Caerleon Legionary Fortress
Caerleon's 'Lost City' Excavations 2011
Day 24 an 25 – 30th and 31st August
Here it is - the final blog...
It’s been an incredible month here at Caerleon’s ‘Lost City’. The archaeology has amazed us all, and delighted thousands of visitors. In our last week alone over 5000 people came to see us and were given guided tours.
Those who haven’t been able to come and visit us in person have instead been following us on the web, with over 400 followers on twitter, and 250 on facebook, we hope everyone has enjoyed sharing in our discoveries as much as we have telling you all about them! From ports to paw-prints the ‘Lost City’ has touched us all.
Excavations have now come to an end on site, photographs have been taken and all that remains to be done today are a few section drawings and a final plan of T6, before the backfilling can begin. It’s always a strange moment when the spotless surfaces of a trench are covered over again with the spoil we’ve taken such care to remove.
We are all looking forward to the next chapter in the story of Roman Caerleon, so keep an eye on our webpages for future developments!
Finally, we would like to thank all the students, volunteers and staff, The Roman Research Trust, Haverfield Bequest, Newport City Council, The National Roman Legion Museum, Time Team, and everyone who has shown an interest, near and far.
Peter, Paula and Becki
Final stages - Mary cleaning the tegula wall and waterlogged wooden beam
Day 23 – Monday 29th August
Our 1000th Visitors
I take it all back...today we have had 1611 visitors, plus over 50 of their canine companions! What an amazing day we are having, with the last of our open days in full swing and the trenches looking superb.
Open day guided tours
Today we have Roman cookery with Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust (and it smells delicious!), a drawing competition with Cardiff University’s Community Engagement Team, pottery making, and of course our fantastic finds are out on display. Given the numbers of canine visitors to site today our paw-print roof tile has also been particularly popular!
Paws through time
Paws through time
Roman Cookery at GGAT's tent
Roman style grill
As well as many people from the local area, some of whom are on their 7th tour this season, we have also had visitors from further afield, including archaeologists from Bedford, York, and prospective students from Glasgow.
Volunteer Angelo discussing the bulk finds
T5 is looking particularly impressive today, we now have well preserved walls representing three sides of a room, complete with a doorway (threshold), internal and external floors, painted wall plaster (see image below), two adjoining drains, and the collapsed tufa archway has now been half-sectioned to reveal a much more complex picture – possibly a double arch? We will have to wait and see.
Visitors watching the work in T5
T6 is also looking spotless today (see image below). The diggers have been busy cleaning back over the drains, wall and floor surfaces – well done to the team at T6!
View over T6
T2 is progressing well, and I would like to give you an update from Mark Rosoman, who joined us in this trench with the team from Scope at the end of last week:
“Steve, Michael, James and I were pleased to return to Caerleon. We were once again greeted and chaperoned by Dr Paula Jones. As we reached the dig area we could see the “Time Team” that had joined the dig for production of the television programme of the same name. We were guided to a new dig location which had already been started. At one end there was a small team of archaeological students at the other end a trial pit had been dug mechanically. The pit was approximately 1.5 m in depth the bottom of which was holding recent rainfall. We commenced our mattocking in between the two.
We removed the soil with the aid of a wheelbarrow. The wheelbarrow deposits were checked by one of our small team for evidence of a previous civilisation. We were not disappointed. Within the small area that we were digging chunks of roof tiles began to appear which were soon accompanied by fragments of pottery which clearly identified their shape and size. There were so many pieces coming to the surface that we had to get down on hands and knees and carefully remove the soil with our trowels. One piece of pottery that was uncovered had markings etched into its surface before being fired in a kiln. We found black pottery as well as terracotta. Pieces of lead were also recovered. The guys became almost eagle eyed and they passed potential finds to our patient chaperone Paula. Our finds generated a lot of interest from the director and supervisor of our trench as well as people being given guided tours of the site.
We stopped for lunch after which Paula took us to each trench in turn where we were interested to see recovered animal teeth (cows), pieces of glass, pottery. Recovered roof tiles were clearly stamped with LEGIIAVG (Legion Augustus). We were also shown what appeared to be a very large lead pipe that had yet to be fully uncovered and identified which was still in situ at the bottom of a trench. Unfortunately our time at Caerleon came to an end however an interest has been fanned within the guys from Scope. Some of whom have been researching Roman times on the internet since returning to our Sully centre." Mark Rosoman.
It’s been a busy but very productive and enjoyable day here at Caerleon, with only two days left to go it’s all trowels to the trenches!
Day 22 – Sunday 28th August
The second of our open days has been the busiest so far, with over 900 people coming to visit the dig! With the excavations continuing, guided tours running all day and a range of activities to entertain visitors of all ages, the site is a veritable hive of activity!
As if on cue our diggers have been making some incredible finds, much to the delight of our visitors! There is nothing quite like seeing artefacts discovered right before your eyes. First of all a wonderful bone dice from T6, which was found by Jonathan on a possible pathway between (beaten surface) between the newly revealed wall foundations and a drain (see image below).
