Our annual dig at Stroud
Updated: Aug 21, 2021
Starting in 2016 we have carried out an annual village 'Big Dig' at Stroud near Petersfield, at the request of the villagers, who wanted to know more about the archaeology of their village and in particular whether Roman settlement there extended beyond the villa that was excavated between 1906-08. Over the last couple of years we have found plenty of archaeology - not all Romano-British - in the gardens of houses near the villa and on the Farm. This year Juliet and I decided we wanted a different format. Instead of spreading the dig over 3 long weekends, we wanted to have a concentrated effort over 9 days from 11-19 August. We knew that where we would be able to investigate by geophys and test pits would be affected by the unusual weather this year, which is having an impact on the harvest and therefore where we can go.
We started with a couple of recces over the last few weeks, the most recent of which was on 7 August. We were very pleased to be given permission to explore in one paddock not far from the villa that we have not been allowed to go into in previous years.
On Friday Mark, John and I loaded up Mark's van with all the gear we needed from the store and transported it across to a store at the Farm. At that point the heavens opened and I got completely soaked as we walked over to our first dig area where Mark and Juliet had kindly agreed to clear the undergrowth from an area we wanted to pick up from where we had left off last year.
The weekend started well yesterday, Saturday, with lots of members turning up, including quite a few new members. We did the usual briefings and also introductory chats for the new members. The Farm now not only has sheds full of fire engines (and the triceratops) but also some relatively luxurious new toilets!
We trekked across the fields and split into two teams. Carl took one group to do geophys (resistivity) in the new paddock, where I am desperate to know whether there was a buried water supply for the Roman villa's large bath house.
Meanwhile the rest of the group set up camp in the field where Mark had cleared the undergrowth. It was a bit difficult to start with because Andy, the sheep farmer, had not yet moved his sheep so we could not turn off the electric fence that was in our way. I rang Andy (who had forgotten) and he came across on his quad bike to move the sheep to another field while we turned off the fence and Juliet decided where she wanted the first two test pits.
Juliet opted for one large and one smaller test pit fairly close to each other, so the team got on with removing the turf and starting to dig in what was very hard clay.
Meanwhile Mark took advantage of the fact that he had cleared some of the brambles by the stream and waded along the bed of the stream which had very little water, given the recent very dry weather. He quickly found lots of evidence of Romano-British occupation nearby in the form of a large floor tile, tegula, several hypocaust tiles and some iron spikes.
We had a good day despite a little rain at times and what impressed me was how everyone got on well, taught each other and made really good progress despite the very hard soil - and in the geophysics paddock despite the attentions of the five horses and lots of chickens.
By close of play Saturday both test pits were down to a depth of over half a metre and were showing some CBM finds, but not in the same quantities as the nearby test pit last year. We began to wonder whether the stream had been re-routed or meandered over the last 1600 years because much of the clay looked as though it had perhaps been deposited by flooding.
Today we again had a really good turnout with yet more new members, including three from the same family. The weather forecast had been for rain from 4.00am onwards, becoming very heavy from 10..00am to 3.00pm. In the event the forecast was quite wrong and despite some rain the conditions were much better than expected.
After the briefing I had to spend some time with the Police (because I had found some stolen property) so Juliet and Carl again organised two teams who carried on in the same areas as on Saturday. The chickens were rampant in the geophys paddock and kept getting in the way of the cable from the resistivity machine.
When I came across to see how things were going, I discovered that Carl had given them all names (like KFC) and announced that he was having chicken for dinner tonight. It didn't deter them though.
Juliet and I decided to explore the stream further upstream from the dig site and were very surprised to find copious quantities of pottery along the stream bed. As yet we don't know how old some of the pieces are but many were definitely Romano-British (coarseware and fineware) so I took them back and washed them, after which Carolyn did the necessary finds recording and bagging.
I had not realised that Carl was taking surreptitious photos of me talking to two of our new members at lunchtime.
Over in the test pit field, the diggers pressed on despite ridiculously hard clay until by late afternoon they had reached a depth of about 80cm. They were working under four of our pop-up gazebos to keep the occasional drizzle off. I'm pleased to say that I think all of our new members who were digging managed to find some interesting artefacts.
In the late afternoon I put the drone up, partly as a demo and partly to see if there were any cropmarks. I could still clearly see cropmarks where we think a trackway ran from the villa's gateway across the fields and through the school playing field towards Stroudbridge. This is a drone view of our dig area today.
What I find quite striking in the field, and you can see it in the above photo, is the spider's web of huge cracks in the soil caused by the dry weather. Some of the cracks are 30cm or more deep. That said, it is amazing how quickly the grass turns green after a few rain showers.
Those digging the test pits did a sondage in each to see whether there was any significant archaeology below the 80cm level and then Juliet made the decision to fill in the test pits and start a third, close to the hedge in the image above, where we had found lots of CBM last year before running out of time.
To round off the weekend, Carl sent me his geophys plots this evening. First, this is the resistivity plot from the paddock where we have done 5 grid squares, each 20m x 20m:
Carl comments that it is unusually blotchy and thinks that the heavy rain is sitting in pockets in the top 10cm or so of the soil. That said, I think I can see the linear feature I have been looking for running horizontally across the top of the bottom-right grid square. As for magnetometry, this is the plot from the single 20m square we did at the end of the afternoon in the dig field, over an area of higher ground:
What I think it shows is a couple of off-the-scale readings (green blobs) where last year we dug through Romano-British archaeology only to find a manhole cover a couple of feet underneath. I think the sewage pipe that Southern Water has been trying to find, which we discovered for the last year when doing resistivity, runs almost horizontally through the centre of the image.