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Caerleon Legionary Fortress

Priory Field Excavations 2010

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Saturday 28th - Monday 30th August

We’ve had a fantastic open weekend over the bank holiday this year! Over 1600 people came and visited the excavations to find out more about what we are up to and what we have found in Priory Field. The trench looks very impressive with walls and floors all over the place, so visitors could see exactly what our student guides were talking about as they showed them around. People could also join in with a range of different activities around the trench - Edith Evans from the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust gave an excellent display of Roman cooking (everyone enjoyed the smell of freshly baked bread wafting across the site), Ioannis and Sarah, postgraduates from the Dept. of Archaeology at Cardiff, made pots and explained how Romans used ceramic vessels for all sorts of purposes, while Andrew and Lorelei from Cardiff University’s Community Engagement Team entertained young and old alike with costumes for dressing up, a colouring competition, as well as Roman helmets for children to make and take away with them.

The students on the excavation had prepared several archaeological activities and displays too, including a selection of metal finds, what we can understand from the small mountains of pottery and animal bone we recover, how to record an archaeological site, and how to extract environmental samples by wet sieving (aka getting very muddy). It was an exhausting but extremely rewarding 3 days and we are very happy that so many people came from far and wide to see the results of our research in Caerleon (our visitors’ book is bulging with appreciative comments!). Finally, a special thank you to the many people who helped make the open day our best ever!

Posted by Peter, 31/8/10

Site tours and activities
Site tours and activities in progress

Wet-sieving activity led by Anushé and Matt
Wet-sieving activity led by Anushé and Matt

Chris talks about the finds from the excavation
Chris talks about the finds from the excavation

Friday 27th August

Today is my sixth day on the Caerleon Priory Field site and it has been a beautiful day, warm and sunny. The soil has had time to absorb part of the puddles and our clothes have had time to dry out after two days of working in the rain and mud.

Our team cleared out two large parts of Area A, mattocking, shovelling and trowelling clammy soil and uncovering Roman walls and robber trenches. At the end of a long hard day of work I can’t help feeling satisfied with everything I’ve learned and the fun I’ve had. It is sad for me that I get to spend only ten days with an experienced and professional team.

This was part of my ‘initiation’, a pre-Uni taster to Cardiff University, as I just got accepted to do a BA in Archaeology. I am sure that I will get to work with most of the people on the team again and I am most sure of the fact that we will drink a coffee together again too.

Posted by Ana Maria Lutescu, 27/8/10

Excavating down to the Roman floor in Room 1
Excavating down to the Roman floor in Room 1

Thursday 26th August

After a night of rain continuing from yesterday’s washout, we expected the site to be completely unworkable all day. However, looking at the trench at 8.45am in damp and cold but not rainy conditions, we revised our opinion. After giving the site a couple of hours to further dry off, while we planned our activities for the forthcoming open weekend, we were able to carry on digging.

The post-Roman features are now all pretty well-understood and largely removed. The complete outline of the segment of the legionary warehouse that is in our trench will thus be visible to visitors over the weekend. This means we have made really good progress during a challenging week so far, as we approach the half-way point of the excavation. A really nice slideshow of the dig thus far is now available on the UCL website (thanks to Rachel Lister for her work on this).

We look forward to welcoming visitors to the site in the next few days, hopefully in better weather!

Posted by Andy, 27/8/10

Wednesday 25th August

Steve's Meal of the Day: Coq au vin

Sadly, despite the promise of yesterday's sunshine, mentioned by Steph below, today turned into our first real washout. After morning tea-break the heavy drizzle started, and by midday we were 'singing in the rain'! The team bravely struggled on for about an hour-and-a-half in the rain, but with lunchtime looming we packed it in for the day and headed for the White Hart for our baguettes. Thanks to all the staff there for accommodating 40+ soggy archaeologists! Our spirits were further lifted later on in the day by another great meal from Steve, who also baked an amazing cake for Elizabeth Guest's 7th birthday!