Bone dice from T6
And from T1 (the quayside) a fantastic and almost completely intact ceramic wine goblet found by one of our undergraduates Mary (see image below).
Wine goblet found in T1
More coming soon!
Day 21 – Saturday 27th August
Today was the first of our open days and over 700 people came to visit us at the ‘Lost City’ excavations here in Caerleon!
Visitors arriving on site
Romans meeting and greeting
All our visitors are greeted by our very own Romans when they arrive on site, and we have been offering guided tours of the site throughout the day. Four undergraduate and volunteer tour guides have been taking visitors around the trenches telling them about the latest discoveries as well as the broader implications of this new information.
Tour guide ready to go!
Whilst digging continues in T1, T4, T5 and T6, the majority of the trenches are now being planned and the recording completed before we have to pack up next week. We have our finds on display this weekend, including some of the small finds from last year’s excavations (now beautifully conserved) and others fresh from the site this year, as well as our bulk finds including pottery, Ceramic building material, bone and metalwork.
Bulk finds on display
Our visitors have come from far and wide – in fact, from Caerleon to China! One of our elderly visitors has lived in Caerleon for over 80 years and enjoyed reminiscing with us about playing in this field and the neighbouring amphitheatre as a small child – little did he realise a Roman city lay just beneath his feet!
Small finds on display
Also down on site we have a children’s excavation being run by Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust, enabling even the youngest of our visitors to have a taste of archaeological digging – with the added excitement of eventually uncovering a Roman burial! Children have also been taking part in Roman pottery making in one of our tents, and the varied activities being offered by Cardiff University’s Community Engagement Team.
Cardiff Unniversity's Community Engagement Team
We’re all looking forward to another exciting day tomorrow – more soon!
Some beautifully made pottery by our youngest visitors
Day 20 - Friday 26th August
Over the last three days we have had the honour of working with Time Team in Trench 3. The group consisted of Phil Harding, Anna Gow, Kelsie Armstrong, Elliot Heade, Rachel Sarson and Keith Edger, so a nice eclectic mix of Time Team, Cardiff University students and volunteers.
The Team in Trench 3
Today (their final day in the trench) has revealed some interesting results. Trench three was originally placed over a geophysical anomaly that appeared to us to be a square building. The aim was to investigate what this building may have been and to get an idea of its relationship to the courtyard it was sat within and also the rest of the ‘Lost City of the Legion.’ What we found was that the shape of the building is slightly different to how we originally thought. The geophysics did not pick up on one of the walls that were uncovered during excavation, so the structure now appears to be a longer and more rectangular shape than square.
In all, four courses of brick and tile wall were revealed, yet there was no sign of any render on them or of any good quality internal floor surface. The building may originally have been half masonry courses of brick and tile and half timber framed and although there is no indication that it is a building of high status from the architecture, it is on the main axis of the large courtyard so it must be significant. The floor within the courtyard also appears to have had a fairly basic beaten earth surface that is leading us to believe that this space may have been to do with the bringing in and stockading of animals. Although it is not what were expecting to find it is clearly a very interesting area.
To finish the blog for today we would like to thank the whole crew of Time Team for all of their help at the ‘Lost City of the Legion’. Excavating with them has been a great experience for everyone here and we enjoyed every moment of it – even the rainy bits!
The Team working in Trench 3
Day 19 – Thursday 25th August
Today was our busiest day on site here at the ‘Lost City’, with less than a week to go all the diggers are hard at work finishing off the excavations, recording and planning the trenches. Luckily, apart from a brief shower this afternoon the weather has allowed us to keep working!
Time Team joined us yesterday and we are all so excited to have them here! So today, as we might expect, the visitors arrived in vast numbers for tours of the site. Around 900 people came to see the excavations and of course, to see Tony and Phil in their trench! Everyone was given a guided tour of the site and stopped to watch the filming going on.
Phil hard at work in T3
The Time Team trench (T3) is progressing well, and they are currently cleaning back over the walls of the rectangular structure visible on the geophysical survey. In T3 Phil Harding is joined by our team, whilst up at T6 and T5 Time Team diggers Matt and Raksha have joined our existing trenches.
One of the most exciting finds to come from T3 so far has been a beautiful intaglio (engraved gem stone). The intaglio was decorated with a Capricorn, an eagle and a fish (see image below). The emblem of Capricorn was used by the legion as their standard, it was Augustus’ own birth-sign and considered a lucky emblem.
The intaglio from T3
Day 18 – Wednesday 24th August
After a well-earned day off yesterday, the diggers returned to site today joined by Time Team! The sun even made a brief appearance this morning to welcome them to Caerleon.
Trench 3 (the Time Team trench) has just been opened. T3 is located in the centre of the courtyard over an enigmatic rectangular building, that we hope will turn out to be not a mediaeval cowshed! Almost as soon as Phil got into the trench, just 30cm below the turf archaeology has started to appear, with two walls made of stone and tile becoming clear.
