August 2021 Dig

Year 5. We missed a year but we are back! Scroll to the bottom to start…..

For those of you who find reading on line difficult, Peter’s posts are preceded with an audio clip.

Friday 27th August To all Woodgate archaeologists professional and amateur, I thank you for a wonderful three weeks. It feels as if Covid was cast aside and our lives were almost back to normal. The fun and laughter were infectious. People meeting people not seen since 2019 was a sheer joy. Thanks as always to Martin for guiding us. And yet it all seemed to happen without incident. People happy to dig or sieve or record or clean finds, as if we had carried on from 2019 without the missed year. I hope the person who wrote this will forgive me, but this is a quotation from a letter received today…’I have listened to lots of volunteers who have said that this dig has brought them out into the world again-and brought back some normality to their lives’ .

So we may not have found great riches beneath the soil, although we did find many features that help put together the history of Woodgate, but what we did find is the wonderful camaraderie of so many amazing ARP volunteers, just quite simply happy to dig holes to sieve soil and enjoy the wonderful scenery and tranquility of being beside the lake at Woodgate. A quick message from Sable who was very sorry not to be her normal self this year. She has suffered stressful times, but is recovering well and asks me to convey her love to you all. And thank you for the treats!! I am sure she will be back to digging holes and finding pottery very soon.

So may I please finish with a very heartfelt thank you to all who have taken part this year, and a special thank you to the generous sponsors of ARP. Sheila, Diana, Julie and Jan you are amazing and this would not happen without you. Raise a glass to next year when we open three trenches in the kitchen garden, close to kiln 2 and another where we have been this year. Sorry but I have to admit I’ve shed a tear writing this. So thank you. Peter.

What a great final day, the sun shone, sieving continued and we welcomed more visitors to the site. If you have come during this week, thank you so much, “getting the community into holes” is our strap line and we may not have had you in holes this year, but many of you came to see us which has been so good. Colin, Deborah, Nikki and Wendy, thank you taking people round, and Jan and Julie in the Finds marquee for talking through some of our finds.

Several who have been involved these three weeks were able to come along on this last day to help tidy up and move things back to the portacabin. It is always emotional at the end of the dig, more so this year, when we think what we have been through this last two years, but here we have been, in 2021, back together and learning more about the history of Woodgate. We will be back next August!!

Thursday 26th August It was more like October than August on the field today, gone were shorts and t-shirts and on came the trousers and jumpers! But we were still there and we had people come and see us, so thank you all for braving the weather. Martin joined us and gave an interesting talk about excavating and what has been happening here at Woodgate. One more day to go and hopefully the sun will shine down on us.

Wednesday 25th August Another great day welcoming visitors to our dig site, today we had several including a group from Stretch Fitness and Sheringham History Society. Julie Curl was also with us today and was able to talk to them about the various creature prints found on tiles, something that in the commercial world is not possible due to time constraints. We have none of these and we are indebted to Julie who supports us through the year – and provided delicious cheesy bone biscuits today as well! Thank you for all the donations and for those during the week who have signed up as Friends. We appreciate every penny.

Tuesday 24th August It was a beautiful sunny morning when we arrived early on the field today and we never cease to be grateful to Peter for allowing us, for three weeks of the year, to walk around his private land and dig holes! Sieving continues, with pot from yesterday washed and looking really good and today Carole found a lovely piece of flint. Thank you to all who came and visited today, became Friends and supported us in any way. A special hello and thank you, too, to all from Wroxham U3A.

Don’t forget, you can come along this week at 1000, 1130 or 1330 for an hour’s visit to hear what we have been doing.

Monday 23rd August No Martin or digging this week, but sieving is continuing and finds are being found, including a lovely piece of Roman pot rim and two or three others too from the same pile, by Colin and Frances. Thank you to those of you who visited, became Friends, donated and/or bought something. We appreciated every penny we take. If you’ve not yet been, remember we are there all week, come along at 1000, 1130 or 1330.

Friday 20th August Our work is done, the trenches are hushed and the fever of digging is over. But what a wonderful two weeks we have had. Never before in a single trench have so many clay extractions pits been found by so few! If the digging at Woodgate goes on for another twenty years, this will have been their finest hour. Ok I must stop being silly. So thank you to everyone who has been involved in any way with year five of ARP. Having been shut away from the world for 18 months or so, this has been a wonderful reunion of friends, of fellow diggers, of people who like to get their hands dirty and discover the amazing history beneath our feet at Woodgate. Digging, sieving, cleaning, washing, recording or simply watching it all unfold, the fact is that you have been here taking part in what is really a gathering of like-minded people having fun.

Lovely cake Frances, very thoughtful of you and James. Super sponge! And at long last Martin is able to eat some Schute cake! Today was really just a morning of final cleaning back and taking samples for testing. Martin was taking photos and using GPS to map the features and trench boundaries. The sieves were again in action and plenty more finds retrieved. We are here again next week so anyone who wants to can get on the sieves. The more we do the better. We had our final talk from Martin on all we have discovered in the last two weeks and how it helps filling in the jigsaw of archaeology at Woodgate. We can now look forward to three trenches next year, and hopefully get back to normality and asking everyone to come along and take part.

