ARP ventures into the great unknown, year 2. Our second year is recorded here and will feature photos and blogs posted on Facebook during the preparation week and the three week dig. It keeps it in order as written then and tracks our way through the weeks. Scroll to the bottom for our second amazing journey.
31st August 2017
Yesterday today and tomorrow, Britannia have been, and will be, on site recording and photographing our dig. Martin and Dan have also been backfilling the features very carefully, especially our beloved kilns. It might be many years before the kilns see the light of day once more, but by being covered for the last 1800 years they have been preserved, and so they must be covered over once again to preserve them for the future. We are very lucky to have a perfect soil structure to aid with preservation. The top two feet holds the moisture well, and the underlying sand allows the water to drain away. Too wet and the kilns would have dissolved, too dry and they would have dessicated or fractured. So once again we are blessed with our natural surroundings to conserve our history.
I am still unable to understand the real significance of our pottery kilns. We are told they are in a great state of preservation. I have looked on the dreaded internet and found very few pictures of Roman kilns, and the ones I have found do seem rather less well preserved. Having spoken to many archaeologists over the last few weeks, I have realised that our kilns are indeed a rarity. Most are found with just a few inches of material surviving. Ours have three feet or more of intact material!! I am not very good at blowing my own trumpet, but in this case I want to shout out quite loudly that the Aylsham Roman Project has discovered possibly the two best preserved Roman pottery kilns in the country, and one of them is equalling the largest ever found in Britain! My thanks as always to Britannia Archaeology, in the form of Matt, Louisa, Dan and Martin, for helping, guiding, showing us what we have beneath our feet. My feeling is this project will continue for many years to come. There is so much to find, so much to learn, and so much fun doing both along the way. Peter.
25th August 2017
Our last day of the 2017 Aylsham Community Dig. I don’t think I can call it Aylsham Roman Project anymore as we have found so much more from different periods of history. I won’t attempt a report tonight, but give you some photos to remember the last three weeks. Thank you to everyone who has been here for the last three weeks, thank you to everyone who has helped to make this happen. Thank you to Britannia Archaeology for teaching us and making the whole thing such enormous fun. Thank you to all who haven’t been able to be here but have been following us on facebook or on the website. I am truly humbled by the numbers of people who have come to see us, come to dig, come to be a part of something that is simply our community having a great time investigating our history. My dream is well and truly a reality. Peter
24th August 2017
Day 14, our penultimate day of digging our past at Woodgate. And what an amazing day it has been. Sable refused to get out of the car, she said she was far too tired to meet and greet anymore people, but eventually gave in!! The smell of bacon from the Civil Protection tent, tempted her out. And talking of food, a huge thank you to Eileen Springhall for your delicious cakes, even brought in today by Mike when you weren’t here yourself, that’s going above and beyond, and so we thank you for your culinary expertise and for being so generous. Another brilliant example of community spirit, thank you Lady Eileen.
Back to archaeology. Kiln one is finished with I think, but have a hunch that Dan wants to take a peek below the floor, just to check there is no more going on underneath. Kiln two has been cleaned back again, and now the flue has been revealed thanks to Sheila, Diana and Claire, and the secondary flue associated with the second lining is also visible.. It does look rather wonderful, and needs to be photographed tomorrow before it is covered up for the next few years.
I was at last let loose with a pickaxe, and bravely attacked the ditch that we found last year, which extends beyond kiln two. I found the ditch, but then was called away to show important people around the site. Quite fittingly, my CFO took over, and Blythe and her mum and sister excavated the rest of my ditch and found dating evidence in the bottom, in the form of three sherds of Roman pottery. Thank you to you all. And thank you for being here every day of the dig. I am very impressed with my CFO and her family.
Area B needed loads of recording today, before the finds removal process began, and when it did some lovely pieces of pottery appeared. Lots more to find tomorrow. One more feature needs digging tomorrow, a strange wibbly feature which may be nothing, but might be something special…. we wait and hope.
Over the lake in the south lands, or the dark side!!, the huge number of features is causing great excitement. 1800 years of occupation, with a gap from 100AD – 900AD, Iron age pottery then late saxon moving right through to 17th century and beyond. We have dug a snap shot of what is going on here, which of course means there is much to discover in future years. Dr Davies and Steve Miller from Norfolk Museums and Archaeology came to see us today, and were very impressed with the work we have done. And are very excited about the wonderful potential our site has for the future. Thank you to all who have been involved in any way with ARP. It has, as last year, been a fun and friendly dig. Overseen by the wonderful Britannia Archaeology. We are so lucky to have Martin, Dan, Louisa, Matt and Adam to guide us and teach us over the last three weeks. Hope you all sleep well and see you tomorrow. Peter.
Nephew Arthur fired up his bloomery again today hoping to smelt some iron. Lots of smoke and flame and hopefully some iron. Needs some work tomorrow to beat it into shape but at least it gave us the smell of Roman times when Martin and Dan were giving their end of day talks!!
23rd August 2017
Day thirteen and I am trying to work out what has happened in three weeks, well four actually if you take into account the first week when the diggers were here removing the upper layers. In my small mind it’s been a bit of a blur, thank goodness I wrote things down each day, otherwise I would be totally lost! One thing I am certain about is that we have thousands of years of archaeology, which is very well preserved beneath our feet. And I can say without hesitation , we will be digging for many years to come. Britannia are already thinking about where we go next year….. more to come on that on Friday. As always thank you to every one who attended today, to discover our history and try to make sense of it.
