Dig Diary 2007
Our summer training dig for 2007 has now come to an end. See below for a day-by-day account of the progress of the 2007 training excavation. For further information on future excavation activity visit the Training Excavation page.
Welcome to the Lindum Heritage Dig Diary for 2007; the Diary will chronicle the progress of our excavation at Sudbrooke in Lincolnshire over the next four weeks. The site is located in an arable field, this year planted with wheat. Previous evidence and interventions, including the last two seasons’ work, indicate that it was once the site of a Roman villa. Last week was mainly spent setting up the site (you know the usual … surveying in trenches, JCB’ing off top-soil, building sheds and shelters etc.) and dodging the almost constant rain; in fact it’s so wet that we’ve even had to lay a floor (see above!) We’ve had lots of help from a particularly keen group of Heritage Studies undergraduate students from Bishop Grosseteste University College in nearby Lincoln.
Whilst most things are looking up – we,ve even come to terms with the particularly muddy nature of the site this year – there was a very disappointing occurrence last Thursday. We arrived on site to find that we had had a criminal visitor in the early hours. The individual concerned had trespassed onto the site, scanned the open trenches with a metal-detector and dug twenty or so holes into the archaeology to steal metal artefacts from the site (see photo). The loss of the objects – probably of little value as metal does not survive well on the site – is not the most disappointing aspect of this crime; it is the damage that has been done to the archaeological record that is most significant. These objects when recorded in their proper contexts are likely to have provided much valuable evidence about the dating and function of the site – this information is now lost forever. As the finds themselves had been pre-donated to the Lincolnshire archaeological collection and would have been publicly available the theft was actually committed against us all. Even worse the loss of the educational value of the objects is a crime not only against the present generation but against future generations. This is the crime of a particularly immoral and selfish person.
In order to prevent further damage we have reluctantly resorted to carefully scanning the trench ourselves and removing all further metal objects from the site. (This is obviously not ideal but sufficient recording has been carried out to link the removed objects back to their position in the stratigraphic sequence). The police have also been informed, have visited the site, gathered evidence and will be keeping an extra-vigilant eye on the site from now on.
Still we won’t let this incident detract from what promises to be another excellent season of investigation. This year we have chosen to concentrate on the area of the northerly trenches (that’s area A of 2005, and area C of 2006). Our trench this year, area E, will however be notably larger, some 15m x 20m. This will allow a more extensive investigation of the plan of the masonry building revealed last season.
Monday the 9th of July 2007
Weather: Cloudy with a couple of heavy showers
So today we began in earnest. Things started in the usual way as we welcomed 20 new keen and very friendly volunteers to site. Things were going well until half way through the induction and introductions when a tremendous shower(?) thundered onto the shelter we were under. This did eventually pass and we were able to complete most of the initial activities without too much trouble. After lunch we split into teams and began the best we could despite the wet conditions underfoot. Whilst one group busied themselves with setting up the finds processing system and other housekeeping tasks, the other started to remove the backfill over last season’s excavation.
Probably the best find of the day came during a general sweep of the trench edges to pick up any stray unstratified finds that were laying on the surface (we don’t want them accidentally ending up in the trench later in the excavation). From the surface of the spoil heap that had been created during the machining off of the topsoil a good sized fragment of roller stamped tile was recovered. It has the same die pattern as the fragment recovered last year – although from a different part of the stamp/roller. A great find to recover on the first day. A day that was cut short some 10-15 minutes by a late afternoon downpour … but they say it will be dry tomorrow?
Tuesday the 10th of July 2007
Weather: Cloudy but dry with some sun
We picked up today where we left off yesterday with more finds processing and continued removal of last season’s backfill. It didn’t take too long to plot exactly where the limits of last years trench were and focus our activities to best effect. This activity was followed by planning the entire excavation area (and the damage caused by our criminal visitor). Once the backfill had been dealt with we set about a mass trowelling exercise as we worked across the trench to clear the surface and reveal the underlying archaeology.
The day was enlivened by the circulation of an article about the criminal damage to the site that appeared in this morning’s Lincolnshire Echo newspaper. In fact the article was pretty good and said some sensible things about the damage caused and the different approach taken by responsible metal detectorists. Later in the day we were visited by the BBC TV ‘Look North’ regional news team; resulting in a brief piece on the evening broadcast. Then this was picked up by BBC news online and we now have our own BBC News web page reporting on the event. Gratifying as it is to see a sensible approach being taken to this episode by the media let’s hope that the next time they take an interest in the site it is for a more positive reason.
