge exciting.
For me, Silchester has been a place of discovery, camaraderie, and learning priceless skills, but most of all it is a place of eureka.  Of moments where, with all the evidence exposed and scrutinized, the exact way in which they were used and deposited dawns on you.  And, with luck, these ideas may bring vital information both to other enthusiasts of Roman studies and to the world at large.
Kevin Kallmes
Jesse Coxey – International Placement
Today I spent my day outside of the actual trench itself working on an Exhibition Centre for the upcoming Open Day. I worked on shoring- up an above ground well display, and constructing various shelves and platforms. I usually spend most of my time at Silchester in the trench but it is interesting working in a supporting position for a change. The shoring and general construction these types of sites require seems simple, but, just like being taught excavation techniques in the trench, today I learned a wide variety of carpentry and Macgyver-esque engineering.
International Placement Jesse

International Placement Jesse


The Silchester Exhibition Centre – under construction!

Stephen Kostes – international student – first time in England!
This is my first archeological dig in my life, and so far I have excavated a hearth, post hole and part of a Roman road.  It is by far one of the best experiences of my life and is swaying me away from ancient history to actual archeology.
The Science Team


Lizzie Raison, Science Trainee (3rd year University of Reading student)

The Silchester Field School always guarantees a high level of learning, unrivaled work experience and endless laughter. I am now here for my third season and am working as a science trainee, which involves post-excavation sample processing such as flotation, sieving and sorting. In addition I help out teaching new students as well as explaining the importance of archaeological science to the countless visitors we encounter on site, many of whom assume we are panning for gold. Of course it’s not all about hard work and Silchester also offers fantastic social opportunities, with ultimate frisbee evenings, a weekly pub quiz and numerous hilarious parties, all of which helped me to make great friends with shared interests in my first summer at University!

Zoe Richardson, Science Trainee (3rd year University of Reading student)

My second year working on the ‘Science@Silchester’ section of the excavation (and third year here overall) has got off to an exciting start. I write this waiting for a pump to get fixed for our flotation tank, but it is sunny and there are hoses, so all is well (apart from the samples we need to float).

Our team is pretty lovely, we reside (when not camping) in a green cabin that has been filled with backlogs of sorting, laptop for data entry, odd bits and bobs that look like scrap but come in handy, enough biscuits to suggest that we intercepted a delivery van, and animal pictures.

A standard day for a science trainee consists of many things:

Coffee to awaken us, obviously.

Biscuits, to prepare us for the day ahead,
discussing everyone’s previous night’s shenanigans whilst we set up the pump for flotation
setting up the sieving area

we process GBA (general bulk analysis) bags, which are brought to us by the excavators. When a new context is open, they are asked to take a GBA and XRF (X-ray florescent) samples for us to process and analyse.

Sometimes the sample with be brimming with charcoal and other organic residue for us to fawn over, or heavy residue consisting of bits of pot, bone, or even a small find or two. Other times it will be a 6 bag sample of clay (the hardest soil type to process) or just bags of natural (stones. just 6 bags of stones.); it is rather rewarding. After that, we sieve the heavy residue, or we can sort the light residue from last year. (We have had bags of them, heck, a room of them that luckily a bunch of us volunteered over the year to diminish).

So it is a lot of processing, but it is rewarding. Sometimes us trainees will teach first years and volunteers the wonders of science, sometimes we will hide away on the secondary flotation tank (if it actually works, ever.) and get on with flotation.

With weather like it is and the people like they are, Science@Silchester 2014 is a wonderful place to be.

Rory Williams Burrell – Science Technician

I have been coming to the Silchester town life project for 8 years now. It has almost felt like a home. My first year here I was welcomed into the fold by a few individuals who introduced me to a great many more. I was very shy back then, so was very pleased to have been welcomed in. Over the next 3 years I began to increase in confidence personally and archaeologically. I then decided that I should join the University of Reading to study the subject that I was undertaking in during my summer holidays. Over the next 4 years I was considered an experienced excavator on site; although I still asked a lot  from my assistant supervisors on site. I learnt many things such as excavating archaeological features, planning, working with the finds produced on a day to day basis and the scientific processing. In 2013 I was given a position of trainee supervisor which I found a bit challenging, but I got through it and I hope the students were able to learn a little of what I knew from me. This year I am Science Technician which means that I am in charge of all the data being put on the archaeological online data base. I also help out with flotation, sieving and sorting.