Posted by Andy, 26/8/10

Tuesday 24th August

Today was a big day for many of us! Last night many new faces arrived for their first night under the stars and awoke this morning to a shocking – and auspicious – sight... sunshine!! While everyone was feasting on the cooked breakfasts provided by Archie and Rob, two new additions to our supervisory team, and preparing for new trench adventures, I set out on a different type of day. My work during this season has been happily split between different activities. For the first week, I was digging away with my trench compatriots, growing muscles by day and appetite for Steve’s food by night (along with a bit of a thirst!). Throughout this past week, however, I’ve been working in the Museum on identifying the small finds from the 2007 season, while keeping a watchful eye on what is coming out of the ground this year.

Sometimes, it’s easy to forget how much we can learn from the ‘small’ things: items of personal dress like brooches, belts, hair pins, and rings, as well as objects used by people every day like toiletry kits and tools, brick stamps and game counters. These ‘common’ things can help us to add faces to our perspective of the past and begin to understand the relationships formed between people that lived, worked, and interacted within this space over time. This is the subject I’m working on for my Masters dissertation.

Participating in both aspects of the excavation has made me realize that there is a common thread running through the reason why we love digging so much and why many people return year after year to dig in the same place. Just like the ancient communities that fascinate us, we thrive off of the friendships that are forged during the often physically exhausting and emotionally taxing experience of coaxing these messages from the past out of the soil. For us, the messages are personal and they are what I will miss as I pack my tent up and head back to London and away from this quiet bit of countryside.

Posted by Stephanie Smith, 25/8/10

Sunday 22nd August

Steve’s Meal of the Day: Sunday Roast with all the trimmings.

It is incredible to think that, with the end of week 2 today, we are a third of the way through the dig! Time certainly flies on an excavation. A better day weather-wise, despite a gloomy start and some heavy rain at the end of the day which somewhat dampened the end-of-week celebrations.

Work continued apace on the intrusive features in Area A and the rubble platform in Area B. We have also been carefully planning the large rubble spread on the western side of Area B, preparatory to removing this early next week and hopefully exposing more of the ‘intermediate-phase’ walls that we are particularly interested in (see the Project Background page for more on this). The key discovery this week in Area A has been the first indication, in one side of the robber trench over the main outer Roman wall, of another internal partition wall. This is positioned at a very regular spacing from the other known walls.

Week 3 promises the first exciting discoveries in the rooms of the warehouse building, and with our expanded team we should make good progress. Do come and see us on our Open Weekend over the August Bank Holiday!

Posted by Andy, 23/8/10

Ed and Kate excavating in Area B
Ed and Kate excavating in Area B

Saturday 21st August

For the third day in a row, the weather was rather hostile, particularly later in the day; oddly enough afternoon tea-break has been the signal for a downpour on each day. It may seem that our blog entries are a bit dominated by the weather, but when you are basically living outdoors for several weeks there are few things more important! The rain over the last couple of days has certainly made the site very soggy, and we have to be careful in some areas not to damage either the archaeology or ourselves. A few bags of doughnuts from the Village Bakery were also required to give everyone the energy to cope with the blustery showers.

Today in Area B we have been working our way through the large square rubble platform at the north end of the trench. This certainly appears to be a somewhat chewed-up Medieval building foundation, perhaps forming part of a complex of structures with the ‘barn’ we excavated last season. We are taking off the rubble layer by layer to see how deeply-founded this platform is. In Area A, we continued to excavate out the full length of the robber trenches, so that next week we can begin to get into the room surfaces. Caroline and Anna, who have been supervising things in this area, have also been scratching their heads over a couple of sequencing problems left over from last season.

At the end of the day our new Assistant Director, Mike Luke, arrived, as well as the first two members of the big new team of students arriving for the start of week 3. Full introductions and a new team photo will follow once everyone is here.

Posted by Andy, 22/8/10

Friday 20th August

As one of the students on the dig from Colchester 6th Form, having this excavation at Caerleon as my first archaeological experience has been really exciting. Although being a shock to the system on the first day, it soon became normality! So far this week I have been allocated to Area B, and have taken part in digging as well as learning how to use the EDM and ‘Dumpy Level’, two interesting and technical experiences. I also managed to overcome a fear and use a mattock for the first time, which actually turned out not to be so bad after all. Today, however, finds washing has been my main activity, for which I am very grateful due to the large amounts of mud (thanks to the rain) in the trench that I have been able to avoid! The excavation has been great fun and I shall be sad to leave after only one week; I will miss everyone as well as the experience but certainly not the rain!