Wednesday the 11th of July 2007
Weather: Cloudy with some sunshine
Today saw some more concerted excavation of those levels of the archaeology that still demonstrate some disturbance from ploughing. This activity was accompanied by Lynne McEwan’s photography workshop which had everyone reaching for their cameras. During the afternoon we investigated a feature which provides clear evidence that the villa complex had an engineered water supply (more on this find later).
Thursday the 12th of July 2007
Weather: Cloudy with some sunshine
Another happy day of digging – this weeks participants are really working well now and the excavation is progressing at an excellent pace. It won’t be long before we have a good understanding of the general pattern of the archaeology across the eastern half of the site. An area of very disturbed mortar flooring – and possible evidence for associated robber trenches – has already come to light immediately east of last years hypocaust room. In addition a small area of collapsed tile and stone surrounded by charcoal and ash seems to indicate a feature associated with burning – perhaps evidence of the elusive stoke-hole?
The afternoon was enlivened with a great Roman ceramics workshop conducted by Barbara Precious. But it wasn’t long before everyone was back on site and digging again. The final key find of the day was, appropriately enough, a rather nice piece of Samian bowl fragment. The day ended with the traditional Thursday evening trip to the pub – though the weather kept us indoors – and a quick trip back to the site to guide a group of local cub scouts around the site and its various activities; they seemed to have a good time.
Friday the 13th of July 2007
Weather: Cloudy at first and rain later.
The day was notable first for the eager way all this weeks participants got stuck into their digging tasks and then for the now only too customary rain (see below). Excavation was progressing so well that a substantial sieving back-log had built up by the end of the day, something we will have to deal with early next week.
Later in the day two very nice people from a company called Keyhole Security (www.vidilanzuk.com) arrived on site to install state-of-the-art wireless CCTV cameras. They had read about our night-hawker problems and immediately offered to provide the devices for the site for free. We were only too pleased to accept their offer but felt a little sorry for them as they struggled in the ever worsening rain to install the cameras. Hopefully we will not have to rely on the images the cameras capture to prosecute anyone, and that they will act rather as a deterrent to any vandals who might think about visiting the site in the future.
Anyway all in all it’s been a good week’s excavation and the results we are now gathering have made up a great deal for the depressing start to the excavation as a whole this year. I think that everyone on week one of the 2007 excavation has gone home – or onto other projects – a little better informed about archaeology, and just a bit tired in a well satisfied sort of way.
Monday the 16th of July 2007
Weather: Cloudy with some sunshine
The weekend saw a fair bit of rain fall on the area and so the day began – after the normal induction and training activities – with bailing out the covers and drying out the site. Nevertheless with the help of a couple of Heritage Students – and Alan – the sieving backlog has been dealt with. The remainder of the day was spent opening up a further area of the trench in the north east corner which shows good evidence for the continuation of the robber trench investigated during 2006. Hopefully if the rain holds off tomorrow we should see further progress across the entire eastern half of the trench.
Tuesday the 17th of July 2007
Weather: cloudy with heavy showers
The day started brightly enough, well it wasn’t raining. While everyone gathered on site I headed into Lincoln to attend the University College’s graduation ceremonies. It was a good day during which Mick Purves and David Moody, who had taken part in the Sudbrooke project in 2005, graduated – congratulations to them both. Back on site the day progressed well with another photography workshop and some good progress in the trench. But by mid-afternoon things weren’t looking so good as the rain began to fall. In fact the rain fell so heavily that by 3.30pm we had to cut the day short and head home.
Wednesday the 18th of July 2007
Weather: Cloud and rain
Today was spent dodging showers, digging furiously, and watching the weather. On the plus front we continued to make good progress with the archaeology and have begun to produce some interesting pieces painted wall plaster. Furthermore during the morning we were visited by a class of year 5’s from nearby Nettleham Junior school. Braving the muddy conditions they had an interesting time touring site and finding out about the excavation, finds recovery and processing … and how to get really muddy! I think they enjoyed themselves!
Thursday the 19th of July 2007
Weather: Cloud and more rain
In order to make up lost time we decided to shift today’s pot workshop to Friday as the weather today was good and the forecast for tomorrow is bad. This allowed us to continue to investigate the site at a reasonable pace. We continued to investigate the southern area of the trench which revealed an extensive dump of demolition debris. While in the north-east corner of the site an interesting group of limestone foundation features became clear, running parallel and adjacent to the main east-west robber trench.