The beautiful kilns are still the focus of attention, we have two kilns in a wonderful state of preservation dating from the mid 2nd to mid 3rd Century. Catherine from Bradford University bravely continued with taking dating samples from kiln one, she now has 31 samples to be analysed, and we hope that by early next year we will have a good date for the firing. All being well, it will match our C14 date of the charcoal sample taken last year. Thank you Catherine for your time on this and thank you for being so careful with the samples and leaving our kiln looking almost intact, I hope you enjoyed your Roman Aylsham experience, and thank you to Zoe and Sarah for your help yesterday. Kiln two is still very carefully being excavated, but we need to make a call about how far we go so as not to weaken the structure. If you haven’t seen the perforated floor with it’s repairs then do please ask an archaeologist to show it to you and take some photos. When we cover it over this year, it may be many years before we see it again.
Area B is I think an archaeological minefield. Most of the features are Roman, but some are much later, about 800 years later. So we find Roman pottery then in the next shovel post Med pottery, all a great test for Martin, Dan, Matt and Louisa. The crossing ditches, pits and post holes as always with this site produce more questions than answers.
South of the lake we have an Iron Age enclosure….. definitely! But late Saxon period pottery is now appearing in huge quantities, especially towards the north side. I can’t wait for the explanation on Friday, no pressure on Dan then! All I can say is, the pottery is not abraded, so we are finding it as it was deposited 1000 plus years ago. So we know people were living here on this site. Pieces of daub, from a wattle and daub structure are also being found, so more evidence of people living in huts of some sort.
The coin found by Kate on Monday is a silver penny from the reign of Henry 3rd. A voided longcross from the London mint, the maker’s name Davi or David. Class VB minted around 1270AD. Well done Kate for finding a beautiful coin in almost mint condition, around 747 years old. Now that’s community archaeology for you. You desrve a vey load HOORAH!
Finally, before I bore you all to tears, my nephew Arthur (the nursery blacksmith), was attempting to smelt some iron, as we have evidence of the Romano British doing this because of the huge amounts of iron slag being found on site. He has constructed a bloomery out of clay and straw, as the Romans would have done, and today fired it up and tried to smelt some iron. Please see attached photos. It looked amazing, with the flame shooting out of the top of the stack, but unfortunately not much iron was smelted this time. He thinks more heat is needed and will try again tomorrow, after repairing the bloomery. Reminds me of our repaired kilns. So I wish you all a good night, and look forward to tomorrow and as always wonder what we will discover. Thank you to everyone who has helped in any way with our project. Without you, we would not be here. Peter.
22nd August 2017
Day twelve of fifteen. And what a quiet day! Or maybe not. Zoe from Historic England and Catherine from Bradford University were with us to take dating samples from kiln one. And they have been very kind, and only removed small sections of the structure, so we still have our dear friend looking nearly complete, but I do know more will be removed tomorrow. I really do appreciate your care and understanding my attachment to the structure that first led us down this path, leading to community archaeology. Kiln two has at last revealed more of the perforated floor, after very careful removal of debris. The floor has been repaired at some stage using pieces of roof tile and pot, and held together with daubs of clay, which have the finger marks of the workers on them. It really is something you must look at and photograph. Having spoken to Zoe and Sarah, both from Historic England, I realise how lucky we are to have such amazingly well preserved kilns. Generally these structures have been ploughed out and about a foot or 30 cm in new money exist. We have three feet or more, in fact about 4 feet or 120 cm of kiln two still standing. Being the first Roman kilns I have seen, I can’t make a judgement, but hearing the amazement from the seasoned archaeologists makes me understand how lucky we are to have these wonderful structures on our site.
Area B is still producing lovely finds, nearly all Roman. I hope that another two days will give us a really good understanding of how this site ties in with the kiln area. Across the water in the south lands, Dan and Matt continue their management of endless features, ditches crossing ditches with now an added excitement of a collection of pits. And there is no evidence here of Roman pottery. There is without doubt an Iron Age settlement, which has been enlarged and then cut across 1000 years later and again in 14th or 15th C. The late Saxon pottery is lovely to find, but looks to us amateurs identical to late Iron Age pottery….. so confusing. So the best thing is to ‘Ask Dan’ ! Flint blades and scrapers have been found today. Sue found a mesolithic blade in the South field from sieving. And Edward found a paleolithic longblade from the trench beneath the small tent, which is around 12000 years old. I love the idea of people living here for so many years, leaving their mark on the landscape, for us to discover thousands of years later.
As always a huge thank you to all who have come along today, to dig, sieve, wash, metal detect, oversee the welcome tent, feed us, direct us, teach us, be involved in the Aylsham Roman Project. It is so wonderful that by digging some holes in the ground, has brought so many people together to work alongside each other to discover our past. Thank you Dr John for guiding us and thank you to Britannia Archaeology for leading us. Peter.
21st August 2017
Day eleven of fifteen. We are in our final week, and where has the time gone? Kiln one is ready for Bradford University to take dating samples, which I am trying to be very brave about, but you might find me attached to it tomorrow looking very sad!! Kiln two is huge, but still needs much of the fallen roof and collapsed side to be removed, but this is now a problem. We are worried that one holds the other up so tomorrow we have two members of Historic England with us to give their thoughts about how we approach this excavation.