P.S. Happy Birthday to Ed in Area B!

Posted by Jess Evans, 21/8/10

Team-members Calum, Jess and Connor from Colchester 6th Form College
Team-members Calum, Jess and Connor from Colchester 6th Form College

Thursday 19th August

Rain and rubble - more rubble and even more rain. A strange day of typical British summer downpours and lots of staring at rocks in the trench trying to work out the sequence in which the archaeology was laid down. The site now looks completely different to less than a fortnight ago when the JCB was on site – thank goodness really as a newly machined trench is not a pretty sight.

Yesterday we convinced ourselves that we had begun to understand the archaeology in the new Area B, but as the day went on it became more and more obvious that actually we still don’t know exactly what’s going on and that we should let the archaeology tell its story in its own time. The process of excavation can be frustrating at times, but patience is perhaps the archaeologist’s most valuable virtue and we will get there in the end (rain permitting!). Find of the day was a lead phallic amulet from the fill of one of the robber trenches, which led to lots of giggling and ‘willie’ jokes unfortunately unfit for public consumption!

Many thanks to Dave and everyone at Caerleon town hall for letting us eat our fish and chips in the dry during a particularly heavy downpour.

Posted by Peter, 20/8/10

A sunny picture
Thought I'd share the view of Caerleon from my tent (ah, if only!). A sunny holiday snap to brighten a grey day.

Wednesday 18th August

Steve’s meal of the day: Lamb and Lentil soup, followed by Strawberry Cheesecake and fresh strawberries

Despite a gloomy forecast, today turned into a fine day with good weather for digging. We continued with the sections through the robber trenches in Area B, and also in this Area we uncovered a yard surface in the NW corner. This is the same kind of surface that the ‘intermediate phase’ buildings of Area A (unmortared late or post-Roman walls) were built on top of, and we can probably expect the same to appear under the rubble along the west side of the trench.

In Area A, three teams of diggers started to remove the final areas of rubble at the southern end of the trench, thus working their way down towards the floors of what will be ‘Room 1’ of the warehouse building. Some further clues as to the stores contained in this building are coming up with things like the possible slingshots that cropped up on Tuesday. While in the early days of Isca we know that arms were stored in barrack rooms and rampart-back buildings (one of which was excavated at the Prysg Field site in the 1930s), perhaps this central warehouse also contained some armaments as well as more bulky supplies such as textiles or leather.

As yesterday, we sadly had to bid farewell to one of the staff today, with Scott leaving us to join another project in Egypt for the next 4 weeks. We wish him and that project, at Saqqara (led by Paul Nicholson from Cardiff), all the best.

Posted by Andy, 19/8/10

P.S. Now the blog is getting quite long, we've finally put it the right way around! New updates will now appear at the top of the page.

Tuesday 17th August

Steve’s meal of the day: Proper homemade steak (or veggie) pie with banoffee pie for pudding.

Incoming secret message: Attila (Ian) and Godzilla (Anna M.) have now usurped the blog from our tyrannical leaders and we are now the voice of the people!

Having finished cleaning Area B and having planned the pile of rubble, we inserted two 2x2 metre trenches to try and uncover the mystery of the robber trench cut over the main external wall. The EDM-ers and their ‘pole monkeys’ (along with the newly designed ‘Idiot’s Guide to the EDM’) were up, running and ready, plotting our small finds. We have found lots of good metal finds… possible sling-shots, a possible Roman scabbard-slide, a possible belt-buckle… unfortunately mostly found on the spoil heap by Sam, our Metal Detector Man (MDM)!

So far we are about 50 cms down in these trenches, so only another metre and a half to go?! The team in Area A had a good day cleaning and missing all the archaeology which was also found by the MDM. The Wobbling Tower of Caerleon (the photographic tower) was yet again erected by one of our fine directors and the Scaffold Team - even the member with the six-foot-plus-vertigo broke his vertigo threshold (only another 24 feet to go!). In Area B a new short length of wall was sighted, which sits on rubble and was covered by rubble - again the Romans thrill us with their rubbley conundrums… what did they ever do for us?

