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  • David Quick

The Autumn Colemore dig - how did it go?

It has been a hectic 4 weeks at Colemore, working on our second annual exploration of this Romano-British site. I am really grateful to everyone who responded to my request for extra help on clear-up day on Monday, because we were able to get the tents and marquees put away in good time before the 40 mph+ winds of ex-hurricane Ophelia arrived at almost exactly the forecast time of 1.15 pm. Lunch break was quite an eerie affair, with the sun glowing orange and dust-laden clouds making it go so dark that the birds started roosting - reminding me of the last total eclipse I watched some years ago.

I do want to say thankyou to a few people in particular for the hard work they put in - especially:

- Juliet, for organising the whole event, supervising all of us and living on site throughout;

- Liz, Kayleigh and Carl for taking on (and in some cases learning) all the tasks of trench supervision; and

- Chris and all the school visits team for arranging and hosting the numerous groups of enthusiastic children.

What did we achieve? As usual we found some things that we were expecting, but other things caught us by surprise and created fresh puzzles that are going to need further discussion and investigation. Let's start with the area we uncovered. Below is an overview from our GIS software, showing the outline of the enclosure ditch (in purple), the trenches from previous digs (shaded blue) and the new Trench U and Evaluation Trench 55 (EvTr 55), outlined in yellow and shaded in red, at the top-left:

The main trench, Trench U, was originally 20m x 3m:

Above is the final drone image of Trench U, with context numbers highlighting the main features. As expected, we found the continuation of the walls of the Romano-British building that were discovered in previous trenches, parallel to and south of this one. As before, the walls are aligned slightly east of north and had a basis of packed flints with a layer of chalk on top (not found on site but probably imported from elsewhere in the village) that we assume acted as a damp course.

In the centre of Trench U, halfway between the sections of wall, there were two areas tinged red with clear signs of burning, thought perhaps to have been a hearth? This is a close-up drone image early in the dig while one of the two areas was being sectioned:

Elsewhere in Trench U were other areas of what we think were tumbled wall material and also several post holes, examples of which are seen here:

One puzzle is why the western section of the wall stops short. Did the building not extend as far on this side, or was the wall partially removed later in the life of the site that was occupied for some 400 years - see below?

Meanwhile at the eastern end of Trench U we found a large Y-shaped gully at the beginning of the dig that led Juliet to extend the trench north-eastwards into EvTr 55). To start with the fill in this gully was much darker than the surrounding, as seen on the right of this early drone photo taken on 26 Sep:

By the end of the dig, after removal of fill, we could clearly see in the image below that:

- One branch of the gully curved up and right into EvTr 55;

- Another part of the gully was next to the wall; and

- The other branch slanted NW-SE and appeared to have 4 post holes.

There was plenty of speculation about these features. Some thought that the curved gully might be a drip gully from the roof of a roundhouse, as yet undiscovered. Another idea was that the post holes were for a small bridge or walkway over the top. In this location were also found intact portions of burnt timber that Phelim has taken to the University of Winchester in the hope that we can determine type of wood and possibly dendrochronology (tree ring) dating.

Meanwhile in EvTr 55 we found a large 'paved' surface, sloping down slightly to the east, made of closely packed flints as shown below. Through this surface ran a linear feature shown below as context 1011, thought perhaps to have been a wall, and parallel to the main walls of the building:

By far the most productive in terms of finds was Test Pit 56, which clearly intersected the 80m x 90m rectangular boundary ditch enclosing the site:

This small rectangular trench contained soil a very different colour from the others - almost black, and quite organic like compost. This is what it looked like at the end of excavation, with the ditch cut clearly visible:

TP56 produced a very large quantity of finds, as have many of the cuts across the ditch in the past. We had:

- Many varieties of pottery, including Alice Holt, New Forest, Oxfordshire, Samian and some beautiful pieces of decorated Nene Valley;

- Pieces of glass - some window glass but also some lovely fragments of blue drinking glass only 1mm thick, with a rolled (tubular) rim;

- Metals - mostly nails as usual, but also some copper alloy artefacts and fascinatingly what looks like a crucible for making metals, still containing copper-coloured traces;

- Animal bone in large quantities, including a sheep's jaw; and

- Ceramic building material (CBM), some of which were the largest pieces we have found at Colemore. These included pieces with makers' marks (usually 3 curves), hypocaust tiles combed so that plaster would stick to them and tegulae (roof tiles) with cutaway notches that allow us to date them. Most of these were type D16, which means they were made about 400 AD.

The glassware and some of the metals have been taken away for specialist identification and none of the finds have been photographed yet before marking up, but here are some images I took during the dig:

Finally and least importantly there was Test Pit 57 which, to be honest, yielded relatively little:


My main impressions of the dig were:

- It was incredibly good-natured, with lots of humorous moments.

- It is perhaps not a good idea to drive a mobile home into a waterlogged field, but teamwork got it out again!

- We had quite a few new members taking part, from as far away as Leicestershire and Italy!

- There were lots of visitors, both from schools (Portsmouth Grammar and St Mary's Chiddingfold) and from groups including Alton U3A, Friends of the Curtis Museum (Alton), Petersfield Historical Society, Secrets of The High Woods, and the Young Archaeologists Club from Butser.

- The idea of having and end-of-dig tea party seemed to work very well and it was well attended.

- It was great to see David and his scout group getting involved again.

- We received positive press coverage in the Petersfield Post.

- Lots of volunteers went out of their way to support us, e.g. Liz and Kayleigh offered to learn supervisory roles, Carl was on site at times despite his broken leg, Arthur despite his injured arm, and we had a great response to my last-minute request for help in clearing the site.

With apologies for any mistakes - I'm not an archaeologist. Finally here are some photos taken by me during the dig:

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