Area B is full of crossing ditches, pits and now by the look of it post holes as well. I heard the term, more aggressive archaeology, might be used to understand this trench. We need to know what is happening here, as we don’t want to have to open this one again next year, as there is so much more to investigate in other areas over the next goodness knows how many years. The fun thing is that, although some sites in area B produce few finds, others can turn up loads in a minute. Generally when we find a pit in a ditch, then finds are plentiful. And it is nearly all Roman, yes a few, a very few iron age, but the bulk is Roman. Area B does seem to be linked with the kilns. And so we build the picture of the ancient landscape, bit by bit, which is what this whole project is really about. Yes the kilns are an amazing structural discovery, but how they fit into the whole thirty aces of occupation over thousands of years is the true aim of the ARP.
We are also finding loads of iron slag, enough now to prove we have metal smelting on site, somewhere close to Area B. It makes sense that it will be near the kilns somewhere, as these procedures are rather smelly and would not be located near to the main house or villa. And the industrial activity, ie kilns and smelting would quite likely be situated near to each other. A family came to help today, and after asking Donna which heap of soil to sieve, they took a barrow load from the Area B digger deposit. Within a few minutes they had found a silver coin, a penny, possibly Edward 3rd 14th Century, but this needs to be confirmed by Adrian Marsden or Steve Clarkson, when they are next on site. Please see them in the attached photos.
BBC Radio Norfolk were here this morning followed by Look East, which by now will have been broadcast. Aylsham Cinema were also filmimg, and can be viewed at the town hall this Friday. We will get a copy on the web page very soon. Over the lake in the south lands, Dan, Matt and some very dedicated followers have been drawing and recording all day, so we can start digging again tomorrow. Thank you all as always for making this whole project such fun and truly a community activity. Peter.
Here we are on Look East tonight!
I would just like to point out what goes on behind the scenes before the day begins….. obviously archaeologists need to be wakened, loos are cleaned, thanks to Mrs Nigel (aka Deborah), welcome tent prepared and welcome officer looking concerned but being briefed for the day!
We had Wally Webb from BBC Radio Norfolk on site at 0700 this morning. This was his recording that aired on Nick Conrad’s show just before 0800.
20th August 2017
As we look back over two wonderful weeks, and look forward to our final week of amazing archaeology, I must say a big thank you to everyone who has helped fund this community project. We are so lucky to have such a wealth of archaeology beneath our feet, and so lucky to have Britannia to show us how to excavate in a professional way. But, as with all things, this project has to be funded. So to all those who have become friends, have paid to take part, have purchased badges, pens, t-shirts, postcards , books etc from our tent, a massive thank you. To all volunteers who happily give hundreds of hours of their time to help with the project…. Thank you. Finally I must name some very generous people who have given vast sums of money to ensure we can all enjoy the Aylsham Roman Experience. So a massive thank you to Barbara Turner, Diana Duhig, Alison Copley, Sheila Denny, Maggie and William Vaughan-Lewis, Mr and Mrs Polhill, Sue and Chris Ellis, Mr and Mrs Burr. Without your huge contributions, we would not be enjoying this incredible experience. Thank you to everyone who has been involved in any way for making my rather ‘eccentric dream’ become a reality. I am truly humbled by your generosity. Peter
18th August 2017
Here we are day ten. This time last year we had finished the dig, thank goodness we opted for three weeks not two. There is still so much to discover. Dan said to me today… ‘Have you any idea how important this site is?’. And of course I replied ‘No!’ He pointed out the wonderful kilns, but the really important thing, is the site across the lake. The continuous occupation over at least 2000 years, the Iron Age settlement, with late Saxon and then post Medieval turning up. And if you take into account the various flint finds, then we have 10000 years of people occupying the area, doing their thing. I just have to admit that by pure chance, we are sitting on a wonderfully rich site, dominated by the Romans, but that is because they were so prolific with their production of goods, which by definition means we find a lot of their waste. I truly believe that with funding, this annual Aylsham dig could go on for twenty, thirty, maybe forty years, well after I am in my grave. I can’t wait for Zoe Outram from Historic England to be with us next week, to see the kilns and take dating samples in association with Bradford University, but also to see the potential this site has for increasing our knowledge of Norfolk in the distant past.
So back to today, kiln one is now ready to have the dating samples taken next week. Ralph and Colin have done a wonderful job removing the floor, and discovered some lovely finds along the way. Kiln two is gradually having the rubble removed, but it takes so much time to remove each tile and piece of pottery, as they are precariously balanced and also affect the main structure. We hope that by the end of Monday it will be free of added extras and looking in it’s original state!
Area B is now throwing up loads of finds. Roman mortaria, more cattle teeth, a large piece of iron slag, Roman building material and of course heaps of Roman pottery. My ‘chief finds officer’ Blythe, daughter of Donna, found a lovely decorated piece of pottery, a piece of rim which will be in the 150 to 250 date range, matching our kiln dates perfectly. But I have to say, when I look at area B it is just a mixture of ditches and pits, which I simply cannot try to explain, so we must wait for the professional explanation at the end of next week.
Moving on to the south lands, where Dan holds court and tells me nothing that my brain can hold onto for more than five mins! The fact is, the geophys showed up about one tenth of the features that actually exist. Thank goodness we did not scrape back any more than we did, otherwise there is no way we could have dug all the features. My best call is this….. There is without any doubt an Iron Age settlement, that has been enlarged over the years. Later ditches cut across from the post Med through to the 17th or 18th century. Finds are scarce compared to the Roman site around the kilns, but today Carole and Neville dug a small pit about a foot in diameter and found a whole tray full of Iron Age pottery. This is typical archaeology, where structures (like the kilns) just no longer exist, but features in the soil abound, and need to be explained. Existence of finds help with dating these features.