Throughout the years I had undertaken other archaeological excavations  covering the Mesolithic era to the Roman age. These excavations have taken me to the Hebrides in Scotland, Portugal, Egypt and Iraq. They have all been fantastic opportunities and I have honed my archaeological skills all the way. From being a general digger, dater manager, trainee supervisor and science technician.
Lily Stokoe – Science@Silchester Supervisor

This year I am in my third year on site and am working as supervisor on the Science@Silchester team, but I am a recent convert to the life and idea of an excavation.

I studied Archaeology at the University of Reading but initially didn’t think that the digging was for me (post-ex was my “thing”). After being convinced by a few friends on my course, I agreed to go along to the field school and a whole new world was opened up to me. I soon realised how much more there is to the dig other than digging, I’m so happy that my friends convinced me to come along!The science, finds, visitors and planning departments give you a glimpse into the variation of work and analysis that goes into archaeology outside of digging, so if like me you don’t like the idea of carrying heavy buckets, mattocking or shoveling, then there are still so many options for you.

For me, science was an easy decision. Osteology is my favourite area of archaeology and the science dept gives me a chance to work with animal bone on a daily basis, whether it is sheep and cow teeth or tiny fish bones, the variety will keep you on your toes. As well as this the teaching has been so rewarding, seeing students take on what you’ve explained and hearing that there are others like me who prefer science to digging!
Outside of work, there are so may things to do. For example, last night a few of us enjoyed our legendary Silchester dinners, went to the pub for a few drinks and then enjoyed a walk around the walls in the setting sun, bliss! Organised events include Ultimate Frisbee in the amphitheatre, a weekly pub quiz, fancy dress party nights and so many more things that make it impossible to not enjoy your time here, including a beer festival!
The main things I will take from my time here are amazing memories, friends, and an experience that I couldn’t have had any other way, and I wouldn’t change it for the world! I will definitely be looking out for next year’s excavation field school in the Vale of Pewsey.
Tom Kelly, Science Placement (2nd year University of Reading student)

As a Science@Silchester placement, I am able to relearn what I had done in my previous year as a part 1 student, but to then further develop my knowledge of flotation, sieving and sorting as well as teaching the other students about what we do.

I have had fun in the beginning weeks at Silchester and have mainly worked with the flotation tank processing GBA samples and sorting. I have found sorting interesting from looking through to find the very small fragments of pottery, bone and sometimes hammerscale.

The Science team are amazing to work with; we can always have a good old chat amongst ourselves whilst enjoying tea and biscuits. We are a team that work hard and have fun while we do it. We even have rounds of questions like:

If you could be any find on an archaeological site, what would it be?

Jen Wilson – Database Manager

I graduated from the University of Reading in 2012 with a BA in Archaeology and have attended the Silchester Field School for the past 5 seasons (excluding one). In the summer of my first year at the University of Reading (2010) I undertook the 4 weeks excavation module which was mandatory as part of my university course and then spent an additional 4 weeks volunteering with the Database Manager learning how to digitise plans and context sheets. In 2011 I decided to attend a research excavation in Italy and so missed out on that years season of Silchester. In 2012 I was invited back to Silchester as a Database Assistant along with two other members of staff. In 2013 I became the Database Technician and was the sole member of staff on the database team. This year I am the Database Manager. My daily duties involve digitising plans, sections and context sheets onto the sites bespoke database (the Integrated Archaeological Database – IADB). I also digitise sample forms as a favour to Cindy from Environmental due to her huge backlog! There are other general odd jobs I do such as printing and laminating for the various members of staff on site and occasionally I help out Amanda (the field director) doing whatever she asks me to!

Jen entering data!

Jen entering data!

The Finds team
Dr Elise Fraser – Finds Manager, Silchester Town Life Project
When Amanda, my amazing boss asked me to write a piece for the day of archaeology it really made me realise just how varied, interesting and unusual my job actually is!
Archaeology has always been my passion and ever since I was very small I have been drawn to mud, old things, and pretty pebbles. I grew up around Silchester and spent many happy hours picnicking, walking and playing within the walls of the Roman town, and those special times played a massive part in inspiring me on my journey towards being an archaeologist. One particular moment is captured on film, aged 7 or 8 with my Gramps playing on a spoilheap from an earlier excavation of one of the town gates.
Elise and her grandfather

Elise and her grandfather

Fast forward twenty years and this inspired me to study archaeology at the University of Reading, and to gaining my PhD in 2013. I have been Finds Manager for the Silchester Town Life Project since 2006, where I am privileged to share my passion for archaeology and the amazing artefacts we find to inspire new students, volunteers and visitors who arrive on site every day.
My day usually starts by opening up the finds cabin, opening up the anti-vandal shutters on the cabins and letting the sunshine in. This is a lovely time of day, as it is so quiet, you can hear the Red Kites calling in the blue sky above. Usually John Heff is waiting for me, and we begin getting out display material and gathering my amazing team for a fun and jam packed day of work (and lots of laughing!). Firstly we lay out all the previous days washed finds to dry in the sunshine, which are usually filled to the brim with CBM, pottery, animal bone, and (this year) the odd random bit of Victorian backfill.

