Caerleon Legionary Fortress
Priory Field Excavations 2008
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Friday 11th July
"Where there's life, there's hope" Terence
After a great deal of rain on Wednesday and later on Thursday, a dismal start to Friday boded ill for the conclusion to Week 4. However, having postponed the start of the day until morning tea-break we were delighted when the weather broke and the rest of the day was mostly fine. The area around the trench had by then become something of a quagmire, forcing us to cancel Saturday's activities for National Archaeology Week, but we'll be open every day of the rest of the week so hope to see lots of visitors. The sun shone on Friday afternoon when a BBC Wales reporter recorded a short piece about our latest discoveries, which can be seen on: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/south_east/7500223.stm∞
In terms of the archaeology, we've begun digging some targetted sections to understand the different rubble deposits on the western half of the trench. It has become clear that the very first wall we found back in Week 1 is not part of the Roman warehouse but one of the later structures, as it is actually outside the depot building. Where the main long Roman walls should be we only have rubble at present, so we need to remove this to see if these walls survive or have been robbed out at an earlier stage. At the moment, however, everything we do to try to answer one question throws up two more. Hopefully these will all be tied up by two weeks today! At the end of digging on Friday we took another team photo, showing us at our maximum strength.
Posted by Andy 13/7/08
Week 4 Team Photo
Wednesday 9th July - Thursday 10th July
"Be of good cheer; after sad and evil days hurries the happier hour of gentle joy" Sextus Propertius
Another rolled-together entry can only mean one thing: rain! The heavens opened in the small hours of Wednesday morning and the deluge didn't stop all day. This prevented us from working at all on Wednesday as it would have done more harm than good to the site for us to be tramping around on it. Only in the evening did the skies start to clear and the heavy clouds blow through more quickly. Fortunately, the respite lasted through most of today (Thursday) and apart from half-an-hour or so of heavy rain at the end of the working day much more progress was made.
As we are now starting to dig through the rubble that has preoccupied us for so long, complex features are emerging. Most exciting today has been the discovery, by Tina and Caroline, of an extension of what we have been thinking of as the internal courtyard surface over the line of a wall, all of which is underneath the rubble at the north end of the trench. This surface seems to be associated with an extension to another wall that has emerged in the same area. It's too early for us to date these features but clearly the laying of this surface comes late in the use of the Roman building - it will be exciting to discover if this is 3rd or 4th century.
Posted by Andy 10/7/08
Possible later Roman floor being uncovered by Milly, Tina and Angharad
Tuesday 8th July
"Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth" Marcus Aurelius
A few days ago, Liam uncovered a strange looking iron artefact that turns out to be most interesting. It was taken to the National Roman Legion Museum where Mark Lewis removed the adhering soil and placed it in a dessicated box to make sure it's condition remains stable. The object was broken into 3 separate pieces, but complete would have been about 45 cm long. The leaf-shaped lower part was reminiscent of the famous silver vexillum tip in the NRLM and we thought it could be an elaborate, but iron, example of a similar kind of object associated with the ceremonial and parade traditions of the Roman army. However, after seeking advice, it seems that the object is more likely to have been the standard, or badge of office, of a beneficiarius - a legionary on special assignment, usually with the legion's commander or other high-ranking members of the Roman government in Britain. These are rare finds and the wrap around 'flanges' (perhaps to hold a plume of some kind?) are hard to parallel. Strange that a beneficiarius lance should have ended up in the top of the remains of a warehouse.
Possible beneficiarius lance
Sunday 6th July - Monday 7th July
"Moreover Strabo, a famous writer of the Greeks, relates that the island exhales such mists from its soil, soaked by the frequent inroads of Ocean, that the sun is covered throughout the whole of their disagreeable sort of day that passes as fair, and so is hidden from sight" Jordanes
Unfortunately we have to begin this week by rolling two days together, as we have lost our first full day's digging to the weather. Sunday was wet and gloomy, rather as Jordanes describes in fact, and apart from some planning no work was really possible. Despite more rain overnight, however, Monday has generally been good digging weather -some sunshine and some clouds. Living outside for a few weeks makes you really attuned to the weather, and it's amazing how quickly you get used to the fresh air and find it claustrophobic to be indoors - even when it's raining!
We've carried on the seemingly endless task of recording our rubble - vital if we are to reconstruct the possible buildings on it - but also started digging through it in those areas already recorded. Today this has mainly been at the northern end of the trench, in an area we think may have been the entrance to the Roman building. In the more easterly part of this we have found another wall and are speculating as to whether this is a pier between carriageways (like a similar stump in the western half, towards the front of this putative entry-route), or something else altogether. The site was even busier today as almost our final arrivals are now here (including new supervisor Deon, taking over from Michelle), swelling the team to more than 40 diggers. Many will leave this coming weekend, though, so we must make the most of their efforts this week and hope for no further interruptions from the rains.
Posted by Andy 7/7/08
Friday 4th July
"The eyes are not responsible when the mind does the seeing" Publilius Syrus
Unbelievably we have reached the half-way point of the excavation season - 3 weeks completed and only 3 weeks to go! Equally unbelievably, we have finally finished removing the lower topsoil revealling the most recent deposits across the trench. Everyone worked very hard all day and the last photograph of the beautifully excavated trench was taken just after 5 in the afternoon. Andy and I have written a lot about rubble on this blog, but as Michelle intimated a couple of days ago, we are now certain that the stones, bricks and tiles in the trench are not simply the random remains of the collapsed Roman building that the geophysics tells us was here. After several days staring at the ground from various angles and from the photographic tower, it's clear that what we are seeing are the traces of (several?) structures that overly the warehouse, including a rectangular building floored with flagstones robbed from the warehouse courtyard, and associated external 'yard' areas.
