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  • David Quick

STR821 - It begins again! Site move day, 12 August

Many of you will know that we have been doing an annual exploration in this village in Hampshire since 2016. We were originally invited by the village residents' association to do a 'big dig' in many of the gardens, near the site of a known Romano-British (RB) villa excavated nearly 120 years ago. In our first year in 2016 we dug 22 test pits and found lots of fascinating finds ranging from RB pottery to 2nd World War militaria probably connected to the Italian prisoner of war camp. Since then we have been back annually to do fieldwalking, geophysics surveys or excavations and the results have not disappointed. Even last year during COVID restrictions we were able to do a magnetometry and resistivity survey of a new site on the farm that revealed a promising buried RB structure. However, because of problems with nighthawk metal detectorists in 2019 we are not publicising our dig site.

So on Thursday 12 August a very small group of volunteers assembled in the drizzle at Alton Public Gardens to begin the task of moving lots of tentage and equipment from Alton to our dig site. I had had serious sense of humour failure the night before when I saw not only how few people were prepared to help with set-up but also when I received several emails from members saying they could not help after all.

I shall be eternally grateful to Keith and Greg, not only for use of their van but for the huge amount of shifting they ended up doing that day. We had expected to need two vanload journeys from Alton to site and one from the store in Liss to site. In the event they had to do 5 journeys in total!

Earlier this year we were gifted two mini-marquees by Petersfield Museum, which unfortunately had been stored overwinter outdoors in their courtyard (once the exercise area for prisoners at Petersfield police station). We decided to try to erect one of these as seen below but had to give up on it when we discovered that we did not have the bungee connectors needed to attach the roof material and side panels to the frame. It was just as well we made this decision because although these items will be very useful in future, we have since discovered that 4 of the metal bars (roof trusses and by the door entrance) are broken so we will need to order spare parts.

So we decided instead to erect one of our trusty Bungalow 6 tents - the Finds Tent. Initially we offloaded all the vanloads of kit onto tarps to keep it from getting wet from the soaked grass, before moving everything into the Finds Tent for safe keeping overnight. Davy had agreed to camp on site and is providing our site security.

The Finds Tent has not been used for two years because of COVID and had been put away damp, so the PVC cover is looking pretty grubby.

I had been given permission by Oliver, the farm manager, to put a survey spike into the ground near the sheep trough (seen with a yellow cap in the image below). Once this was done I set up the tripod and the base unit of our EMLID survey equipment over it with plumb bob and spirit level. I then left the base unit recording its position for 4 hours. (Later when I got home I used software and corrections from the Ordnance Survey's RINEX stations in Hampshire and Sussex to apply PPK corrections to the base position, so we now know the ground spike's location with literally millimeter accuracy).

While all the shifting and assembling was going on, Mark had arrived early with his petrol strimmer and tools to start clearing our dig site as seen below. You may recall that in 2019 the big trench had been covered over with damp-proof course membrane weighted down with sandbags. Little did we know then that we would not be returning for 2 years! Well, you can imagine how tall the grass had grown inside the sheep-proof enclosure during the very wet spring we had this year, and the spoil heap was unrecognisable under thistles and nettles. The task began of strimming the grass, carrying it away, removing the covers from the trench and digging over the spoil heap.

We managed to clear half of the trench enclosure before we decided that we had had enough for one day. We were all exhausted and decided to finish clearance the next day.

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