So to finish this week, I would like to thank everyone who has helped with this project. There are so many, it would be impossible to name them all. But Sheila and Diana deserve huge praise for organising the whole thing. Endless emailing, coping with my strange requests, helping with fundraising, t -shirts, badges, postcards, pens, the list goes on. Sarah for photos. Catherine for 365 days a year find evaluation. Teresa for so so much help with Romans and keeping the nursery going, when my mind drifts off to archaeology. Sophia and Stan for accepting your nicknames! Linda for so much fundraising. Colin and George for filming in association with BBC voices. Nigel and Deborah for always being here digging and photographing. Mrs Colin for welcome tent watching. The Springhalls, Olivia, Ralph Claire Hurrell and family, the Detnons, Karen, Carole and Neville, Sue, and all those who appear each day and I know so well but have forgotten your names, sorry, but thank you. Mark and Chris for your behind the scenes work, Aylsham town council, The Aylsham Heritage Centre. Giles, Jayne, Smudge, Kirstin, and all those who we seldom see but have given so much time to help us. The Civil Protection people who feed and water us. My sister and brother-in-law for being here each day, giving their support. Donna and Blythe( chief finds officer) for endless dedication to the project. Iona and her finds cleaning helpers, so so important, but you carry on quietly behind the lines and out of the spotlight. Martin, Dan, Matt, Louisa, Adam from Britannia, without whom this project would never happen. Dr Davies, Alice, Julie. Steve, Adrian, Zoe, our specialists who advise and help throughout the year. Thank you. I know I will have forgotten many people so please forgive me. Hope you all have a lovely peaceful weekend. Looking forward to our final week. Peter.
Further wonderful reminders of our first nine days.
17th August 2017
Day nine, and I am still recovering from yesterday! Still in disbelief re kiln two. When you look carefully, it is rather quite large. When we receive accolades from around the country, congratulating us that our kiln is very special, it makes you realise how important it is. We think we have now found the first indication of the flue, which appears to be directly below the heap of building material. So careful excavation needed tomorrow. Kiln one is having it’s insides removed….. nephew Arthur with two assistants attacked it with cold chisel and a hammer!! We hope that by the end of tomorrow it will be ready for Bradford university to take the dating samples. With the rain this morning, there is very little I can add to the other areas. Area B is still revealing great finds, and hopefully by Monday we can start to dig features in earnest. Across the lake I have to admit the 2000 years or more of occupation is causing a lot of headaches!! There are so many features not visible on geophys, and how these features affect each other are yet to be discovered. So we must wait a few more days until Dan can give us an answer. We hope! As always, thank you so much to every one involved with this community project. Young and old turning up every day to take part in trying to understand our history, and how could we even begin to think how important the history of Aylsham would become. Looking forward to tomorrow. Peter
16th August 2017
Day eight, and what a day. I am totally overwhelmed….again. We now have a nationally important Roman pottery kiln, which is huge. A wonderful site across the lake which has an iron age settlement and of course evidence of late saxon activity, med and post med finds and evidence of people living there right up to 17th and 18th century occupation. Well and truly occupied across the centuries. I can’t be too detailed tonight, as I have archaeologists enjoying beer and pizza!! Dr Davies, Claire Bradshaw, Adrian Marsden, Alice Lyons, Julie Curl and Steve Clarkson were all with us today answering questions, and were all very impressed with the site and all it is revealing. They were very impressed with the work of our volunteers, especially across the lake where digging is very tricky. The fill of features and the natural soil is so alike, you need a good eye to see the difference.
They were also very impressed with the cleaning of kiln one, where removing the collapsed floor and not damaging the third lining is particularly challenging. A huge round of applause to all who have helped so far, and to receive such an accolade from these senior professionals is praise indeed. I think we have shown that a community dig can be conducted in a very professional way. So thank you so so much. Back to the features. Kiln one is still in need of more removal of collapsed floor. Kiln two is simply enormous! What we thought last year as being the full extent of the kiln, is now the second lining and firing, a structure about 3 feet in diameter. The first lining which has now appeared is massive, around seven feet in diameter. The best guess is it could have fired 1500 pots or more. Possibly the joint largest Roman kiln discovered in Britain. Here at Aylsham. Marvellous.
Adam took on Louisa’s trench and helped us dig yet more ditches and pits. Cattle teeth were carefully removed waiting examination by Julie. And of course lots more pottery from all ages. Iron age, Roman, Medieval and post Medieval. Still so much work to be done there. Across the lake, I have to admit I am still confused! Iron age ditches being cut by later ditches being cut by even later ditches!! I won’t even try to explain, save to say, that there’s a lot going on.I think we must leave this to Dan to explain. So thank you to you all. A wonderful first eight days, what will the next seven reveal? See you tomorrow. Peter
15th August 2017
Another wonderful day with amazing finds and as always brilliant people digging up our history. Kiln one is still having the remains of the collapsed floor taken out. Very hard going as it is like concrete, and very hard to tell where infill stops and lining begins. But we now know there are three linings, which indicates three firings. Matching with the three rake pits we excavated last year. Kiln two is proving, as always, a tricky customer. The southern wall seems to have partly fallen, and there is a considerable amount of brick and tile as well as bits of pottery to be very carefully removed, whilst at the same time keeping a careful eye on the integrity of the structure. The concern is that the rubble may be holding the wall up. So we need to proceed with caution. Louisa’s area is starting to produce many finds, crossing many years. The earliest pottery being around 500BC, then later iron age through to Roman and onwards. The area to the north west is revealing a high concentration of finds, evidence of burning and some bone, which will be looked at by Julie today. I think the next few days could be great fun as we get a better idea of what is going on in this trench..