While we have to wait to see what happens next in T3, we now have a sneak preview of the whole site thanks to the amazing 3D digital animation produced by 7reasons, an Austrian company specialising in computer reconstructions of ancient and medieval sites. Take a look at this stunning video clip on youtube, and see how Roman Isca might have looked:
The discovery of the port has also been reported on the Cardiff University news website, please follow the link for more information:
Aerial view of Isca from the East, digital reconstruction by 7reasons
Day 17 – Monday 22nd August
It’s our busiest week here on site at the ‘Lost City’ and the diggers are working hard. So, today I’m going to give you an update fresh from trenches and show you our trench supervisors...
Starting in T1, down by the ‘dockside’, in the south-east corner students are cleaning up the foundations of a wall running North-South. They appear to be looking at a sequence of re-modelling during the Roman period. Numerous surfaces/ floor layers consisting of crushed CBM, clay and mortar appear to have been used to level and make-up ground on the river side of the tegula wall. On the other side of the wall (affectionately known as the ‘dry side’ ) the paved surface has been lifted and diggers are coming down through a pinkish grey clay layer. An additional wall has been found running N-S. The focus in T1 now is to understand the crucial relationships between all of these features and the floor surfaces.
Scott, site assistant for T1
In T4, at the northern end of the trench students have just come down to a floor surface on one side of a baulk and are now removing the baulk to seek the floor on the other side – in doing so an early Roman coin was found which brightened everyone’s morning in T4!
Mike, co-director and supervisor for T4
Further up the field in T5 the diggers are cleaning up around some beautifully rendered walls, and finding large quantities of oyster shells and pottery.
Cas, site supervisor, T5
In T6, having revealed large stone slabs in the southern end of the trench, volunteers are currently working on a half section of the trench coming down through a large quantity of broken tile and stones.
Rob, site assistant for T6
In T7, the conservators have arrived to lift the painted plaster from the area of the hypocaust floor, a process which is being filmed by a television crew and the trench supervisor – look out for our video of this on youtube later in the week. Elsewhere in T7 the diggers are (very quietly because of the filming) looking for the external floor surfaces contemporary with this structure.
Becki, site assistant for T7
T9 is currently being planned and awaiting the arrival of the conservators once they have finished in T7, to lift a well preserved block of plastered surface.
Anna, site assistant for T9
T8 is now completed – well done Meg and team!
Meg, site assistant for T8
More news coming soon!
Day 16 – Sunday 21st August
Every day we have lots of visitors here on site, some come for the guided tours, others have come to volunteer for the day. We are always delighted to see people, and enjoy telling them about our exciting finds and what it is like to dig at the ‘Lost City’!
Last week we had special visit from Scope, who came to dig for the day, here’s what they had to say about the experience...
“On the journey to Caerleon the guys from Scope were getting excited as they had been on an archaeological dig before with Dr Paula Jones. On arrival we were guided toward the dig area by Paula who along the way provided us with some background history of the Roman site. By the time we reached our trench the guys were keen to commence digging which was slowed somewhat by the sheer volume of Roman rubble and fragmented terracotta roof tiles which we were informed had come from a monumental Roman building that was reckoned to be just over half a mile in length when standing. The building would have been just back from the River Usk.
We stopped for an half hour lunch break with the students and archaeologists in a marquee while the rain started its short lived tapping on the roof of our canvas shelter. After lunch Paula gave us a broader tour of the site stopping at each excavation to point out items of interest which included a small harbour which was now just short of the river and an area that had heated floors which was evidenced by small pads of stone that the raised floors would have rested upon with heated water directed below. After the tour we commenced digging again in our trench where we again uncovered stone paving slabs, terracotta roof tiles and large stones from roman walling.
We had a great time working with everyone and on the way home the guys excitedly discussed lost cities and what they would like to do upon their return to the Caerleon dig the following week.” Mark Rosoman, Scope SDC, Sully.
We’re looking forward to seeing more of the guys from Scope later this week!
The photographs below are courtesy of Mark Rosoman:
A tour of the trenches before we dig
Mike and James from Scope working in T6
Steve and Mike from Scope, passing the finds to Paula
Day 15 – Saturday 20th August
There’s no denying it, today was cold, wet and frankly not very summery at all. Still, the team kept on digging and made good progress and people still braved the weather to join the daily site tours and see our latest finds.
There’s a lot to look forward to in the coming week, particularly as we will be joined by Time Team on Wednesday! Everyone is very excited and eagerly awaiting their arrival here on site. They will be with us for three days, excavating in a new trench alongside ours (we have our fingers and trowels crossed for them) and they will be showcasing the Caerleon research project.
Here are some links to the Time Team webpages -
You can also follow them on twitter -
This bank holiday weekend will be our open days too (Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 10am – 4pm) so we are getting ready for a busy week and looking forward to lots of visitors. We will bring you more news from the trenches tomorrow!
Students giving a guided tour of the excavations
Day 14 – Friday 19th August
Fourteen days in Caerleon and for the first time we had some sunshine – and all day too! A lovely day on site, with plenty of new discoveries across the trenches. We were pleased to welcome Mark, Penny and Julia from the National Museum Wales who came to help us lift 2 large patches of painted wall plaster from the hypocaust building in Trench 7. It’s delicate work and they will be back on Monday to finish the job – more on this next week.
