Colemore with a few days to go
Updated: Aug 21, 2021
I apologise for not updating this blog more frequently during the Colemore autumn dig but it has been an unusually busy time for me on site and at home, juggling looking after my grandson for a fortnight with managing the finds tent in the absence of my opposite number, David Pink, who has been recovering from an eye operation.
Looking back at the dig so far, it has been going really well and despite a couple of days of heavy rain that led to brief interruptions we have been fairly lucky with the weather - some very cold nights but unusually warm days with temperatures at times in the 20s. I am going to sum up progress so far under the headings below.
Before the dig we were able to do some further magnetometry and high-resolution resistivity scans (i.e. half-metre instead of the previous 1-metre resolution), looking for underground features south of the pond where we found evidence of another Romano-British building back in May. With a few helpers Carl has managed to continue this exploration during the dig into the area north of the pond as well.
The ground conditions have been less than ideal for geophys; the top layer of the soil is still like concrete after the incredibly hot and dry summer, which has made the scans a bit more 'contrasty' than usual. However, both the magnetometry and resistivity scans are showing some interesting features which definitely merit further investigation (starting with test pits) on a future dig. I am putting Carl's latest results on the Members Only page.
Below is an extract from our QGIS mapping software showing the relative positions of our trenches and test pit. Main points to note are:
Red blobs are features from the magnetometry plot;
Grey blobs are from the resistivity plot;
The dashed green line is where there used to be a hedgerow, dug up in the late 1960s;
Trench Z on the left is sited over a horseshoe-shaped feature on the high-res geophysics plot, to see what is there;
Trenches AA and BB at the top are placed deliberately to straddle Trench W from May, where we found part of a Romano-British floor surface made of R-B floor and flue tiles, so as to find the extent of this second building on our site;
Trench CC is not shown and has not been dug beyond taking the turf off, because the magnetometry feature on which the trench was placed turned out to caused by a broken piece of ploughshare;
Test Pit 59 and Trench DD are sited on an apparent ditch cutting through both, which runs at a diagonal to the known ladder enclosure (which itself dates from the late Iron Age);
My understanding of what we have found so far is that:
Trench Z is proving exceptionally hard to excavate, partly because of the dry soil and also because what has been exposed is a tightly-packed layer of flints that is man-made and not natural. There have been relatively few finds so far.
Trench AA is revealing a linear feature at a very slight slant to the southern edge of the trench. This might be a wall, possibly from the building exposed in the adjoining Trench W, but this cannot be confirmed as yet. Again there have been few finds in this trench.
Trench BB has been very interesting because a row of post holes has been found running east-west through the centre of the trench. We cannot tell what the upright timbers in these holes would have been supporting. We do think they are either late Romano-British or maybe even slightly later, because the packing material in the holes was not only large flints but also some demolition material (broken pieces of brick and tile). Interestingly Liz says the holes also had some pieces of iron in them.
Test Pit 59 and Trench DD are undoubtedly sited on the same ditch, which is filled with much darker soil. The original ditch appears to be Iron Age, in that its cross-section is V-shaped but it seems to be only about 1 metre deep and wide, compared with other such trenches on the site that have been 2 metres deep and wide or more. There have been copious quantities of finds, especially from Trench DD, consisting of pottery, brick, tile, building stone, quernstone, whetstone, glass, iron, charcoal and slag byproducts from iron smelting. Some of the pottery sherds have been larger than usual.
I am very grateful to Soo Harris and a small army of pot washers on this dig, without whose help it would have been a struggle to keep up in David Pink's absence.
These are my thoughts on the finds made so far:
Pottery. Some of the pottery found dates from the late Iron Age but during the Roman period it seems as usual that the site's occupants used the Iron Age ditches as their rubbish tip for broken and discarded items. Given Colemore's location, it is perhaps unsurprising that much of the pottery finds appear to have come from the large complex of R-B pottery kilns at Alice Holt near Farnham. That said, we have as previously evidence of pottery originating from sources across southern Britain - including New Forest and Oxfordshire kilns as well as Samian ware from the continent. Pottery items found have included:
'rope-twist' pattern rims from very large storage jars;
so-called 'dog bowl' dishes;
delicate indented beaker ware;
items engraved with rouletting or criss-cross patterns;
mortaria (grinding bowls); and
a wide range of coarseware (cooking and storage vessels) and fineware (table crockery) in a wide range of colours including grey, orange, cream, black and sometimes decorated with slip.
One of my favourite finds is part of a Samian ware mortarium in hard orange clay, consisting of a lion's head spout, seen here:
Research by Pete Price shows that this came from a mortarium of a style called Dragendorff 45 which would have been made between 170-230 AD at Lezoux in France. When intact it would have looked like this example in the British Museum:
Metals. As a matter of policy we do not mention any metal finds that we make except to mention the large quantities if iron nails and hobnails. If any other metal finds should be made, they are mentioned on the Members Only page of our website.
Glass. There have been finds of glass but the fragments have been small and degraded. We have had examples of clear and pale green glass fragments from wine glasses, very thin (1.5 mm) and delicate. We have not made any finds of engraved glass as yet. There have also been a few items of R-B window glass, about 5 mm thick, pale green and with the characteristic smooth surface on one side and rough surface on the other. What has been unusual is that the rough side would normally be expected to have a surface that had been in contact with sand, whereas our specimens instead bear a surface suggesting contact with wood grain:
CBM. Trench DD has yielded some of the biggest examples of imbrex and tegula roof tiles that we have found at Colemore to date. Two of the tegulae have had C56 cutaways (notches) which means that we can date their manufacture quite accurately. We have not yet found any tiles bearing makers' marks. We have found very few tiles of a thickness suggesting floor tiles but we have found some pieces of box flue tile bearing external 'comb marks' (used to roughen the surface so that wall plaster would adhere to them). We are starting to collect specimens of these to compare the different patterns (wavy line, zigzag, criss-cross, etc).
We are delighted to have had quite a few new members taking part in this dig, and as usual each has been given an introductory background brief. In addition we have given guided tours and briefings or teaching sessions to visitors from:
Alton U3A archaeology group;
The Friends of the Alton's Curtis Museum and Allen Gallery;
Scouts from Basingstoke led by David Hopkins;
Ron Allen, geologist;
Enthusiastic students from Herne School and Portsmouth Grammar School;
Visitors from Ludshott, Colemore and friends of those on the dig.
We have more school visits this Friday and the local press coming to take photos on Saturday.
Images and models
We are very fortunate that software company 3D Flow has granted us an educational licence to use their photogrammetry software called 3D Zephyr which allows us to create virtual 3D models of the site, trenches and some finds. Here are some examples:
Not everything we do is deadly serious. On Monday I was puzzled to see Davy, Carl and Juliet coming back from the trenches to the finds tent carrying a finds tray containing a large object:
It looked amazingly realistic at first glance, covered in mud, but I was relieved to find that the item was in fact a plastic Waitrose Halloween skull!
Below are some of my other photos taken during the dig over the last couple of weeks.