Caerleon Legionary Fortress
Priory Field Excavations 2008
Friday 24th July
"By Jupiter, we've made it!" Andy and Pete
A very busy final day, with a certain amount of stress, but things all worked out in the end. Even though we managed to avoid the temptation of digging up until the last minute, there are still lots of things to do to close the site down, and a thundery shower just after 9am didn't help. Luckily it didn't last - Jupiter was just playing a final game with us! Cleaning the tools and sheds and dismantling the tents occupied many of the team today, along with final finds processing, photography and recording. By about 3pm things were looking a little dodgy, but somehow it all came together and by 6pm we were enjoying a celebratory glass of bubbly, with the site covered in plastic sheeting ready for backfilling and only our own tents to take down.
This is the last blog entry for the 2008 season, and we would both like to say a final thank-you to everyone who has helped us - the supervisors, students and volunteers on-site and the wide range of other people off-site, including local politicians and police officers, members of Cadw and the National Roman Legion Museum, and of course our caterers Steve Ash and Lorraine Cashman. It has been a very successful season and we couldn't have done it without you.
We'll continue to periodically update this website with our progress on the post-excavation in the coming months, so do keep it bookmarked.
Andy and Pete
Thursday 23rd July
"It is the duty of a good shepherd to shear his sheep, not to skin them" Tiberius
Our penultimate day and we begin the final stages of recording and cleaning. The only work in the trench today was a quick overall clean for photographs of the whole area to be taken, recording the point which we have reached this season. We also got to work on processing our environmental samples, which should provide both ecological and chronological data about the various post-Roman phases we have identified, while the supervisors concentrated on finalising plans and context records.
During our afternoon public tour, we were delighted to welcome our 3000th visitor, Megan Thorne of Cowbridge. To mark the milestone we presented Megan with an inscribed tile. The level of public interest in and support for our work this year has been one of the most satisfying aspects of the excavation, and made six weeks living in a tent worthwhile! We couldn't have survived without a range of local supporters too, and we took the opportunity this evening to thank the people who have fed us and otherwise looked after us in the local community, with more inscribed tiles being presented and a few glasses of bubbly consumed.
Posted by Andy 28/7/08
Our 3000th Visitor, Megan Thorne
Finds Supervisor Chris Waite receiving her inscribed tile
Wednesday 22nd July
"They were once ruled by kings, but are now divided under chieftains into factions and parties. Our greatest advantage in coping with tribes so powerful is that they do not act in concert" Tacitus
Today was the last day of digging for 2008 and we have managed to achieve everything that we set out to do at the beginning of the week - at 5.15 this afternoon the team downed tools and we spent a few moments contemplating the site after almost 6 weeks of continual excavation. We have completely excavated the most recent medieval building within the trench, exposed the full extent of the second phase building(s) that appear to have been built up against, or possibly over, the front wall of the military warehouse, and we have also opened up large areas within the warehouse to reveal areas of internal and external floors associated with the legionary phase of occupation at Isca. The trench contains almost 1800 years of Caerleon's history and, although I am rather biased, I must say it looks fantastic.
We now have 2 days to complete the recording of the exposed archaeology, finish the processing of the finds and environmental samples, and pack away the tools and equipment to be taken away to Cardiff next week. Although this might sound like a lot of work, we have plenty of willing hands and I am confident that, with a fair wind behind us and a bit of luck, come the end of the excavation of Friday afternoon we will have it all done and be ready to celebrate the conclusion of another successful season at Caerleon.
Tuesday 21st July
"They use either brass or iron rings, determined at a certain weight, as their money" Julius Caesar
The building inscription that James first uncovered all those weeks ago, and which Anna excavated last week, has been cleaned and now sits proudly in the finds cabin waiting to be moved to the National Roman Legion Museum. In Latin it reads:
which when translated means:
"[built by] Primus Pilus (First Spear) Centurion Flavius Rufus"
So the stone was erected to commemorate the work of legionaries under the command the Second Augustan Legion's senior centurion, who was not the Rufinus or Rufinius recorded on the building stone discovered during the 1920s excavation of the amphitheatre as we originally thought. More research will be required to find out if we know any more about Flavius Rufus, but the Priory Field stone might add a new name to the (very short) list of Roman soldiers known to have served with the legion based at Isca.