Friday the 20th of July 2007
Weather: Morning bright and dry (honestly), afternoon rain
The threatened weather – that is heavy rain – failed to materialise so we launched straight into digging. As a consequence we made further progress and left the site in a much better state than we might have hoped for. Then after lunch we packed up the site and headed off for the postponed pot workshop with Barbara Precious, it was an excellent move as within five minutes of starting the predicted rain began to fall, and fall, and fall. All in all its been a good week that has seen much better progress than the weather should have allowed – so a big thank you to everyone who helped out this week.
Monday the 23rd of July 2007
Weather: Rain followed by brighter skies
Week three and it’s ‘returners week’. With everyone participating this week having worked on the site previously we’re sure to have a good week of digging. The morning commenced with a quick induction – just a refresher really – and then straight into the trench. Unfortunately this coincided with some persistent rain, but no-one seemed to mind that much. After lunch the sun even came out for a few minutes and we were able to make out who was who as the hoods came down and the waterproofs came off.
We’ve continued to investigate the southern half of the trench, and reveal much more of the stone and tile feature in the north-east corner – is it a blocked stoke hole for the hypocaust or something else? Time will tell… Back in area C (from last year that is) a further section of the robber trench was investigated, clearly the robbing action was fairly extensive in this area.
Tuesday the 24th of July 2007
Weather: Light fluffy clouds, blue skies and sunshine … strange weather for sure!
At last summer arrived and we made the most of it. The southern half of the trench was fully trowelled back to reveal relatively little, although there are hints of what might be a large pit or ditch feature. The mortar and op sig floor to the east of last years hypocaust room was cleaned revealing some fairly convincing edges – but no walls, especially to the south, taken to indicate further robbing actions. The northern extent of this floor area however showed signs of two lengths of limestone wall with a small floored-break very like the sleeper walls-flue arrangement of the hypocaust room found last year.
To north-east the excavation of the charcoal and tile feature goes on apace, hopefully we will start to take it apart more fully by the end of the week and maybe come to some clearer interpretation about its function and relative date. And finally there was one more big surprise in this area, right at the limit of excavation, but more on that later in the week. So all in all a great day’s digging that reminded us all of previous seasons … but we’re still not sure what that yellow thing in the sky is.
Wednesday the 25th of July 2007
Weather: Very overcast with heavy drizzle
Thankfully we have returned to normal summer 2007 weather today and were able to throw away the floppy hats and sun screen and get back into our waterproofs, you can imagine how happy we were! Nevertheless we made the most of the morning with an intrepid band of diggers continuing yesterday’s good work and a further group tackling the ever growing backlog of finds processing. Two activities stand out from the morning, both involving robber trenches. Alan has set to work extending to the east the section of robber trench excavated last year, in the process of which he has revealed a run of three or more stone blocks laying at the base of the trench and close to the southern edge. Further west Colin has been toiling away in an attempt to establish what happens to the robber trench – and hence earlier wall – at the north-west corner of the hypocaust room. Colin has made some good progress, we now have the width of the western wall, the depth of the northern trench, and a difficult edge which seems to be curving … could it be an apsidal end to the room? Actually it’s far too early to tell but we do like to speculate, don’t we Fred?
Anyway with the rain continuing to fall it was good thing that everyone was able to take themselves off after lunch for a specially arranged returner’s week tour of the County Conservation Lab, Archaeological Archive and The Collection – Lincoln’s new archaeology museum.
Thursday the 26th of July 2007
Weather: Rain … rain … and more …rain
Today started wet and ended even wetter. Luckily we had the local village hall at our disposal for the day so moved the finds processing lock, stock and barrel off site to the warm and dry hall. A number of people chose to spend most of the day working on the finds and made excellent progress with not only general processing but also small finds recording. Apart from a break for lunch, when we all assembled together in the hall, the rest chose to venture onto site. For most of the day the rain was just about manageable. By working with the covers on, and rolling them back across newly trowelled areas as we went, we were able to continue to work in a limited way. The biggest problem with this method was the lack of a clear overview of what was going on across the whole area – however we were careful and stuck to the more straightforward archaeology and as a result had no real problems.