(Tyrannical leaders here again …) We were pleased to welcome our local MP, Paul Flynn to the excavations this afternoon. Also, this is Attila’s (aka Ian Dennis) last day with us in Caerleon, so many thanks to him for all his help. Ian is a natural Prehistorian and we are glad he leaves us with a flavour of some ‘real’ archaeology (rubble stones not just plough-knapped flints!).

Charlotte and Alex showing the site to visitors, including Rt Hon Paul Flynn
Charlotte and Alex showing the site to visitors, including Paul Flynn MP

Sunday 15th August

The last day of a long first week, and a chance to look at the whole trench as now revealed (see picture below). The team has worked really hard this week and not only completed the emptying of the backfilled 2008 trench (‘Area A’), but also exposed the top of the archaeology across the new area (‘Area B’).

In this area, we have been able to proceed twice as quickly as we did in the original trench two years ago – it is a smaller area, but we also know a lot more about the kind of archaeology we are dealing with. The robber trenches are also more clearly visible, and seem to be quite late, as they cut through the rubble overlying the Roman (and possibly other) buildings, whereas in Area A they had been sealed by rubble. This suggests that different parts of the building probably collapsed at different rates, leading to episodic robbing of the stone later on. Now we can start emptying these trenches out and seeing what post-Roman buildings we might have. We shouldn’t get too complacent, though; if archaeology teaches us anything, it is to expect the unexpected!

We ended work a little bit early in order to do a comprehensive site tour and then began organising an end-of-week party, a tradition on the dig and an important reward after a very hardworking and successful first week. Our day off is Monday, so normal service will resume on Tuesday.

Posted by Andy 17/8/10

Areas B and A, looking south
The site at the end of week 1, with the new extension of the trench ('Area B') in the foreground, and the 2008 trench ('Area A'), further from the camera

Saturday 14th August

The day began with heavy rain, not an auspicious start to the weekend! However, the weather was kind to us and the sun eventually broke through. Tim Young of Geo Arch arrived this morning and we set out the site grid pegs, which allowed the control points for the EDM (Electronic Distance Meter) to be fixed in to the grid. This is a really useful piece of surveying equipment which is a big help in our recording, and training for those who are unfamiliar with an EDM can now begin.

Work has begun in earnest in the new northern area of the trench, which was opened this year, and it appears that we have a continuation of the north/south robber cut which was encountered last season (visible to the right of and behind Mike, in the white t-shirt, in the foreground of the picture below). Work continues apace in several areas of last season’s trench, concentrating on the same robber cut of the main external north/south wall.

The visitor numbers were high today, approximately 120 people through the gate, which was a very pleasing sight indeed.

Posted by Scott 15/8/10

Area B on day 6
The new extension of the trench ('Area B')

Friday 13th August

Steve’s Meal of the Day: Deconstructed Toad-in-the-Hole, followed by American Chocolate Cheesecake.

Despite the inauspicious date, we had a very productive day today. Most of the workforce was focused upon the new trench extension, with a thorough clean-off of the whole area. The machine-digging of the topsoil makes a huge difference at the start of the excavation, but we still need to get the last bit of topsoil off by hand, so as not to damage the archaeology.

As we were doing this, we already began to see promising areas of rubble, which from the experience of two years ago (which is recorded in our 2008 blog), provides an important guide to the locations of possible post-Roman building activity, as well as to the stone-robbing activities carried out in the Medieval and later periods. To have reached this stage before the end of the first week is really good progress and the whole team has worked exceptionally well.

Of course, no army marches (or digs!) on an empty stomach, and this is an appropriate moment to acknowledge the outstanding catering we are enjoying this season. Lorraine and her team at the White Hart furnish us with fantastic baguettes at lunchtime to keep us going through the day, while Steve Ash at the Cricket Club always cooks up a great feast for our evening meal, giving everyone something to look forward to at the end of the day, whatever the weather has thrown at us. Our heartiest thanks to both!

Posted by Andy 14/8/10

Thursday 12th August

We were delighted to welcome lots of visitors today, after features in the local newspapers and on TV, including the BBC and ITV. We are also pleased that there’s now quite a lot for people to see on site. We’ve exposed the final areas of the 2008 trench today, taking off the last of the black plastic coverings.