Across the lake in the south field, where Dan keeps telling us is where the proper archaeology is happening, is slowly starting to take shape. The wonderful news , and I am jumping for joy, is that we have Britons living here before the Romans appeared. We have a classic ladder settlement that has developed over time, situated just a hundred yards from where the natural springs provide their life giving waters. With the influence of the Romans, the local people have taken on Roman skills and have eventually built a villa complex we think under the garden to the north of my house. A lovely Iron age rim sherd was removed from the bottom of one ditch. And what is thought to be a ceramic cooking pot leg, as seen in photos published last evening. We can check with the specialists today. Ladies from the Trefoil Guild came to look round the whole site in the afternoon, and I hope you enjoyed the tour. We look forward to seeing you again next week at some stage. We have our specialists coming tomorrow, so please bring your artefacts and ask questions. Thank you to you all. You make this project such good fun, and we are learning so much about archaeology and our history. Peter
14th August 2017
Day six of our dig. The weather was with us again, thank goodness. Thank you all for coming along today, I am as always overwhelmed by the wonderful support of the people of Aylsham and those from further afield. The happy relaxed atmosphere portrays exactly what this community dig is about. We are all learning so much about archaeology, and also making new friends, and of course finding out a huge amount about the history and pre history of Aylsham.
The beautiful kiln one is slowly but surely having it’s insides removed, this is simply the collapsed floor but it is so hard to discern the floor from the lining, so good luck to those attempting this tomorrow. Kiln two, just like last year is proving problematic. There appears to be a whole heap of kiln fabric and Roman building material running off to the east, so we will have to cut a new slot through topsoil tomorrow to reveal what is going on. In the mean time there are copious finds from the rake pit, loads of pottery and CBM (ceramic building material) so lots of work for the patient finds cleaning team. The second area is still a mess of ditches and pits, and the relationship of these is yet to be determined, but we will give you answers as the days progress, well at least Dan, Martin and Louisa assure me they will. The good thing is these ditches and pits keep producing finds crossing many centuries. The child’s trench, underneath the tent, has revealed a ditch which was seen on geophys, so we hope we can get dating evidence from that.
Beyond the lake, in the south lands, as Dan keeps telling me, is where the real archaeology is being discovered, is now almost certainly confirmed as an iron age settlement. We believe we have found the original settlement enclosure ditch, which has been crossed over by many more ditches and pits over the years. In fact Dan said in his talk this afternoon something like this ‘ we have an original ditch that has been crossed by a subsequent two ditches which themselves have been crossed by other ditches as the enclosure grew’. Clear as mud to me!! I am sure as the days move on, we will get a much better picture of our ancestors doing their thing before the Romans appeared. Dr Davies from Castle Museum will be with us on Wednesday, and he adores the iron age Roman period, and so I hope he will be able to help decipher the archaeology from the south lands. Thank you to everyone with us today, digging, sieving, cleaning, barrow pushing, bagging, tagging, filming, photoing, feeding and watering us. Britannia for guiding us and enlightening us at the end of the day. What will tomorrow bring?? Peter
11th August 2017
Nick Conrad from BBC Radio Norfolk visited us yesterday and this morning there were two slots on his breakfast promoting us. Thanks, Nick, please come again!
Well here we are day five, the end of our first week. Where have those five days gone? The sun shone, and loads of volunteers were able to dig, which is great as we want as many people as possible to get involved. I spent two hours this afternoon showing Aylsham WI around the site, and asking very politely for them to buy pens, badges and postcards from the welcome tent. Thank you ladies, for your generous purchases! Ellie, Olivia and Ralph set about cleaning kiln one, to prepare for final photos before removal of the caved in floor. Brilliant job, thank you. Dusting away with brushes so our dear friend looked as good as when left 1800 years ago, or thereabouts. Next week, we intend to remove the remaining infill from the chamber and then look at what is under the kiln, was there another kiln beneath, or some other piece of archaeology waiting to be discovered. Many people were sent to work on kiln two. Shovelling out the back fill from last year, so proper excavation on the remaining rake pit could begin. And of course the final quad needs to be dug, so we will find out if indeed our rather special perforated floor is still intact. By this time next week I could be jumping for joy or crying!!
Area B is still a mixture of crossing ditches and pits, but with wonderful finds. The faux samian found yesterday, is in fact real Samian with a date of around 150AD. A lovely piece of early Iron age pot was cleaned by the lovely and very patient ladies in the cleaning tent and looks early, possibly 500BC. This area is constantly turning up a wonderful selection of finds crossing hundreds of years of history. And I forgot to mention the heaps of iron slag that keeps appearing. We just have to find the smelting site sooner or later.I can’t wait for another week of digging here, so we can begin to see the significance of this area.
