Ann's Report

            Well, we did it! The first U3A Archaeology dig?  In spite of aching limbs, blisters and weariness I think I can say we all enjoyed it.


            It started several years ago when we heard an interesting talk by David James proving, on paper at least, that there was, contrary to the opinion of some, a large Roman town at Sorviodunum.   Some of us were excited about this and asked if there might be any way we (with time on our hands!!) could help.  David James said "Well, £5000 might make a start."  So we set about it.


            After a great deal of work and much controversy from our U3A we achieved a lottery grant of £3000 with all of it detailed exactly how it was to be spent. The archaeologists with whom we had consulted (Bill Moffatt and Mark Corney) worked out how it would all be done.  Most of the land in the area is under English Heritage's control and cannot be touched, but the owners of one large field, Mr. and Mrs. Moore were interested and gave us permission to work on their land providing it was all completely restored at the end. 


            Our first days work in March brought about 20 people, mostly watchers of a certain TV programme, who hoped to find treasure!  But the chosen day was the coldest of the winter, with a really biting NE wind and, although we all worked most diligently, we nearly froze. (It actually took me, personally, about 24 hours to really come to again).


            About 12 test pits were dug over a large area and there were several successes, with part of a quern stone, some fine black burnished ware and part of a ? house wall being found, all of it Roman.  This was satisfying but we were really too cold to continue so work was abandoned.


            Abandoned till July, that is.  Once again we feared the gods were against us as, after 2 weeks of hot sunny weather, the forecast for our three days was for almost continuous rain.  However, some of us were standing, slightly shower dampened, at 8.45 on the first morning waiting our instructions and raring to go. Bill had decided we should dig a 5 meter square beside the Roman road (not the so-called Portway) towards the SW corner of the Moore's field.  I don't think any of us had realized what hard work it is removing turf.  After our square was marked out it took all of us, with some help from Bill, 2 hours of hard slog to do this.  It had to be done and laid methodically on two sides of the 5 meter square, each turf laid grass to grass and soil to soil so it can be replaced exactly.


            Then we set about removing the top 6 inch layer with spades and trowels, piling up all the spoil by basket on the other two sides of our square.  Some finds, but not a lot.  Some small pieces of fired clay, ? broken tiles.  Then Bill decided we should dig down another 6 inch in half the area.  As it had rained the previous weekend, the top layer hadn't been too difficult but, as we went deeper, the ground became quite dry and very hard but more productive.  Lots of small bits of tile, some bone and a few obvious pieces of pot were found.  Different types of soil and an area of large flint appeared.  Imaginations ran riot!  Was it the Road?  A wall?? A house??? Or a villa????  As we were asked to dig deeper quite a number of pieces of slag came to light.  Was it an iron works, a foundry, a blacksmith?  Then something quite strange showed up when another piece of quern was uncovered.


            Of course, our third and last day had to be mainly tidying up the hole for photographs and recording, then the filling in and consolidating of the site.  But first we had to make a truly vertical section of our trench, not so easy when it has lots of stones and flint in it.  After a few hours work it looked quite professional.


            Then came the real assessment.  Mark had reported that all the pottery was 1st century Roman.  Most of what had been previously found further west, nearer the river, had been dated 4th century.  It was also settled that the vertical face of our dig showed a Roman road with, beside it, a collapsed flint wall probably that of a house, and a floor of a structure.  This was all pretty satisfying really for one small hole in a large field.  OK, we didn't find what we set out to do, but we found that there were habitations there in Roman times, 2000 years ago.  And what if we could dig more holes all over the area?  Was it a vicus?


            Many thanks and congratulations to all who took part.

Anne Boutell.

Note: A 'Vicus' is a settlement that grows outside of Roman military bases to cater to the needs of the soldiers (and their money). Likely to have originally been of a temporary nature, these settlements quickly grow into communities and later into permanent towns.


Ann Boutell


Ann Talking
Bill Moffatt
Bill Moffatt
Chris Penfold
Nick Griffiths
Aerial View