On Tuesday I mentioned a big surprise, well actually it was a rather small one – at least in size. At the north-east limit of the excavation Maria’s eagle eyes had spotted some small fragments of bone that looked suspiciously human. On closer inspection she was able to confirm that they were skull fragments from an infant burial. Clearly buried in a very shallow cut we slightly extended the trench during Wednesday to fully reveal the skeleton. What this showed was the burial was in fact aligned north-south and seemed to have been cut by the large northerly robber trench. Having gained the necessary permissions we were able to go ahead with lifting today – although the weather made conditions less than ideal, we nevertheless rigged-up a suitable shelter and with the help of five or was it six volunteers Maria lifted all of the tiny fragments of bone. (Actually I think they just wanted to be out of the rain…)
Excavation under the covers and in the robber trenches progressed until late afternoon when the rain became torrential and we had to stop work for the day. With slightly dampened spirits we made our way back to the village hall where a decision was taken to once again cancel all public tours for the week – a disappointing decision to have to take. So we decided to comfort ourselves by heading to the Lincolnshire Poacher pub which was at least dry!
Friday the 27th of July 2007
Weather: Blue skies, sunshine and a little cloud
And the last day of returner’s week ends on a high note with much better weather. At last we are able to take all the covers of the site and re-assess the current state and progress of the excavation. We’ve a reasonably good idea of what is going on with the northern robber trench which has now revealed some significant amounts of in-situ limestone wall footings, thanks to Alan’s perseverance. Similarly to the east Maria has established that the wall definitely continues, and that it is the wall and not the later robbing that cut the burial – meaning that the burial pre-dates the wall’s construction. At its western end Colin continues to labour away at the enigmatic (we like that word) jumble of stone that appears to be the foundation of something that must have been exceptionally large – although maybe not quite so ‘apsidal-looking’ as we first thought.
Further south we have evidence for at least one, possible two, rooms in addition to the room recorded last year. One room appears to be a further hypocaust structure with very similar construction details, the other space may represent a corridor or other narrow space. To the south and east of these rooms are what appear to be robber trenches that we are determined to investigate next week. Finally in the north-east corner of the trench we have the extensive spread of burning debris and stone and tile constructional features – these may be positioned within the limits of yet another room and represent some post demolition activity … but further investigation next week should clarify this. So despite some really difficult weather this week we have managed to move the work forward – mainly due to the hard work and endurance of this week’s excavators. With slightly better weather expected next week we can only hope that we will be able to make up some of our lost time.
Monday the 30th of July 2007
Weather: Clear skies and some cloud but mainly sunny
So the final week begins and there’s much to do. We have a mixed group of diggers this week, some continuing from last week, some returners from previous season’s and a few novices. We’ve decided to concentrate our efforts on a number of specific targets. Key among these is revealing as much of the northerly wall/robber trench as we can, and properly investigating the large foundation feature at its eastern end. We also intend to investigate the robber trenches bounding the rooms to the east and south – and to that end have begun excavation of three small trenches cut across the features at significant points – one of these we will probably extend later to reveal the form and extent of the building material dump at the very southern limit of excavation.
The floors of the rooms themselves also need recording and in the case of the north-east corner of the trench a significant amount of excavation. Finally we have at last been able to tackle the eastern side of the trench and today made good progress in trowelling across what seems to be mainly natural sand and gravel to reveal a number of features cut into the truncated surface. With good weather things are moving along at an excellent pace so keep an eye on the diary during this last week of the 2007 season.
Tuesday the 31st of July 2007
Weather: Clear skies and some cloud but mainly sunny
Today we concentrated on two things; recording and excavating the isolated features at the western end of the trench and recording and starting to excavate the area of burning debris at the eastern end. To the west the key features were a substantial posthole, with packing, and a less distinct area of rubble in what appears to be a shallow depression. There was also some evidence for a very shallow modern field drain running across the area from NW-SE.
At the eastern end of the trench the edges of the room, or enclosure – it could have been an external space, that bounds the burning and charred deposits was well defined, so recording and photography went on apace. Around lunchtime we had a visit from Sam Goring, one of the authors of the ‘Archaeology Course Book’ who wanted to check out current best practice in excavation methods in preparation for a revised edition of this well-known text book. His visit was enlivened when, during the excavation of a dumb-bell shaped pit that cut through the burnt material, a number of fractured but complete tegula were recovered, closely followed by a large circular stone. On further excavation Sam and Keith were able to reveal the extents of the stone which turned out to be a 10-15cm deep fragment of limestone column. Rather plain but still a great find that should help us to develop a clearer picture of the architectural details of the building that once stood on the site.