Silchester Finds Trays

Silchester Finds Trays

Once all the diggers start to go out on site, the crazy fun of a day in finds begins. People begin coming in to gather empty trays for the contexts that they are about to dig, happy and excited about what the day might bring. Then it is time to instruct my new students with a crash course on Roman finds at Silchester. I tell them about the different categories of finds, dating, why they are important and what they can tell us about the archaeology. It is a very hands on session and hopefully they gain a better understanding for when they start digging for the first time in the trench.
Our daily rota of finds washers are also instructed on the process of washing finds and basic pottery identification. Today they are all a very happy bunch and lots of laughter can be heard all day! Many topics of discussion are covered on archaeology, history, politics, science and a few other random things as well. There is never a dull moment in Finds!

The amazing Finds team!

The amazing Finds team!

My amazing team are also on a roll processing the HUGE amounts of CBM (ceramic building material) which is being excavated from Insula III. It may only be week 1, but they are already using wheelbarrows as finds trays! John and Oliver are slowly ploughing through the recording, weighing and identifying of this material, and by lunch time have processed over a wheelbarrow of the stuff (I am very impressed at this!) .


The Finds team: Oliver

The Finds team: Oliver

The Finds Team: John and Lesley

The Finds Team: John and Lesley

During the day, diggers come in asking questions about finds they have discovered, wanting to have objects identified and recording small finds. It is always lovely to see how excited they get when they have discovered something for the first time, seeing a student or volunteer walking towards the finds hut with a massive smile and protectively cradling something in their hands. This always makes me happy!
I spend an hour sorting out artefacts for a talk and to display in our on-site exhibition. There are so many objects to choose from that it is always difficult to make a decision. I like to try and make the displays interesting with links and themes between the different objects.

The afternoon is taken up with talks to visiting groups, teaching and beginning to write up the assessments for our undergraduate students. I have to check and update some finds records on the IADB (Integrated Archaeological Database) from last season as the contexts are now being excavated fully on site, providing context numbers, levels and co-ordinates for tagged locations within the trench.
After tea break I fix one of the shelves in the finds hut. It had developed a rather worrying lean and the thought of putting a ton of CBM on the shelf filled me with dread! Time to crack out the powerdrill and put a few more screws in. Once fixed it is as good as new and ready for the next batch of full to the brim finds trays. I then have a meeting with John Brown to discuss plans on how to display some preserved Roman Oak well lining in our on-site exhibition. The result of this required a tip to the local tip, and the purchase of a £4 glass reptile tank. A bit of sealant later and hopefully we have a working, well-water filled container to show off the fine workmanship of a Roman carpenter. It just goes to show that archaeology requires many different skills. DIY being one of them!
The end of the day is near, and the heat and hard work of excavation are beginning to take their toll. Dusty diggers begin to bring back their finds, with trays piled high with muddy, unidentifiable artefacts. Tomorrow will bring another day, when we will discover the treasures within them.

Final Days

At the end of the 2014 season we we will have excavated for 618 days on this wonderful, fruitful, absorbing, informative, exciting, frustrating, elusive, challenging site. Recording our final days of archaeology here have allowed some of us the chance to share with you some of the aspects of our archaeological lives. It’s been a privilege!

Amanda - Over and Out

Amanda – Over and Out



One thought on “Final Days: Silchester ‘Town Life’ project 2014

  1. Hans Jansen says:

    Dear Mrs. Clarke,

    Silchester is still in the hearts of both my wife and me.
    As students we ‘worked’ there in the summers of 1983 and 1984. We had a fantastic time…

    I wonder.
    Is this the end of ‘SILCHESTER ‘TOWN LIFE’ PROJECT 2014’, just the end of the SILCHESTER ‘TOWN LIFE’ PROJECT or the end of the excavations at Silchester altogether?

    And if so, are there any remains we can visit in the future?

    With kind regards,
    Hans Jansen & Mariëtte Jansen-Sloot

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