We are camping in Priory Field (where we excavated in 2008 and 2010), which is about 5 minutes walk to the site this year. Our day begins at 7 o’clock when the smell of sausage, egg and bacon butties cooked by Archie and Rob wafts across the campsite beckoning the early risers from their tents. The call to work, usually shouted very loudly by Mike, comes at 8:30 and most of us make our way down across two fields to site where tools from the cabin are loaded into barrows and taken to the trenches. Some people stay at the campsite and finds hut to help out with other duties such as finds washing, preparing food, cleaning the camp site and the tea tent or giving tours for visitors during the day.
Work continues until 10:45am when we have our first tea break (and a few biscuits!). Visitors for our first public tour of the day arrive at the gate at 11, then at 1pm we break for a lunch of sandwiches, sausage rolls, salad, fruit and crisps. It is definitely true that an army marches on its stomach and Steve makes sure we are all very well fed! After lunch it is back to work and our second tour of the day at 2:30pm. Today was a brilliant day for tours and we had almost 150 people visit the site. After a hard days excavation is finished, we make our way back to the camp site at 5:15 having packed away and cleaned all of the tools, before a well deserved din-and-tonic and showers in the cricket pavilion.
Steve and his merry helpers work hard all afternoon preparing the evening meal (it’s not easy cooking for 45 in a small kitchen) and we all assemble at 7 for a hearty stew, bangers and mash, or spaghetti carbonara followed by cake or ice cream! Last night a group of us trooped up to the Greyhound pub in Christchurch, a lovely village overlooking Caerleon, to watch the Double As performing their repertoire of guitar classics. One of the dig’s oldest friends, Alan (of tepee fame – see the 2008 blog for more), plays electric guitar and we had a great time singing along before stumbling down the hill in the dark back to camp. A very nice way to end a lovely day.
A rainbow over the campsite in the morning
Day 13 – Thursday 18th August
After a well earned day-off yesterday, it was all hands to the pump again as we begin the final fortnight of the 2011 excavations. We have achieved a great deal already, though there is still lots to do across the site (isn’t there always?). I hope that we can start closing down trenches – T7, T8 and T9 - in the next few days and then move the teams into the 2 remaining trenches where we have barely touched the archaeology. This includes the mythical T6 where we wonder if we will find the spoil dumps from the Wheelers’ (Tessa as well as Mortimer) excavations in the amphitheatre in the 1920s. More about progress in the trenches later, but for today I thought it would be nice to describe some of the finds we have found this year.
Archaeology is about people – and the evidence archaeologists uncover tells us about the buildings that they lived in and used, as well as their material culture – finds in other words – that they made, used and lost. At Caerleon we are unearthing large quantities of broken pottery that we can use to date the archaeological deposits, but that will also tell us about how the inhabitants of Isca – soldiers and civilians – prepared and cooked their food, and how this part of south Wales was connected to the rest of Britain and the Roman Empire. The first 2 images below show today’s team of pot washers – Cassie, Dan and Gwion - working hard to clean the pottery so that our specialists can identify it. The second photo shows a typical finds tray containing not only pottery sherds, but also animal bone, oyster shells, window glass and a few iron nails. These artefacts are from T5, from a series of deposits that suggest to us that the building we are excavating might have been used as a rubbish dump towards the end of its life. Interestingly, this phase occurred before the building collapsed or was demolished because the pot-rich deposits are sealed by thick layers of broken roof tiles.
Finds Tray from T5
As usual for our excavations Caerleon, we are also finding some very interesting and unusual metal finds. These include lots of coins – including some from the 1st and 2nd centuries (which we didn’t find in Priory Field), items of military equipment (unsurprising given where we are working), and other things that tells us how people dressed and the kind of objects that they used. Trench 9 has produced a very beautiful example of a bronze ox-head bucket mount that came out of the ground in fantastic condition (one end of the handle would have been attached via the loop at the top). The photo below shows it less than an hour after it came out of ground!
Chris will clean up the mount a little and it may well go over to the National Roman Legion Museum to take pride of place in their current display about our dig. I imagine the diggers in T9 will go back to look for the rest of the bucket, including the other ox-head mount!
Ox head bucket mount
Day 12 – Tuesday 16th August
I was at Caerleon during the second week as a pre-university taster student. I found the experience amazing. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I had never been on an archaeological dig before and I didn’t know a great deal about how excavating, although I knew it would be hard work. While I was at Caerleon I soon realised that, despite all of the bad weather and hard work, it is definitely worth it. I was very lucky to find a few Roman artefacts, which was very exciting. I was really made to feel part of the team by everyone and people were more than happy to help. I spent time in Trenches 4 and 8 where I learned many things about the how to dig an archaeological site. It has been extremely helpful going on the pre-university taster week, and I feel much more prepared for university from seeing a dig first hand. I would recommend going and helping on a dig like Caerleon to anyone who has an interest in archaeology it really helps to figure out if you want to pursue archaeology in the future.