Across the lake to the south side, Dan holds his silent vigil!! The euphoria of the kilns to the north seems to hold the fascination of our visitors, but we have early Woodgate appearing beneath our feet south of the lake. The pre Roman Britons were living here, lighting their fires, tending their animals in the enclosures that run along side the trackway. In fact just living their lives, and we are now finding out about them. They lived just a hundred yards from the springs that supply their water. The springs that are the reason for habitation here. Dan is perplexed by the complexity of this trench. There are crossing ditches, re-cut through the ages, many many random pits and finds that stretch from the paleolithic right through to a hundred years ago. This is a case of forensic archaeology, seeing which trench cuts which, where do the pits lie, and how do they relate to one another. Trying to discover the time line, and trying to ignore the intrusion of rabbits that have scattered the finds, so we see Victorian pottery appearing alongside green glaze and iron age. 2000 years apart in their production, and appearing within a few inches of each other!!
I hope you all have a lovely relaxing weekend and are ready to dig again on Monday. Finally a huge thank you to Britannia for making our project come to life. Guiding us through the day, and enthralling us with your explanations each afternoon. And now really finally, thank you to all the volunteers who have helped to make this happen, without you we would not be here, having fun, digging up the history of Aylsham and meeting new friends. Really and truly a project that is simply about our community. Thank you. Peter
10th August 2017
Day four, and I am very pleased to say the weather was with us and the trenches have dried out really well, considering we had over an inch of rain in the last 24 hours. That’s the benefit of sandy soils, rather well drained. We had another wonderful turnout of volunteers all eager to dig, sieve, wash finds or help in the welcome tent. Work has progressed well on the kilns. Kiln one is back to it’s former beauty after some brilliant cleaning by Ralph and Olivia, thank you for your patient work today. Catherine and Teresa were working on the north side of the kiln, cleaning back and finding plenty of pottery and kiln fabric. I think getting to grips with this trench will take several more seasons, there are just so many finds and so much to learn from this wonderfully well preserved site. Our aim for this year, as you know is to provide a well cleaned kiln for Bradford University to work on during the last week, to get good dating samples. I think Martin is keen to clear the bottom of the kiln, remove the collapsed floor and eventually see what is happening under the floor, hopefully finished by end of next week.
Kiln two needs quite a lot more careful cleaning, as we did not finish excavating last year. We are of course, being very careful as the perforated clay floor is rather special and needs to be treated very gently. We hope to excavate the last quadrant and fingers crossed find the floor intact. Much praying going on I assure you. I know it’s sad but I have a very close attachment to kiln two, as it was often referred to as being a ‘heap of broken tiles’ at the start of last year. It’s also quite ridiculous that even with 14000 pieces of pottery in my house, I still get excited each time a new piece is removed from the soil. But then little things please very little minds! There is also the daunting task of digging the last two rake pits from kiln two. My estimate of 2500 pottery sherds is obviously rather lame, and I will now up my guess to 4000. Anyone who wants to guess please leave your answers in comments below, just a bit of fun.
The second trench in the kiln field, overseen by Louisa is riddled with crossing ditches and pits. I think much more work is required before we really understand what is happening there. But what I do know is, that there are plenty of finds. Yes lots of roman pottery of course, but also a few iron age, some later green glaze, cattle teeth and yet again more and more iron slag. We just have to have iron smelting going on, on this site. We have a piece of furnace lining as well as lots of iron slag. One day we will find the smelting site, let’s hope it’s this year. The rather fancy piece of Roman pot found by Debbie Whitbread on Tuesday, looks to be a Romano- British copy of fine continental ware. Similar to Nene Valley ware, but we are yet to determine exactly it’s source. A pottery expert is working on it, and we will of course pass on the answer when we know. A lovely piece of pot was found in the sieves, and rather excitedly I went to Dan, who dismissed it as being faux samian. A piece of oxford colour coated ware, pretending to be samian!! Well I liked it.
Across the lake, in the south lands, we are sure we have an iron age ladder settlement. This means a track which has enclosures adjoined to it, in our case on one side only. This makes sense as the water supply from the natural springs is only about 100 yards to the north. Dan believes the enclosures have gradually grown over the years, as the families living in them have grown. There are ditches crossing ditches and other features cut across earlier features, so much more work needed before we get a real understanding of the time line of this trench. The circular pit to the extreme south of the trench had, in it’s base, the remains of a fire, probably embers chucked into it from a nearby fire or oven.
We are lacking ‘in context’ finds, although we have lots of finds out of context, including loads of late iron age pottery, and some much later pottery, musket balls, fragments of glass clay pipe etc. The ditch running east west along the southern end of the trench appears to be post medieval, so again we are dealing with many years of activity. As I seem to be saying rather a lot, this needs lots more work to find the answers. I am just so pleased to find evidence of pre roman Brits doing their thing! Thank you to you all for great work today, as we gradually reveal more answers to the many questions about ancient Woodgate. Yes we know we have Romano British activity, but now we are certain we have late iron age as well. Thanks again to Civil Protection for feeding and watering us. It is a real bonus you being with us. My cheese and lettuce sandwich with a hint of pepper was delicious, thank you. And Sable enjoyed a piece of bacon roll!! See you all tomorrow for the end of an amazing first week. Peter.
Have you been digging in our trench? Of course not, Daddy!
9th August 2017
I think these photos say it all about day three. Sorry !!!!