Flavius Rufus Inscription
Monday 20th July
"Power has no limits" Tiberius
Today we attacked the last remaining areas of rubble associated with the post-warehouse buildings, mattocking and shovelling across most of the western part of the trench. Many tonnes of masonry, brick, tile and soil were removed from the excavation in dozens of wheelbarrows as the students and their supervisors looked for the latest archaeological layers belonging to the military warehouse in preparation for our second season of excavations. Everyone worked extremely hard under the hot Welsh sun and in the evening we recovered from a tiring day as the team enjoyed a picnic in Wentwood.
Yesterday was the last day of National Archaeology Week. Over 1000 people visited the excavation during the week - thanks to all the students who helped giving tours and explaining the site to the public!
Visitors to the site during National Archaeology Week
Sunday 19th July
"Rather let the crime of the guilty go unpunished than condemn the innocent" Justinian I
So our final week begins. We are aiming to spend the last day or two doing final recording and clearing up, so our number of full-on digging days left is alarmingly small now. In the time left we want to remove as much of the rubble that does not seem to be relevant to any of our structures as we can. Today we made progress on cleaning up a number of areas of walling associated with the post-warehouse structures for recording, including the collapsed earth-bonded wall (see picture below). The structure this relates to is particularly interesting, sitting as it does between the definitely Roman and definitely Medieval phases. We are constantly trying to figure out if it respects sections of upstanding Roman walling, or was built after these had been removed - unfortunately a direct physical relationship has not been preserved. Answering this question will have big implications for the building's date, not to mention its plan.
We are very pleased that this week several of the diggers from the earlier group of students are returning at various points to help out with the last few days. Hopefully this is a sign of a good dig! Actually I think that a major reason for this is the quality of the food provided by Steve Ash and by the White Hart. There are probably too many military metaphors in archaeology, but a digging team definitely marches on its stomach and this excavation wouldn't have worked without such fantastic local support.
Posted by Andy 21/7/08
Collapsed wall of post-warehouse structure (with unexcavated baulk at centre)
Friday 18th July
The form of the entire country [of Britain] has been compared by Livy and Fabius Rusticus, the most graphic among ancient and modern historians, to an oblong shield or battle-axe" Tacitus
Another Friday rolls around, and today has seemed quite tough for many people - the fatigue of several weeks in tents is starting to kick in. However, we still achieved a lot today and with a day's rest will be ready for the final push. At this point, we seem to have arrived at a good understanding of the broad sequence. We have our Roman warehouse, its external and internal stone walls partially robbed, but manifesting at least two major phases of activity. Then we have another, smaller structure, with internal partitions too, built of narrow, unmortared masonry which collapsed in several places. Associated with this structure appear to be areas of rubble surface and of rough opus signinum-like flooring. On top of the debris of the collapse of this building we then have the roughly flagged building, without any surviving walls (presumably these were of timber) but with a grain-bin of some kind at its centre. Finally, we have the large pit of mysterious purpose mentioned by Pete on Monday, which seems to be 14th century in date.
Thus the structural phases all fit in-between the construction of the stone fortress in the 2nd century AD and the 14th century, and our main remaining problems for this season are to do with tightening this chronology. Partly this will come from finds (and from radiocarbon dates we will be getting for some of our samples), but partly it will come from looking hard at the stratigraphy in the next few days and pinning down the key episodes of rubble accumulation and of stone-robbing that intervene in the sequence I've described. In this kind of archaeology, it's as much about what we aren't finding as what we are - when particular walls were removed is an important part of the story of life on this site in the Medieval period.
Having said that tomorrow is a day of rest, some of us will be on site during the day to welcome visitors as we approach the end of National Archaeology Week.
Posted by Andy 18/7/08
Thursday 17th July
"Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness" Seneca
Another good day with lots of progress on site and lots of visitors, including the Welsh Assembly Minister for Heritage, Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM. It is great now to have quite a lot to show people visiting the site, with more elements of the Roman building emerging and adding to the complexity of the sequence we have exposed. Interestingly the foundations of the main walls of the warehouse are not as far down as we thought they might be, which should mean we have plenty of time in the next season to investigate larger areas of the internal flooring.