Hannah showing off part of a quern stone
Day 11 – Monday 15th August
Today our team is now at full-capacity here at Caerleon’s ‘Lost City’ excavations. We were joined today by more volunteers from as far afield as the US - some are here on their holidays, while others have come to join us just for the day. We hope this will be a special experience for them! Other volunteers are with us for the rest of the dig and have bravely pitched their tents while the sun was momentarily shining. We were also joined today by a very enthusiastic 12 year old school pupil from the Ukraine, Askold , who has been enjoying working with Chris on finds up at the hut learning about finds processing and washing pottery.
Excellent progress has been made across the site and our visitors and volunteers have been enjoying the excitement that each new feature and find brings with it. In Trench 1, down by the riverbank, Scott and his team have been working hard on the quay and ‘dockside’ area, revealing more walls, heavily-worn surfaces, as well as thick deposits of burnt material that were dumped into the river channel and that is producing large quantities of iron nails and other metalwork. Trench 5, over the western range of the massive courtyard building, now looks amazing. At the top end of T5 we have traces of tessellated floor, box flue tiles (hollow square tiles) that look like they lie as they fell from a wall, as well as courses of sandstone and tufa blocks (tufa, or tuff, is a volcanic rock that is both strong and light and was often used in vaulted ceilings). In T8 we have found yet more walls of a basilica-like building – 4 so far and possibly more to come. Trench 9 is our most advanced trench and we hope to finish this one (and T7) next week – once we excavate the fallen wall plaster and finish cleaning off the concrete floors and walls that keep appearing!
It’s hard to keep up with all the new discoveries that we are finding in every trench almost on a daily basis. What is now abundantly clear is that the Roman archaeology in this part of Caerleon is exceptionally well preserved, has been barely disturbed over the last 1500 years or so, and lies only a few inches below the modern ground surface. Caerleon’s ‘Lost City’ is finally beginning to give up some of its secrets – we look forward to unearthing even more!
Peter and Paula
Trench 1, 'dockside' tegula wall
Day 10 – Sunday 14th August
The excavation here is continuing to go very well. Lots of interesting things are happening on site and a huge amount of exciting archaeology is being uncovered. Thankfully the weather is holding out nicely and we have our fingers crossed that it holds out for the next couple of weeks.
A hugely important part of our dig here at Caerleon involves Community Engagement and as part of this we have tours of the site running twice a day at 11:00 am and 2:30 pm every day of the week apart from our day off on Wednesday. We are rapidly coming up towards the end of our second week and have already had 632 visitors. We enjoy sharing the experience of an archaeological dig with visitors, especially one that is taking place somewhere as significant as Caerleon. The public are shown around a few of our trenches, any revelations are shared, questions are answered and they see some of the finds and sign our Visitors Book. The pages have a section for people, if they wish, to tell us where they are from. We have had visitors not only from the local community, but from all over the U.K and even from distant parts of the world such as China, Norway, U.S.A, Czech Republic, Australia, Belgium and South Africa, so everyone will find something of interest, whether you are from Newport, Newcastle or New Zealand. The Visitors Book is something that I personally enjoy reading very much and today I would like to take the opportunity to share a few of my favourite comments from the guest book so far.
There are many lovely entries thanking us for an “enjoyable day” and saying that the dig was “very educational” or “fascinating”. We even had a text message saying “Thanks again for showing us around the site. Pretty mind blowing stuff. Can’t wait to come back in a week or so to check out what’s new!” We love all of these comments as it shows that archaeology really is enjoyable for everyone. You don’t need to have a degree or sit in a trench digging all day to be able to appreciate the amazing archaeology here at Caerleon. However it is the more personal comments that are my favourite. One person has written “Very good! I would like to be one of the Romans!” and I think I would have to agree! Another comment that made me smile was, “Brings back many memories, last dug here in 1955”, making me realise just how much work has been done here and how much we have learnt in such a short time. I hope that research is still taking place here in another 56 years!
So a big thank you to all of our visitors so far, whether you have visited us at site, on our Blog, or on Facebook or Twitter! Dont forget that you can share your thoughts with us through all of these mediums! We hope that many more of you can join us in one way or another!!
The Visitors Book, 2011
Day 9 – Saturday 13th August
It’s been a busy day here on site with lots of visitors arriving for tours, and the team of diggers raring to go after the excitement of the hypocaust floor discovery yesterday!
Today I am going to tell you a little bit more about our team. On site each day we have our two directors, Peter Guest and Mike Luke, our two site supervisors, Caroline Pudney and Ian Dennis, as well as 5 site assistants, and 22 undergraduate student excavators. Since last Thursday we have also been joined by a fantastic team of 20 pre-university taster students, 6th formers and volunteers.
For our pre-university tasters and 6th formers this is an opportunity to get involved and experience archaeology in the field, to meet staff and students, learn new skills, and find out more about what it will be like to be an undergraduate studying archaeology at Cardiff University.