It appears that the collapsed or demolished remains of the warehouse have been moved about across this part of Priory Field to create platforms that would have had buildings built upon them, with paths or tracks inbetween. This is a fantastic discovery and we are the first archaeological excavation to identify such post-fortress buildings in Caerleon (it helps when excavation trenches are large enough to 'see' the archaeological remains of superficial buildings like those we have uncovered). The questions we now have to ask are: when were these buildings constructed and what were they used for? At the moment all we can say is that the phase of occupation we have identified could date to any time between the demolition of the warehouse and the later 18th century when Priory Field was described as a 'lawn', but we hope to begin to provide answers to these and other intriguing questions on Sunday when we will start excavating the buildings themselves.
Rubble areas exposed across the whole trench
Thursday 3rd July
"Most of the inland inhabitants [of Britain] do not sow corn, but live on milk and flesh, and are clad with skins" Julius Caesar
We continue to excavate down onto the uppermost surviving archaeological deposits, aiming to complete the removal of the lower topsoil and take photographs of the trench by close of play tomorrow. Some of us drove out to Caerwent in the evening - we walked along the south walls and played piggy-back races before retiring to the Coach and Horses for a few games of pool. Three of the current Caerleon team excavated in Caerwent with the National Museum of Wales in the 1980s and 1990s (I first arrived at the forum-basilica 20 years ago this weekend!) and Andy, Mike and I reminisced with the locals about the 'good old days' before heading back to Caerleon.
Wednesday 2nd July
"What a small portion of infinite and immeasurable time is allotted to each of us. It is so quickly swallowed up by eternity" Marcus Aurelius
After the arrival of an additional supervisor, Mike Luke, yesterday afternoon the students from UCL and Durham who had arrived over the weekend were divided up between the four work teams. Excavation of the untouched grids then began in ernest, removing the remaining lower topsoil to reveal the underlying rubble deposits. Efforts were hindered in the afternoon by a heavy downpour and hail but the team battled on! Rubble deposits have now been exposed over most of the western half of the trench and over most of the north eastern area too, further showing variations in its composition, as mentioned yesterday. This is beginning to provoke deep thought and contemplation. We are starting to question how the different layers of rubble related to each other and which overlies which. It appears that some of the rubble deposits may have been intentionally placed to form a surface, relating to a later phase of building.
Work in progress over the whole trench
Tuesday 1st July
"The Britons themselves bear cheerfully the conscription, the taxes and the other burdens imposed upon them by the empire, if there be no oppression" Tacitus
Today was the first day with the full team at more-or-less its maximum size on site. Now with four groups of diggers working in different areas the trench is really lively, with a real buzz as people get into their tasks. The weather is also good and lots of progress can be made. We really need to get on with clearing down to the rubble across the whole trench this week, as then we have 3 weeks left to record it properly, investigate the features within it, and then remove it to reveal the building underneath. More and more bits of the underlying walls are poking through, and as more of the rubble is exposed we are able to detect some subtle variations in its composition - more roof-tile here, bits of tufa there - all of which give us clues as to the facade of the building and the way it collapsed.
After the day's digging, we had a very enjoyable evening walk up the hill to Christchurch, stopping en route for a cup of tea at Brenda and Alan's teepee. The weather had changed a bit by the time we got to the top of the hill and so our view of the fortress was not as good as we'd hoped, but other stops at the Greyhound and the King's Arms kept everyone in good spirits.
Posted by Andy 2/7/08
Monday 30th June
"It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that things are difficult" Seneca
The second group of students started work today. They are mainly from UCL and Durham, and I imagine that having all arrived and pitched their tents over the weekend they must have wondered what they had let themselves in for. The team who worked so hard during the Spectacular were given the day off (except the poor oppressed supervisors of course) and the new students were taken on a gentle tour of Caerleon and its archaeological sights. In the afternoon they were finally let loose in the trench doing a little light trowelling so that we could complete the pre-excavation plans and photos of the few remaining areas that we want to be excavating as soon as possible. The team is now almost complete (one of the supervisors, Mike Luke, is still slowly making his way from Glastonbury) and there are now about 40 of us living and working in Priory Field.
The aerial photo that accompanies today's entry was taken by Stewart Ainsworth, who was in Caerwent with Time Team last week. Many thanks to Stewart for letting us use his images and to all the Time Team crew for making us all so welcome during their three days in South Wales.
Aerial view of our trench (in the middle of the photo)
Saturday and Sunday 28th-29th June
"Not he who has little, but he who desires much is poor" Seneca
An exhausting but extremely rewarding weekend! The Britannia and Vicus re-enactment groups entertained the crowds in the amphitheatre with displays of gladiatorial combat and soldiers from the Roman period. The giant Gaul was my family's favourite gladiator, though I felt sorry for the stretcher bearers who had to try and carry him out of the arena. Our excavation was fully open to the public and we welcomed 950 visitors over the two days. There were tours of the excavations, while in the site tents people could look at displays of finds and take part in activities such as pot washing (getting a bit dirty) and wet sieving (getting very dirty). Everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves and our visitors book is bulging with appreciative comments from the hundreds of people who came to see us.
After the Spectacular had finished on Sunday evening, and as the shadows lengthened across the arena, we went back to the now eerily empty amphitheatre with a bat and ball for a game of 'cricket' and a few drinks to celebrate the end of a very successful couple of days.
Will and Ash wet-sieving over the Spectacular weekend
Michelle, Milly and Anne talking to visitors
Blog entries for our first two weeks
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