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  • David Quick

The start of the Stroud Big Dig 2019

Updated: Aug 21, 2021

The last three days have been hectic for some of us, getting everything ready for this year's big dig at Stroud - our fourth year here - so soon after the end of the very successful Alton Big Dig. Carol has been dealing with all our new members and the dig bookings, Juliet has been preparing all the paperwork and mundane but essential issues such as portaloos, Keith has been making sure the Alton site was left tidy and getting his amazing family to help shift equipment from Alton to Stroud and Carl has been using the geophys results to plot where we want to dig.

We spent Wednesday moving most of our gear from Alton to the farm store at Stroud and then yesterday (Thursday) a very hard-working team moved yet more equipment from our store at Liss to the Farm including all the tentage. We are working in a field that still has lots of ewes with their lambs so our first priority had to be partitioning off the section of the field we are working in, using road irons and nylon mesh fencing. Because of all the bad weather warnings of heavy rain and gale-force winds our second task was to erect the finds and store tents so that we could move our gear from the farm store, which with some good teamwork was done relatively quickly. By lunchtime yesterday we also had the frame and roof of the marquee assembled and most of the side panels fitted.

Unfortunately we found that the owner of the paddock next to the Seven Stars pub had not managed to arrange to have it mowed before he went on holiday and also that the footbridge over the stream by the villa had two broken stiles and was covered in brambles. (This is not a public footpath and is therefore not often used.) Mark Ruutel very kindly agreed to bring his petrol strimmer to clear the brambles and also some space in the paddock for two test pits. We had some fun shepherding the flock of sheep along our dig area when Andy Snow needed to move his animals from one field to another but the biggest frustration was that the portaloos, which we had been told would arrive between 8.00-9.00am, still had not been delivered by 3.30pm. I rang the company, was told that the driver was about to leave Woking (over an hour away) so said we were about to go home and that they had better deliver on Friday instead.

Today was a much better day than I had expected from the forecast. Dave Butcher and I met Mark Ruutel at the store at Liss at 9.00am and we loaded up our cars and Mark's van with the generator, finds equipment, tools, water containers and everything else that we needed, setting off back to Stroud at 9.30am. Meanwhile Juliet and Carl were organising everyone at Stroud to finish off the set-up tasks - moving equipment to the store tent, setting up the tents with tables and chairs and so on.

Setting up the store tent

Once we had unloaded our vehicles Mark repaired the two stiles with a plank I had brought from home and strimmed the area around the footbridge. Carl went off with help from Hannah to set up the grid in the paddock next to the Seven Stars, ready to show Mark the test pit areas that would need strimming. Soo did a marvellous job or organising the finds tent.

Soo introducing some order in the finds tent.

We have deliberately tucked all three tents into the corner of the field to hopefully get some shelter with the trees from the expected strong winds and to keep our proposed dig area clear.

The tents lashed down tucked into the corner of the field.

Carl set up the generator and its connection to the most important item of our inventory - the hot water urn. To our relief the portaloos also arrived, so I showed the driver where to offload them - some distance away from our tentage. As seen here, we had the occasional shower which made everyone run for the marquee and hot drinks.

Rushing to avoid the occasional rain shower.

Work progressed quickly with cutting and stacking the turf from our first trench (Trench A) which is 10 x 3 metres and sited on a geophys feature fairly close to two of our test pits last year. Almost immediately it was obvious that there were lots of Romano-British (R-B) CBM (ceramic building material) pieces just below the turf.

Finished de-turfing Trench A near the hedgeline.

After lunch the breeze started to pick up so we closed the tent doors on the windward side and you can see from the trees how much the branches were bending.

Also after lunch Glynn and I set off in convoy for Colemore, because he had kindly agreed to help transport in his LandRover some of the kit we needed from our Colemore store - chairs, water tank, paper towels, watering cans and so on. This did not take us too long.

When we got back the team had been working hard to start to gently fork and take off the first layer of soil from Trench A. At the beginning of this week I was quite frustrated that a digger company had been out to site but then failed to deliver the promised quote or respond to any of our text messages, so we opted to dig by hand. With hindsight this was a fortunate choice because of the quantity of R-B CBM that was appearing from just below the surface - literally buckets full.

Lots of CBM from Trench A - some pieces quite large.

Meanwhile Mark found that even his petrol strimmer could not cope with the dense undergrowth in the paddock next to the Seven Stars. I am hoping that next time he will bring his bladed attachment for it. Barry was checking out a section along the hedge-line with his metal detector at Juliet's request. Juliet seemed convinced that it was about to rain!

Juliet not wanting to get her hair wet.

While everyone was taking a much-needed tea break - because it was very hot and humid this afternoon - I got my drone out.

Taking a hard-earned break.

The wind was almost too strong for flying the drone but I did manage to get some views of the site and Trench A from above, seen here.

Vertical drone view of our main site.

Trench A:

Meanwhile Juliet and Carol had a bit of fun with a fairly non-scientific method of detecting archaeology - dowsing. As far as I can see the dowsing rods seem to be attracted to pink hair and repelled by blue hair.

Dave and Mark certainly didn't seem convinced by this form of technology.

We far exceeded my expectations for set-up day and by 3.00pm great progress was being made in removing the top layer of soil from Trench A.

There were occasional fragments of R-B pottery but there were trays and buckets full of CBM, including some flue tile pieces as seen here.

Carl is seen here working on his resistivity geophys plot from earlier this year, calculating where to put test pits on the far side of the hedge. I have high hopes that he is also planning to bake some more excellent cakes, as he did for us at the Alton Dig.

By 4.15pm we had almost finished clearing the first layer of topsoil from Trench A and the sky was looking threatening, so we decided to call it quits for the day. For some reason we have lots of volunteers on weekdays - about 12-14 a day - but slightly fewer at weekends. I think anyone coming tomorrow has a good chance of finding archaeology again. You only have to look at the CBM beneath the shovel in the next layer.

More CBM visible in the next layer of Trench A.

I'm glad we stopped when we did because no sooner had I got back to my car when the heavens opened and we had a torrential downpour. Even with my car's wipers on full speed it was quite difficult looking through the windscreen driving home along the A3, but everyone was driving quite sensibly. I hope Davy is OK camping at the dig site tonight!

To finish this update, we had a member of the public walk through the adjoining field of sheep and just turn up at our dig site this afternoon. When I asked him who he was, it turned out that he had seen us and expected us to show him around. I had to be very blunt with him and point out that not only is our dig a closed site but that he was trespassing. The Farm has had problems this year with trespassers damaging the Scheduled villa site, which does not have public access. Therefore if you are reading this blog and thinking of visiting, please note that as I have stated on our website we will not allow any non-members on site and will only accept visits that have been pre-arranged with me at times that do not interfere with our project. Anyone else will be asked to leave.

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