Our volunteers, remaining undeterred by the recent wet weather, have come from all over the UK to take part. Some have travelled from Basingstoke and have joined us on the campsite, others are locals from Caerleon (‘Caerleonites’ I have learnt today!). From many different backgrounds, and with an age range of 16 – 70 years, they have brought enthusiasm in abundance and greatly enriched our team. Whilst some have been here with us in previous years, for others this is the first time they have ever dipped their trowel into ancient soils. Being part of the team has enabled the ‘newbies’ to develop their skills under the guidance of our supervisors and assistants, whilst those with more experience have been able to pass on their knowledge and share their insights. One of our team told me today how she has waited patiently to be old enough to join us in the trenches, instead enjoying pot-washing up at the hut in previous years. Today Kia Perryman gets to christen her trowel! We wish her luck on her first day digging.
We have recorded a short video talking to two of our volunteers, Babs Roberts and Anne Sterry, about their interest in archaeology and experience here on site. Please follow this link to our youtube channel to see what they have to say:
We will be back tomorrow with more news from the trenches!
The Caerleon Team, 2011
Day 8 – Friday 12th August
Today we are handing over to another of our undergraduates to tell you about the exciting discoveries in Trench 7....
Hello everyone, I would first of all like to introduce myself. My name is Kelsie Armstrong and I am a student at Cardiff University studying Archaeology. Previous to Caerleon I have always been interested in mostly pre-historic Archaeology, however I decided to widen my knowledge and digging experience by taking on a Roman site. We are now a week and a half in to the excavation, and have already found digging in Caerleon very rewarding.
I feel very fortunate to be working in a trench that is extremely interesting (Trench 7), and since day one we have uncovered some fantastic archaeology. On my first week of excavating we found some red painted plaster and an opus signinum floor, which straight away I found to be very exciting as it gave the impression that we were going to have an interesting trench. Also within the first week I spent three days digging a “robber” trench , and fortunately came down to the very clear foundations of where the wall would have once been, which I found to be great. It is always a breath of fresh air when what you where hoping to find is there after all, especially after a day of mattocking!
However the fun has not stopped in the first week. Now half way through the second week we began to work hard on the middle section of our trench hoping to find a floor, and ended up finding so much more! As we dug down we began to see the odd piece of floor tilling resting on top of the floor foundations, making us believe that we had a tiled floor which had been mostly destroyed. However as we uncovered more we began to see that the parts of tile flooring that had survived was surprisingly linear. We also found that many areas within the rubble that lay above the floor, contained a large content of black ash, which helped us arrive to the conclusion, and absolutely fantastic news that we have a hypocaust floor =)
Follow this link to our youtube channel to see a video of our hypocaust floor in Trench 7 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOsJGzVAXXk∞
After only a week and a half of excavating in Caerleon I have began to realise how much i have been missing out when it comes to Roman archaeology, and have definitely found an area of huge interest for me. Let’s hope we find many more interesting finds, which I am positive we will, especially after the fantastic progress we have made already.
Day 7 – Thursday 11th August
Today we are going to hand over to one of our second year undergraduates to give you their view from the trenches here at Caerleon...
Hello all! I would firstly like to introduce myself. My name is Matthew Gwynn and I currently read Archaeology and German at Cardiff University. I am writing this as a student on my first dig as I have no past digging experience and we are now about one and a half weeks in. So far, I would have to say I have not only enjoyed the experience totally, but have also learnt many new skills especially mattocking and trowelling! The people here have bonded extremely well so far and the campsite always has a friendly atmosphere, whether it be at breakfast, on-site or after work.
Today seemed to mark a sort of beginning to a larger increase in numbers for those digging on site; many new pre-uni tasters and volunteers poured in, which is also good news for us- more help ! However everyone seemed to be quite refreshed from their day off, which couldn’t come too soon after much hard grafting last week. The weather seems to be very changeable here in Caerleon, and today is no exception; the so-called “sea mist”, as Peter Guest refers to it, seems to come down every so often and then stops with hot patches in-between!
Having uncovered a floor in our trench (Trench 9) earlier this week, we continued to trowel back and clean up the surface to try and see what was really happening within the trench. Also, it was my first time photographing Archaeology, and wasn’t as easy as you might first think! Our trench is definitely the best (ignore those from trench 1 who think their tegula wall is the best) since we too have also uncovered a wall on the northern part of the trench and animal bone seems to be a very frequent find in that area. We have also been lucky enough to have found 2 coins which were very exciting; one being larger and heavier compared to the smaller one. They were both found in the same part of the southern edge of the trench.
Tomorrow, we hope to dig out one section in the middle of the trench, which is believed to be a robber trench and which also meets the Roman opus signinum flooring. There is a clear line where the section is defined and hopefully we can excavate further down and expose whatever lies beneath- how exciting!
Well, that’s everything for today. Keep up-to-date by either reading this blog or by going on twitter and facebook (see earlier blogs for links).