The site beneath, with the large masonry foundations of the legionary warehouse, and then various phases of alterations and subsequent buildings, is all now visible. Our first priority for this area is to finalise our understanding of the post-warehouse phases. These encompass a complex sequence of adaptation, reuse and collapse of the Roman building fabric. Then, hopefully by the end of next week, we will start into the latest floors of the warehouse entranceway and rooms that we have been patiently contemplating for the last couple of years.

In the meantime, we also started today on the task of cleaning back the new extension area, levelling the area off after the machine-digging of the topsoil. At this point we should start to see whether we have the same kind of sequence as in the original trench; if so, we are likely to encounter some Medieval agricultural activity first, and then, hopefully, some more evidence to help us understand the end of Roman Caerleon.

Posted by Andy 13/8/10

Wednesday 11th August

A good day's weather at last, meaning that we made excellent progress in clearing out the backfill of the 2008 trench. By the end of the day we had most of the site exposed again, and it really looked just like it had at the end of the season two years ago! The walls and floors of the Roman warehouse that we are now going to excavate just need a little cleaning to freshen them up.

During the day we also had lots of visitors from the press and media. People have started to visit us (see picture below) and we hope lots more will be inspired to do so by news of the discoveries that have been made here in Priory Field and elsewhere in Caerleon. Our tours are at 11am and 2.30pm every day (except Mondays), and if you come along you'll have a chance to talk to the archaeologists working on the site about the very latest finds. And in a couple of weeks, over the August Bank Holiday weekend, we'll be open throughout the day, with lots of activities for children.

Posted by Andy 12/8/10

Evie and Charlotte looking at finds, on a tour of the dig
Evie and Charlotte looking at finds, on a tour of the dig

Tuesday 10th August

A really mixed day for weather – our first session hiding from the rain and our first digging in bright sunshine! Lots of backfill removed in the end so we should have the full extent of our 2008 trench clear tomorrow.

Our aims this season are to dig out the rooms of the legionary warehouse that we exposed last time and get down to the bottom of the Roman levels in this area, while also exploring a new extension to the north. This additional area will enable us to study more of the ephemeral late/post-Roman buildings that we were able to partially examine last season. With the archaeology of this period, exposing significant open areas is absolutely crucial to understanding what is going on.

At the moment we are about 25 archaeologists altogether, though we will grow to about 45 later in the season. The team includes Ian Dennis (Attila the Brum?) and Mike Luke (assistant directors), Caroline Pudney and Tina Paphitis (supervisors), Chistine Waite (finds supervisor), Scott Williams, Ceilidh Hammill, James Goodsell and Anna Gow (assistant supervisors) and students from Cardiff and UCL – this year the blog will have much more from all staff, not just us.

We are also looking for a theme for the daily blog entries. Last time we went for quotes from Roman authors, but we want to do something different this time round, so why not email us with suggestions of what you would like to see - more quotes, find of the day? You can also follow the dig via Twitter too!

Posted by Andy & Peter 10/8/10

The dig team in Week 1
The dig team in Week 1

Monday 9th August

By Jupiter! We’re back - bigger and better than ever! After 2 years away we are here in Priory Field once again - and it’s raining. After a bone dry June and July, all farmers and gardeners are rejoicing at our arrival in Caerleon. We will have to sacrifice another student to appease the spirits of Isca who bless us with so much rain.

The team has assembled over the last two days, with staff and students coming from far and wide, ready to reopen the legionary storehouse excavations. We have about 16 students in the first group, together with about 10 staff on-site. As we write this, the last part of the trench is being stripped by JCB, while at the other end everyone is cleaning down with mattocks and shovels to the plastic membrane we left in the 2008 trench. We have adjusted the footprint of the trench a little in the hope of exposing more of the later or post-Roman phases that caused such excitement last season. Our excavation is thus longer and thinner than last time around. Everyone’s looking forward to the excavation – our final season here so we’ve lots to do and – hopefully – plenty of exciting discoveries to blog.

Posted by Andy & Peter 9/8/10

Opening up the trench
Opening up the trench


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