Thank you to Old Beanz Productions for filming us, can’t wait to see the finished product. Finally my thanks to you all, but especially to Martin for leading us, to Jan for the so important task of bagging and tagging every find. And to Diana and Sheila for making this happen. Many many hours through every week between each dig each year, making sure that all is in order, emailing reports and monthly newsletters, sorting dig rotas, organising loos, understanding the generator to supply the tea wagon with electricity, fund raising, the list is endless. The biggest obstacle in their way is me. Changing my mind, how about doing this or doing that. Perhaps we could….. I’m sure you get the picture. Thank you everyone. Do sleep well tonight. Only eleven months and we start again….. Finding a Villa maybe!!! Peter.

Thursday 19th August We are nearly finished, can’t quite believe it. Just about the end of ARP 2021 our year five of digging. But fear not, at the current rate of progress we will still be here in 2060…. Well I won’t be!! Alice, Henry, Gemma and Olivia will be the veterans overseeing the dig, telling the younger members about the old days at Woodgate, and the very eccentric chap who always wore shorts but had a lovely dog called Sable. Martin will turn up occasionally with Dan, whose dreadlocks will be near his ankles, to reminisce about the kilns and the villa which we never found! However the final resting place of Boudicca was an unexpected bonus! And the Saxon ship burial to the south of the lake was found by accident when Henry decided to dig a test pit! Ok I’m gabbling again. But what is wrong with a dream for the future? So a very brief resume of the day.

Trench 1 was very nearly completely excavated, with more Roman pot appearing. Ralph dug a small circular feature in the ditch, which was where someone threw the remains of their Roman BBQ takeaway. Pot and burnt flint half a McDonalds burger and a well preserved can of Coca Cola were the only finds! Well maybe not the burger and the coke. In trench 2 the two sections through the huge, and I mean HUGE, extraction pit were finished. They show two separate cuts, where the Romano British were digging out the clay to make their pots. Permission was granted for the extraction pot team to find the rest of their pot in extraction pit 3. And after several barrow loads a piece of the same pot appeared. Very careful removal involving a shovel, lifted the remains, and Gemma was asked to excavate the soil block. Only two more sherds were found, but we have two more sherds to add to the half pot retrieved last Friday.

Dr John Davies visited again today, along with Chris Rudd and Elizabeth Cottam who are coin specialists. They are all so impressed with the fact that we have a huge area to dig, revealing the historic landscape of Woodgate. Martin, Dan, John Davies and many other archaeological experts keep telling us that the fact we can dig the whole site is such a rarity, and is so very important in understanding how people lived through the ages. Most archaeological digs are confined to areas for building, with the associated angry developer wanting digging to finish ASAP. We have the luxury of taking our time, and revealing the way our predecessors lived over the last few thousand years.

Thank you to everyone who has helped today in any way today. And thank you to everyone involved in ARP for continuing to believe in the mad idea to dig holes! Please sleep well and see you all tomorrow for a final clean up and a trench side talk by Martin at about 2pm. Peter.

Wednesday 18th August So lovely to have Alice as our leader today. It was great to see you back with us taking the leading roll, having been a volunteer in our first few years. And a bit of a shock for Frances who had no idea her daughter was coming!! A secret well kept. So a big thank you Alice for helping us on our journey today, and it is wonderful to think that as an ARP volunteer a few years ago, you are now a professional archaeologist. Brilliant. So on to archaeology and trench 1.

Little more to report on yesterday. Colin and Donna were recording and drawing the last sections, before Martin has been taking final photos of each section. The digging of the remainder of the ditch has begun, with soil samples being taken for testing. We hope to be able to do the sieving ourselves. We are looking into buying or making the equipment, and then our volunteers can be taught how to take the samples for final analysis with a specialist. There is one more area of burning in the ditch which needs to be excavated tomorrow.

Moving on to the very busy trench 2, where we have 4 extraction pits, I think! The thought is they were clay pits dug for making the pottery to be fired in our kilns. There are now two sections being dug through the enormous feature in the west arm of the trench. Finds are few and far between but are nearly all small Roman pottery sherds. Frances, Gemma, Colin, Olivia and Zanna have been drawing and recording the features in trench 2, so for the first time since we began ARP, we are up to date with recording. Just showing how far we have progressed over the last 6 years. Well done to you all.

At the western end of trench 2 the ditch is still being excavated and as always a few more small sherds of Roman pot being found. The double ditch in the centre of the main arm of trench 2 is as we now know a Roman ditch with pottery in it, alongside a Victorian ditch with pottery in it. Alice Leftley pointed out that the Victorian ditch was probably dug mechanically. Using two traction engines with a cable attached between them, dragging a bucket of some sort to dig the ditch. The edge of the ditch is so perfectly straight and uniform, it could not have been hand dug. I wish I could find records in the house to show this happened. Perhaps I will… there are many estate records still to be looked at.