Within the area of the later (probably Medieval) flagged building we have also been investigating a curious slab-lined feature of some depth, which seems to have quite a lot of charred seeds in its fill and may thus be an an agricultural storage or drying facility (it is rather too deep to be a hearth). With the excavation of this feature, and removal of some of the standing baulks we'd left in the western half of the trench, we are gradually shifting our focus to the eastern side where the main line of the Roman building lies, and defining that more fully in preparation for the future phase of work.
Posted by Andy 18/7/08
Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM with Pete and Andy
Wednesday 16th July
"Remember all these things and consider nothing great but this: do what Nature bids you and suffer what Life brings" Marcus Aurelius
Today in Josh’s team we continued excavating and cleaning the cobbled surface in Area 2 and yet more ‘small finds’ were discovered. These included a coin, found by Emma, tentatively dated to the early 4th century by Mike our resident coin fanatic. Sadly I’ll be finishing my time here on Friday - the time has flown by so quickly that I can’t believe I’ve been here for three weeks already! I’ve learned so much during my time at Caerleon including how an excavation works from trowel to paperwork and I’ve also been given a taster of what it’s like presenting archaeology to the public. I spent a day giving tours of the site yesterday with Kim and I really enjoyed telling visitors what we have discovered so far - it made trying to overturn heavy wheelbarrows onto the spoil heap in the rain last week seem worth it! Even though I’ve previously been on several excavations I definitely feel I’ve become a much more confident digger over the past three weeks. I have also enjoyed myself far more than I imagined I would and this is not only due to some really interesting archaeology, but also to some really fantastic people - thanks guys, it’s been very very good!
Rosie Oliver, Undergraduate Student, Durham University
Tuesday 15th July
"Carpe diem! Rejoice while you are alive; enjoy the day; live life to the fullest; make the most of what you have. It is later than you think" Horace
Finally, we have found some walls belonging to the legionary warehouse! The front wall was robbed down to its rubble foundations, but at least one of the internal mortared walls and floors of two rooms survive in reasonable condition. We now think that our trench includes the remains of at least three buildings - the original warehouse, a masonry 'lean-to' structure built against the warehouse's front wall, and the flagstone building (possibly medieval) with associated yard surfaces. Anna was given the task of lifting the centurial stone while being filmed by colleagues from the National Roman Legionary Museum, who are planning to mount a temporary display about our excavations later this year.
Interior wall of the warehouse, with floors either side and foundations of the outside wall in front
Monday 14th July
"They [the Britons] wear their hair long, and have every part of their body shaved except their head and upper lip" Julius Caesar
The pit being excavated by Mike's team ended up going down at least 1.2 m - we were forced to stop digging when we hit the water table with more rubble continuing downwards! To the south Josh's diggers recorded over 20 'small finds' (mainly metal objects) from a small area of soil overlying a cobbled surface, while Caroline and her team continued exposing and cleaning the area of beautifully laid flagstones. Meanwhile Deon's team completed the excavation of a trench to rob the masonry from the wall that possibly divided the warehouse's courtyard from the front range of rooms.
Many visitors came to see us today, including a group of Anglican bishops and several fellow archaeologists from Egypt and Kenya taking part in the International Curatorial Training Programme through the British Museum and the National Museum Wales. We were also pleased to welcome Rosemary Butler, National Assembly for Wales member for Newport West, to Priory Field to celebrate National Archaeology Week - we are grateful to Rosemary for her continued support of this project and British archaeology in general. In the evening a minibus drove down to Goldcliff on the Gwent Levels where we paddled in our wellies along the shore and skimmed stones on the Severn.
Rosemary Butler AM with Peter Guest
Pete and Andy with Mohammed, Moamen, Lydia and Eileen (participants in the International Curatorial Training Programme) and Mark from the NRLM
Sunday 13th July
"Let each day be so fashioned as though it were closing the line of days and completely fulfilling life" Seneca
Today is the start of National Archaeology Week, the UK's annual celebration of all things archaeological co-ordinated by the CBA, and we will be running tours of the trench and activites of adults and children every day until July 20th. It is also the beginning of the last two weeks of this year's excavation and, sadly, we said goodbye to just under half of the digging team on Friday as we begin the push towards the end of the 2008 season.
Mike's team spent most of the day digging out a very large pit-like feature in front of the 'late' flagstone floored building in the centre of the trench. This formidable hole had been backfilled with large quantities of rubble and we were all rather surprised to find a sherd of 14th green glazed pottery close to what we hope is the bottom of the pit!
Read the blog for weeks 3-4
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