Day 6 – Tuesday 9th August
Today marks the end of a very exciting first week here at the ‘Lost City’ of Caerleon. The weather was on our side today, and approximately one hundred visitors came to see the site and join our guided tours. The excavations have started to reveal numerous walls, structures, floors and plastered surfaces, and the finds are starting to mount up too! One particularly nice find this week has been a (possibly Late) Roman horse brooch (see image below). The brooch was found in Trench 1 down on the riverside where we are beginning to reveal a rather nice flagstone surface that seems to run alongside the ‘tegula’ wall. The floor obviously had been intensively used and it was patched and repaired with smaller stones, broken brick and tile, as well as reused quernstones – one of which is complete.
Below you can find a link to our first video which will give you an idea of the scale of the site and the location of the trenches.
In T7, 8 and 9 we are still looking for and finding walls (or robber trenches where they had been) of buildings, while T4 and 5 are more difficult because they are covered in thick layers of roof tile and brick (many of which seem to be more or less complete) and building rubble. The teams in these trenches are busy excavating through these layers to find what lies beneath (hopefully the walls and floors that belong to these buildings.
The trenches have begun to produce some nice finds, including dateable objects like coins. Interestingly, two of our first coin finds are very early – large bronzes that must date to the later 1st or 2nd centuries. Elsewhere we have found at least one 3rd century coin, but it is possible that this came from robber trench fill rather than deposits associated with the construction or use of the suburb.
So, good progress in our first week and plenty of new finds being made across the site. Tomorrow is our day off, so the blog will return on Thursday when we will be joined by our first batch of volunteers.
More coming soon!
Peter and Paula
To see our video on youtube please follow this link:
Horse brooch from Trench 1
Day 5 – Monday 8th August
Funny how a day can make such a difference. Yesterday was pretty grim weather-wise and, for some reason, the archaeology was being difficult too. Today, however, was a lovely summer’s day and all of a sudden things began to show up all over the trenches and even make sense.
Trenches 7, 8 and 9 are positioned to examine the remains of the two courtyard complexes on the western side of the monumental suburb, both of which are reminiscent of forum marketplaces with buildings attached on their northern sides. In T8 and T9 we have located the walls of these buildings, some of which have been robbed and some of which haven’t. The rooms and spaces between these walls are still covered with rubble and roof tiles, but we can see in the side of the robber trenches that floors appear to lie beneath this building debris. In fact in T9 we have uncovered part of at least two opus signinum floors that survive in remarkably good condition. The Roman writer Pliny described the manufacture of this kind of concrete surface: “Even broken pottery has been utilized; it being found that, beaten to powder, and tempered with lime, it becomes more solid and durable than other substances of a similar nature; forming the cement known as the "Signine" composition, so extensively employed for even making the pavements of houses.”
In Britain opus signinum is generally made with crushed tile rather than broken pottery and appears in all sorts of buildings, including public ones. The floors we exposed yesterday are only a few centimetres below the ground - where they lie very close to the surface the lime matrix has been weathered away to leave a fine scatter of small tile fragments, while elsewhere even the smooth skimmed surface survives. This kind of concrete flooring was common in public buildings, including basilicas, and we wonder if this is our first hint about the functions of the buildings on the northern sides of the two western courtyards.
Now over to Chris Waite, the excavation’s Finds Supervisor, for her first entry this year:
This year feels quite different to previous years. I’m still in Priory Field and the Finds Hut is in almost exactly the same position as it was previously but during the working day there are very few people about. Pete and Paula are around and about most of the time but have to go down to the Canabae site where the excavations are quite frequently to do their jobs. There are usually a couple of students around helping with the catering for the team and preparing to be the days tour leaders but it is much quieter than previous years. As this is still only the first week it is also not as busy as it will be soon when the finds start to arrive in bulk. The first of the volunteers who will be working with me will start to arrive on Thursday. Other volunteers will be digging “downstairs” as it is tending to be called. I presume that means that I am based “upstairs”! A very nice change for me this year is that my husband Steve is also part of the team and he appears from his lair in the cricket pavilion, where he does most of the cooking on quite frequent occasions and we can have a quick snog behind the minibus!
Peter and Chris
Chris and Steve
Day 4 – Sunday 7th August
Despite the Welsh summer weather, work has been progressing very well so today we’ll will give you an update fresh from the trenches!
In Trench 1, just metres from the river Usk, the team have uncovered the tegula wall, which has been constructed from either re-used or purposefully broken tiles. We found this last year though now we know that it was topped with capstones and that it survives to its full original height. There are other walls and stone features running off from the tegula wall, both towards the river and inland – hopefully we’ll find out what these were for in the next few days.
Work is just getting started in Trenches 4 and 5 on the opposite side of the large courtyard building. The diggers are clearing through the rubble, which contains huge quantities of broken bricks and roof tiles. In Trench 4 the find of the day has been a tile with a LEG II AVG signature, whilst in Trench 5 the rubble now appears to align with the walls visible on the geophysical survey results.
In Trench 7 the team revealed a possible opus signinum (Roman concrete) floor. In another part of the trench we have found large chunks of painted plaster, showing red, green and – unusually – blue, suggesting that the floor in this room can’t be far away. The find of the day for this trench is a decorated ceramic antefix from the roof of a building. Our antefix appears to show a cat-like god or gorgon, both of which are known from Caerleon (see image below). In Roman times antefixa were used to seal the eaves of roofs to stop birds and other vermin – as well as malevolent spirits – getting inside buildings and causing trouble!