So again a huge thank you to everyone who has come along and braved the drizzle today. Thank you to Alice and Martin from Britannia. And thank you to the organisers, you do so much behind the scenes to make this work. I am forever in your debt. See you again tomorrow. Peter

Tuesday 17th August Damp! But as always the happy band of volunteers carry on regardless. You are all wonderful…..thank you. My morning was spent delivering plants and gardening goods around Norfolk. Came back, had lunch and things dried out. I was the lucky one!! Sable had stitches removed last evening, so she is a much happier girl today. Volunteers devised a way of collecting rain water from the marquee roof, to use for finds washing. Please see in the photos!!

So on to archaeology. I know we have not been blessed with finds this year, but that is the nature of evaluation trenches. What we have found are loads of features helping us to learn more about the historical landscape at Woodgate. As always the vast majority are Roman, but then we find the Victorian ditch cutting the Roman one. The extraction pits are new this year for Woodgate. So we now know where they were getting their clay from to make their pots.

Trench 1 is now completely dug. We have to finish recording, clean back and then the final photos. After that we can dig the remaining sections to hopefully find more dating evidence. In trench 2 at the eastern end yet another extraction pit was discovered. Gemma, Henry and Olivia excavated this with mattock and shovels. The sieved soil recovered one lovely flint blade and a small sherd of Roman pot. Sheila and Diana were taking environmental samples from the test pits next to the fire pit. These will be examined by a specialist to look for seeds and any small animal remains to give us an idea of the flora and fauna in the area 2000 years ago. Frances has been recording the parallel ditches with help from Gemma, Henry and Olivia.

The huge extraction pit in the western arm of trench 2 seems to have two different fills. The western most has far more finds in it, mostly very small sherds of Roman pot, found by sieving the sticky clay. Not an easy task!! Well done sievers. The eastern end of the pit has a far higher clay content and is almost impossible to sieve as the grids become blocked. The attached photos also show a lovely piece of iron slag, now washed and cleaned. Where is the bloomery?? Thank you as always for braving the elements. We have found so much more to add to the historic landscape of Woodgate and we know where to target excavation trenches in the future. See you all tomorrow. Peter

Monday 16th August Our second week has begun, with a few showers this morning, but not enough to deter the digging spirit. Henry spent the day gradually revealing the pot from the soil block lifted on Friday from the clay extraction pit in trench 2. About half of a pot was revealed, mostly in one piece, with three broken sherds. Where is the other half? As the pot was found very close to the section wall the chances are the rest of it is in the next section. So we will plead with Martin to let Henry dig the next section to find the remainder of his pot. Once photos and drawings have been taken…. Obviously!!

Donna was still digging her possible fire pit in trench 2, going deeper and deeper, perhaps it’s a post hole instead. Gemma dug a circular feature in trench 2 which turned out to be quite shallow. Not much in the way of dating evidence unfortunately. Work has also begun on the huge pit in the western arm of trench 2. I say huge as it is 5 metres in diameter. Another clay extraction pit we think, so maybe some more pots we hope. The large ditch at the western most part of trench 2 has started to be dug. Some lovely bits of pot coming out, mostly Roman but also a lovely piece of iron age. Well done Roger for finding that. Made Martin’s day as he loves the iron age!

Sieving continued and loads more small pieces of pottery appearing. One lovely piece of Nene valley ware. Thank you sievers, there is so much to find and I know it’s hard work. All the work in trench 1 was at the southern end, investigating the two ditches, the Roman one running North -South and the Victorian one running East-West. There were also two other features one quite shallow and the other still going down. Some Roman pot was found in both.

A special mention to the finds tent cleaners and sorters. Thank you for continuing with this very important work, making sure every single find is washed, correctly bagged and tagged. Thank you Jan, Maggie and Iona for running the show. I nearly forgot to mention that the Iron Age maybe Saxon pot found in the first extraction pit was in fact…….Roman!! Martin sent it to the pottery expert Andy, and yes it was Roman after all. Actually a good thing, as any other date would have been awkward to explain!

Just Aylsham magazine editor was here today. Alasdair spent about an hour listening to me running on about holes in the ground!! He did ask me why we do it. And my response was simply…. Look at these wonderful people enjoying a day in a field discovering the history of Woodgate. He really understood the wonderful camaraderie and buzz that you all give off. The peaceful setting, everyone taking part, the ceaseless chatter of friends and the enthusiasm you all give to digging holes and sieving soil. Which leads me on to say thank you to all of you, for making this happen. I feel so lucky to have this history beneath my feet and even more lucky to have so many lovely people here to investigate it and share it with. And so it is time for me to stop rabbiting on, and can’t wait to see you all tomorrow. So much to do and only four days to do it. Thank you all. Peter.