Actually it wasn’t that bad. I can’t believe how many brave people appeared. You are all very dedicated. We spent the time cleaning finds, mostly from the digger scrapes from last week. German lava stone, iron age pottery in much greater numbers than last year, grimstone greenglaze, and 13th century coins. We do have evidence of at least 2000 years of human activity, and if you add the numerous flints that Dan looked at today, then 10000 years of humans in the area. Broadland Council’s Tots to Teens club were with us today. Again I am so sorry the weather was against us. Julie Curl showed them lots of animal bones, which turn up on dig sites, and then showed all the animal foot prints on the roman tiles we have found on site. Thank you Julie yet again for your time. The children then went on to dig some test pits, under canvass I hasten to add. And of course they found lovely things. Flints, pottery covering 2000 years, clay pipe (that Dan got very excited about), roof tile and one piece of pottery that has made my day….. Bronze age pot. Brilliant. Thank you all for coming, and we welcome the next group on the 23rd. Members of ACT(Aylsham Care Trust) came to see us this afternoon and were entertained by Dan and Martin, telling them the history of the site and what we have discovered so far. They all had a lovely time despite the rain, and we hope to see them again towards the end of the dig. Colin and George spent a lot of time sorting out the video taken over the last two days, thank you. And of course thank you to Civil Protection for our food and drink, especially the tomato soup…. highly recommended.
Let’s hope tomorrow will be dry and we can get back to work. Looking forward to a great day, with lots of enthusiastic archaeologists. Thank you to Britannia as always for your leadership and infectious enthusiasm. Peter
8th August 2017
Day two of our August dig 2017. I am a technological Luddite!! I took loads of photos today of wonderful features in the south field, with thoughts of showing you how what appears to be a barren landscape can change into an archaeological wonderland after careful cleaning by our wonderful volunteers. But I managed to lose most of them! What an idiot. Oh well, thank goodness other people managed to use a camera and send their pics to me, thank you. So thank you to Sheila and Sarah for your photos. Having just looked through the visitors book I am so pleased to say that we have had 140 or more people on site in two days, wonderful and thank you all for coming. We spent the day cleaning the back fill from the kilns, and kiln one is almost back to how it looked last year. Exciting news…. is that there appears to be another lining outside the kiln, which would have been the lining of the first firing. Yes I know this has to be checked with some more digging, but it seems that the three rake pits south of the kiln now make sense, as we hopefully have three linings. All of which could potentially be dated when Bradford university turn up in the last week. There is also a lot more archaeology to be investigated to the north of kiln 1, so that will keep several people busy over the next few days. Kiln 2 has much work still to be done, even to get us back to the same stage as last year, but then a new quad needs to be fully excavated and of course the enormous rake pit still needs to be dug. My guess is another 2500 pieces of pottery to be removed and cleaned. I hope Iona and her team are ready. The second area is revealing very interesting finds. The first two photos are of two sisters ( along with Britannia’s Louisa) who found a piece of pot which seems to baffle all the archaeologists. Some are saying medieval and others 2nd century Roman, so we await the report from the pottery expert, hopefully revealed by close of play tomorrow. Talking of which, the weather is said to be a little damp tomorrow, but we will try to be brave and carry on.
On the south side of the lake the morning was spent cleaning back, to reveal numerous features. Ditches and several pits. My lost photos would have shown these to you. Sorry!! The afternoon session began to dig the features. A perfectly circular pit about a meter across revealed no finds apart from some charcoal, but there is much more work needed there. The ditches produced lots of finds, but across a huge timeline. So we had iron age pottery, roman pottery, medieval pottery, clay pipe, 19th century glass, musket balls….!! All rather confusing, but perhaps not. It appears a medieval ditch has been cut across an iron age ditch, and we have a rabbit issue as well, which involves the little bunnies picking up pieces of iron age pottery and placing them next to 13th century pottery!! I am certain this is done on purpose to confuse Dan, Matt and Martin. I am looking forward to tomorrow when the ‘tots to teens’ club will be with us to experience a real live dig. We have covered their area with a small tent, so they can dig whatever the weather. Anybody available to help them tomorrow, please let us know in the morning. Nick Conrad from BBC Norfolk will come along tomorrow to do some recording as well. The ‘Fox and Newt’ pub sign outside the Civil Protection tent was painted by Teresa, inspired by the tile she found, which on careful inspection by Julie Curl revealed the foot prints of a great crested newt and fox cub. Amazing how an 1800 year old piece of ceramic tile can tell us so much about the wildlife existing in these parts all those years ago. So we look forward to tomorrow. As mentioned before, the weather forecast is for rain all day. So please let’s see how it goes. My thanks as always to Britannia for their guidance and fun, but most of all to all of you who have been here today to help us discover our history. See you tomorrow . Peter.
7th August 2017
Well here we are. Day one of the Aylsham Roman Experience. Actually it should now be called the’ Roman with a hint of Iron age experience’. My dream, as I am sure you are aware was to find evidence this year of pre Roman activity. Or simply put, Britons doing their thing before the Italians turned up! Before I go on to that I need to thank the many many lovely volunteers who have helped with getting this year on the road. It would never have happened without Sheila and Diana taking on the burden of my rather eccentric demands….. so thank you to both of you. Teresa and Catherine, who both work at the nursery and also suffer from my strange demands to ‘do Roman stuff ‘ and do so willingly. My lovely nursery staff who suddenly get asked to put up tents, rig up a water supply to the dig site,move the sieves to this place and then actually got that wrong and ask them to move them somewhere else! And all with a smile, lovely lovely people and so so tolerant of a scatter brained boss!! All those wonderful people who turn up each Tuesday to help with the find sorting from last year, and we had several thousand to look through. About 28000 or so in fact. Alice Lyons and Julie Curl for their amazing help over the last year. Steve Clarkson with his metal finds knowledge, and endless hours given to our project. The gods of archaeology, in the form of Dr John Davies, Zoe Outram and Claire Bradshaw are very pleased with our efforts which is a great accolade for the project. The civil protection volunteers who fed and watered us. Thank you to all of you. Bacon sandwich was gratefully devoured!! Sable enjoyed some as well! My nephew Mark for putting up the main tent and collecting chairs and collecting tables, and keeping my mind focused when I was starting to dither!! And of course a massive thank you to all of you who have become ‘friends’, signed up to dig, have helped in fund raising, put your tokens in the tesco box, or donated vast sums of cash. Thank you too to Maggie and William Vaughan-Lewis for your generous donation and the wonderful book now on sale in our welcome tent, an extensive history of the ‘dispersed settlements of Aylsham’. How apt that could now become as we find out more about our own dispersed settlement.