Finally up in Trenches 8 and 9 we have found several walls and possible floors from the northern part of the two ‘forum’ building complexes on the western side of our ‘lost city’. So, lots of new exciting things coming up all the time – more soon!
Paula and Peter
Antifix found in Trench 7
Day 3 - Saturday 6th August
Well it's the start of our first weekend here at Caerleon and we are making great progress on site. Many of the trenches have already gone through a pre-excavation process, being cleaned, photographed and planned ready to start digging down to the more substantial archaeology.
The cleaning in Trench 7 has revealed a substantial rubble spread containing large pieces of Roman tile and other building materials including some nice painted plaster. The plaster was found mainly in the central area of the trench and colours such as red, blue and white could be seen painted onto its surface although there wasnt enough to make out any patterns.
Once Trench 7 was photographed and planned, the team moved up to Trench 8 to begin the process again there and even though work only started during the afternoon, by the end of the day, remains of a wall were uncovered running north/south that seems to have been heavily robbed out at both ends. What sort of building was this part of and what was it used for? When was it built? When did it go out of use? Hopefully these are questions that we will find some answers to as the dig progresses and of course, we will keep you up to date on all of our interpretations!
Another great way of keeping up to speed on the excavation is with Twitter or Facebook. Twitter has provided us with a great oppertunity to connect with people from all walks of life and from all over the world. It provides regular updates from the dig as they happen in real time, whether this be that our site has just been invaded by cows or photos of the find just uncovered in Trench 7. You can find us at http://www.twitter.com/CaerleonDig∞ You can feel like you're digging along with us from the comfort of your own home and let us deal with the rain and the mud (although hopefully not too much rain!!)
Wall found after cleaning up Trench 8
Day 2 - Friday 5th August
It’s another busy day on site here at Caerleon, excavations are in full-flow and the visitors are pouring in to see what we’re up to!
I’m Dr Paula Jones, the community archaeologist, I work for the School of History, Archaeology and Religion at Cardiff University and I am here at Caerleon to manage our public engagement activities, volunteers and outreach. So today I thought I would tell you a bit about what we have planned over the next four weeks.
Firstly I must mention our daily site tours, led by our fantastic students. At 11am and 2:30pm (every day except Wednesdays) visitors are welcome to come and join guided tours of the excavations and visit the finds tent to see the latest discoveries.
In addition to our student excavators, we will also be joined throughout the excavation by volunteers from the local area as well as from further afield. Between the 11th and 30th August approximately 20 people will join us each day in our excavations and finds processing. During the next two weeks we will also be welcoming a team of young people from Fairbridge who will be joining us for a day, and a team from Scope. We can’t wait for everyone to arrive!
Finally, before the season comes to a close we will be having three open days over the August bank holiday weekend, with lots of activities for everyone to come and enjoy, and most importantly the opportunity to explore the site and see the finds.
We are busy tweeting from site, and if you would like to follow us on twitter please go to - http://www.twitter.com/CaerleonDig∞
And for those of you on facebook, you will find us here - http://www.facebook.com/pages/Caerleon-Dig/109172745848516∞
For further information about our community archaeology or to come and take part email - JonesPL1@cardiff.ac.uk∞
Students giving a guided tour of the Caerleon Excavations
Day 1 - Thursday 4th August
Welcome to the first entry of this year’s dig blog from Caerleon!
We are all very excited to be back for 4 weeks excavating on the site of the monumental suburb outside the walls of the legionary fortress, and we are looking forward to making some more fantastic discoveries about Roman Isca.
This year we are a team of about 35 staff and students from Cardiff University as well as field archaeologists from around the UK, and we will be joined by a small horde of volunteers from the start of week 2. The 2011 season is designed to evaluate the archaeological remains of the buildings located between the fortress and the River Usk – and we have 9 trenches altogether scattered across the suburb which will hopefully tell us when these buildings were first built, how they were used, and why they disappeared so that this part of Caerleon became farmland. You can see the trenches overlaid on the geophysical results on the picture below.
We are camping in Priory Field again (a big shout out to our friends at UCL who were here from 2007 to 2010 – it’s not the same without you), and we have a new chef looking after us – Steve Waite (Finds Supervisor Chris’ husband). We also have Cardiff’s Community Archaeologist, Dr Paula Jones, on site – welcome to her and Steve.
Our first day was spent introducing the new students to Caerleon and the site (while dodging the anticipated heavy showers!), setting up tents and marquees, and sorting out the tools and equipment. But by the afternoon we were all cleaning the trenches after the digger had opened them up yesterday, and we can see lots of Roman brick, tile and building stone just below the turf and topsoil.
You can find out more about the excavations on the site of the monumental suburb on the main blog page – and we will tell you about the latest finds on the daily entries. It’s great to be here at the beginning – who knows what we will find over the next 4 weeks!
Geophysical results with evaluation trenches overlaid
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