Wednesday the 1st of August 2007
Weather: Clear skies and some cloud and light rain but mainly sunny
The activity today concentrated on the western and southern areas of the trench. To the west – after a light sprinkling of rain – it became clear that the edges of a linear feature that appeared to be a continuation of Colin’s north-south foundation feature could be delineated. We made some effort to clarify these edges and were a little surprised to find them coming to an abrupt end just short of the southern limit of the trench. Even closer inspection however soon revealed that the feature turned through 90-degrees at this point and headed off to the west and continued beyond the limit of excavation. We quickly made a decision to cut two further trenches through this feature, one at the turning point the other across the western limit. In both cases it later became apparent that the feature had been robbed out at both points.
At the southern limit of excavation we began to clean a small sample area across the rubble spread at a point that seemed to include evidence for a small north-south limestone wall footing. The area was no more than 2×3 metres but a significant amount of painted wall plaster began to appear.
Thursday the 2nd of August 2007
Weather: Clear skies and some cloud but mainly sunny
Today we pressed on with cleaning and recording the northern and eastern parts of the trench – in particular the now substantial length of limestone foundation running east to west across the northern part of the trench. Later we were able to document this feature in a series of photographs. Excavation of the robber trenches across the rest of the site proved less instructive as they were very shallow and did not provide conclusive evidence for their relationship with the hypocaust floor surface which they bounded.
The real star of the day was however the small trial area being cleaned to the south of the trench. As the cleaning was completed it became clear that we had a short length of north-south wall footing with an east-west return heading off to the east. But more significantly the area within these walls was packed with what appear to have been burnt, or charred, painted wall (or ceiling) plaster. The plaster had not fallen as a block ‘in-situ’ but had rather fallen piece-meal possibly over an extended period of time. Furthermore it also became apparent as we began to remove the plaster that it in turn overlay an opsig surface with quarter-round moulding wherever it met the wall footings.
A final bright note today were the public tours which took place successfuly without interuption by rain! Followed of course by a trip to the pub.
Friday the 3rd of August 2007
Weather: Clear skies and some cloud but mainly sunny
The last day of the excavation and – having lost so much time to the rain – so much left to do! Across the site various individuals laboured away to make sense of their features and to complete the record. In particular sectional drawings through the various cut features and across the major northerly wall footing all had to be completed.
At the southern limit of the trench Jill laboured away with the wall plaster which was coming up in relatively large but fragmentary pieces. As we investigated the opsig and the wall footings further it suddenly became apparent that we were looking at the base of a plunge-pool. In fact a small groove through the north-south wall footing proved this without doubt. The groove had been formed by the removal of a short length of lead pipe that had acted as a drain or outflow for the pool – a length of lead pipe that we had recovered (partially disturbed) on the 11th July. The pipe was isolated and had only survived due to its incorporation within the fabric of the wall – if further lengths once existed they have long since been robbed out. While excavation of this small sample area of the plunge pool was finalised today completion of recording will have to wait until early next week when we backfill and shut down the site. Surface evidence seems to indicated that the pool structure while narrow extends some 5-6 metres further east.
This year’s excavation has been both frustrating and immensely rewarding. The criminal damage was a shocking episode and the terrible weather has certainly cost us time – possible a week’s worth of excavation time in all – but the range of features revealed and finds made have fulfilled many of this years objectives. In particular finding a significant length of the northern wall still in-situ was important as was its relationship to the infant burial. The area of burning to the east of the main hypocaust room (and north of the smaller adjacent hypocaust room) is likely to be associated with the system’s stokehole. The dumb-bell shaped cut in the same location remains only poorly interpreted but the tiles and column base recovered from its fill were a great find. Then to the south we have evidence for a plunge-pool and hence water engineering. And finally to the west evidence for a larger stone-built feature/building occupying an area extending beyond the limits of this season’s trench. So, many thanks to everyone who helped out this year whether professional, student or volunteer I hope you got plenty out of the experience, that you’ve dried out and that you will return again.
Many thanks to everyone who participated in the excavation and especially to those of you who helped out behind the scenes. Particular thanks go to Day Farms for generously allowing access to their land for the duration of the excavation and to Defra for granting the necessary permissions to excavate.
Please note that the above text is an informal record of events between 9 July and 3 August 2007 and should not be read as a report on the findings of the excavation. An interim report covering the findings of the 2007 season will be posted on the Lindum Heritage website in due course (www.lindumheritage.co.uk).