So at last to today. The first task was to re open the kilns we found last year. We need to finish excavating Kiln 2 and it’s rake pit, and reopen kiln 1, so students from Bradford University can take samples for dating. The back fill from last year was very compacted and will take a few more hours to remove. The second area, the children’s trench from last year. has been extended, as we found lots more archaeology than was first thought. There are several ditches crossing north south and east west as well as a ‘blob’ as Dan called it, so much work needed there. The new trench south of the lake has had me lying awake for hours over the last few weeks. Terrified that nothing would appear. Thank goodness, many features have revealed themselves. Work will begin here tomorrow. I simply can’t wait to see what’s going on. Finds from the upper layers have included iron age pottery (hoorah), early and late medieval pottery, early roman pottery, quern stone from Germany, two 14th century coins, two 16th century coins, a purse bar(date unknown), bronze buckle, as well as the usual clay pipe fragments, musket balls and more recent pottery fragments. The geopyhs revealed what we thought, ditches and pits. But there is so much more…. more ditches and pits, but also evidence of a building of some sort, and the remains of an oven or fire pit. I am trying to be calm about this trench, but can’t help thinking that this will take us back to a time before the Romans appeared and give us an insight into their lives. So there we are for day one, an amazing start to our second year.
Martin, Dan, Matt and Louisa from Britannia Archaeology thank you so much for your guidance, patience and wonderful explanations. Most of all, thank you to all of you who have been here today or are coming over the next three weeks. You are making this project a great example of what people can do for ‘the love of doing it’ and that means so so much to me. Thank you. Peter
6th August 2017
The Nursery staff have been very busy, the banner flutters in the breeze, the welcome tent stands waiting to invite everyone in, the lovely Civil Protection people have set up, bacon wafts across the field, the marquee has empty tables waiting for the finds, the kilns are ready to reveal their full secrets. A moment of calm – until tomorrow!
4th August 2017
Another busy day getting things ready. While Dan, Matt and Louise from Britannia Archaeology carried on creating the dig area round the other end of the lake. Martin and Peter talked to two groups, the meeters and greeters and then anyone else who came to get an overview of what was happening. Over the weekend marquees will be erected, refreshment area set up, pathways signposted and toilets strategically placed. We’re almost ready to go!
3rd August 2017
It was a very blustery day and raining too at times but was anyone downhearted? Not a bit! Martin, Dan and Peter are over the moon as, having moved around to the other side of the lake, iron age pottery has been found.
As always I am rather anxious when the digger first removes soil from a new site. What if there are no finds, no features no archaeology, how do I explain that to the hundreds of people coming to dig this year. We rely on the geophys done by Britannia Archaeology Ltd and although it indicates there is something going on under the soil, it does not tell us what is happening and when it happened. It might be purely geological, but in this case the features seemed to be man made. So I waited, not too patiently, for some indication of ancient human activity…… then suddenly a shout from Martin for Dan to stop the digger. There was iron age pottery, not much but one fragment is enough to make me smile. With a bit of careful scraping Martin found several pieces from the same pot, and lots more to find as it is tucked in the side of the trench. What a relief, but one broken pot does not make an archaeologist’s summer! (Sorry that was a bit weak.) Not just iron age pottery but a strange mix of other finds as well. Two Charles 2nd farthings from the topsoil, a bronze purse strap, and bronze buckle, greenglaze ware from 11th century, German lava stone, and at least another 30 pieces of late iron age early roman pottery. Evidence of ditches, pits, post holes and the best bit an ancient oven….we think! As always with archaeology, we have to wait and see, but thank you to the gods for giving us something to investigate. I really hope we have evidence of habitation before the Romans came along, and I can almost touch it! Can’t wait for next week, and then we might find out. Peter
2nd August 2017
Gary Standley from BBC Voices worked with a small group giving ideas on how to shoot video. During the next few weeks they will be recording progress. A new area was excavated today on the same field close to the kilns. As Peter says, we found no pottery at all and no evidence of Romans, apart from ………. smelted bronze, oxford ware, roof tile, kiln fabric and forty or more pieces of grey ware !!!!!! And some cow bone.. and some iron slag, and at least three ditches.
1st August 2017
Martin was joined by Dan McConnell from Britannia Archaeology today and the first excavations using the mechanical diggers began, after removing a rather lively frog. Both Kiln 1 and Kiln 2 have been re-found, Kiln 2 is the photo with the black membrane in the foreground protecting the flue. Even Peter got involved!
31st July 2017
Martin Brook of Britannia Archaeology makes his first visit to the site and marks out the areas for this year’s digs. He was followed on site by the mechanical digger that will uncover those areas in the next couple of days. It really is beginning to happen again!