of the 2005 Excavation

by Jeremy Cooper

(...based on the Weblog sent to the Channel 4 Time Team Big Roman Dig)

The views expressed are Jeremy's own and the information is his own understanding - he has been known to get things wrong!


Day 6 of 20: Monday 4th July

Time Team volunteers: Joanna, Jade, Miles, Chris

We had 40 people on site for most of today, including 4 volunteers who reached us through the Big Roman Dig web site. The cooler weather was easier to work in, and the sun broke through pleasingly from time to time.

There were four areas of digging:

Three of the digging areas (see below for fourth)

Margaret and Ruth explored the southern edge of the north wall of the west wing (dizzy yet?) to see if there was any evidence of a post-roman grubenhaus (in plain English, a sunken-floored building) cut into the floor of the roman wing: there are very clear (even to me!) soil colour changes in the surface of the inside of the wing which suggest some major earth moving.

Hunting the grubenhaus - "Beware the Grubenhouse my son..."

Next door to them another team explored the area in front of the villa porch. We know the villa had quite a fancy front entrance, with columns and an architrave (see here), but we don't know whether this was a facade, flush with the front wall of the corridor, or a grander extended porch. If it was the latter, we may find evidence of the columns which would have held up the roof of the porch extension.

Hunting the extended porch

The fourth digging area - officially the "Lower Slope"

Down at the eastern edge they carried on digging down toward what we expect to be a continuation of the demolition layer covering the courtyard. A couple more coins were found. Towards the end of the afternoon, a mole joined in - a grubenhaus expert if ever there was one!

Diggers on the eastern edge (mole hidden from view behind human competitors)

Over in the roundhouse (where the Time Team volunteers are working under the supervision of flowered-hat Barbara) they have found a lot more foundation - and heavy duty foundation it is too. A complicating factor is that the wall uncovered today includes a large piece of very roman looking concrete! Several pieces of decorated pottery have come up and part of the base of a mortarium.

The round house wall (spot the concrete)

Only one more day until The Big Roman Dig arrives, and our site director is getting in form so he can run about on cue and not get breathless.

Jeremy Cooper

PS Here's a photo of the tesserae from the border of the corridor mosaic (see Day 5).

Day 7 of 20: Tuesday 5th July

Arty shot showing looming rain clouds to the West

A windy, cold and wet day, a great start for more new volunteers! Perfect for digging, so rather than spoil ourselves, we went home early. It's hard but...

Rainware fashion display

No great dignostic progress today, although work continued in all areas.

Labelling building material fragments in the finds area

The only small finds were one small piece of iron and two small pieces of glass.

But we had visitors - including a group on a visit organised by NUT Countryside Magazine. They braved the wind and rain and did the full tour.

Steve Young, our site director, showed the Dr. Ken Dark and Dr. Petra Dark of the University of Reading round the site and showed them some of our finds. I think it is safe to say that they were impressed with our work and found lots to interest them. In particular there seems to be a concensus growing that one of our pieces of wood from the bath house is indeed the remains of a writing tablet! We found a stylus some years ago, so it seems even more likely that there was at least one literate person living at the Whitehall villa.

The local forecast for tomorrow predicts a dry if windy day, and light rain on Thursday. Watch the BRD tomorrow and Thursday to see for yourselves!

There will be no blog until Friday as I'm going to busy into the evenings! Friday's blog will reveal all about the BRD visit and about progress on the site.

Jeremy Cooper

Days 8 and 9 of 20: Wednesday 6th & Thursday 7th July

The circus comes to town!

One minute it's a peaceful, bucolic retreat from the madness of the modern world - the next it's been transformed into a buzzing satellite of the Dinnington planet as 30 plus TV professionals and their convey of vehicles and facilities establish themselves at the top of the hill. The sheer professionalism of Kelly Ann and the technical crew was much admired as they quietly turned the site in to a large outdoor TV studio. Calm competence reigned.

The loos are on the left - piped music and all!

The production team also approached the job with a quiet but firm resolve. It was all far removed from the frenetic hype that seems to the presentational style of BRD: I personally wish that the people who set the style for BRD would learn two things - that being excited is not the same thing as being exciting, and that more haste usually means less speed - it also means falling over rather too often!

But the style-setters are at Dinnington, and down at Whitehall the Producer Emily (with Seb assisting), director Duncan and archaeologist presenters Neil and Brigid were great at understanding and addressing our concerns that justice should be done to the story of our site and project. After frank and friendly discussions over food in the mess tent, they did us proud.

Ella Adams (the farmer's daughter) sports her Roman hair do:
the pins are replicas made by Martin Weaver, based our own finds - see here

The panel of experts called in to participate made me feel as though I was at a distinguished archaeological conference. Our thanks go to Jennifer Price (glass), Lindsay Allason-Jones (jewellery and hair), and Naomi Sykes (bones) for their contributions and for taking an interest way beyond the call of BRD duty. We were sorry Paul Middleton didn't get a chance to talk about our plaster - but he looked as though he enjoyed his Thursday afternoon of entirely voluntary service as a digger on the lower slope.

The Wednesday contribution from Whitehall talked to some diggers and looked at the roundhouse - thanks to Brigid for mentioning Barbara and her team, many of them Time Team volunteers. However, they did not take kindly to being referred to by Dan as "...that lot over there..."! Some of those new volunteers have already gained considerable skills, are staying on for Friday or are committed to joining us again in the future. That alone is an enormous benefit to us of our involvement with BRD.

Mike editing in the portacabin

Thursday began with the news of the London bombings. For a while it was possible that BRD would be bumped off the air for an extended C4 News. On site, with (ironically) no TV, we seemed strangely detached from the national tragedy - most of us saw no images to associate with the events until well into the evening. It made me think about the impact of wider events on the Whitehall romano-british community, with no newspapers, telephones, radios or TVs to bring the wider world directly into their eyes and ears.

For us, one direct effect of the bombings was that Dan Rivers excused himself to pursue his calling as an ITN crime reporter. Carenza was called in to replace Dan and we were delighted, with no disrespect to Neil and Brigid, to have one of the Time Team stars on site. She couldn't get to us before 4pm, so she had to absorb an enormous amount of information before pre-recording the "live" walkabout sequence with Neil. Obviously it's wise to pre-record and edit a complex sequence like that, but after a few rehearsals, the final walk was in any case shot pretty well in one take, with a minimum of editing needed to cut in close-ups. Most impressive! To keep it to length, the narrative was simplified, and you didn't get to see some of the earlier bits and pieces associated with the period of the roundhouse: you also had to avoid blinking not to miss the later finds assembled in the villa. The genuinely live chats with Brigid, Neil and Steve on the lower slope were rehearsed just before transmission, when site director Steve was introduced to Carenza for the first time. Steve's comment about the professionalism of the Whitehall volunteers, and Neil's comments about the quality of the dig and of the project were much appreciated by all.

And Brigid wore our T-shirt. Need any more be said!

On the graphics side of things - the virtual reproduction of the Gladiator beaker was magnificent and a revelation to us all - thanks Jason! It's on our website (see below). (By the way, Dan gave the impression that we found the gladiator glass while checking through the spoil to make sure we hadn't missed anything - this was a misunderstanding: the glass was found while painstakingly sieving the several dustbin loads of finds-rich wet soil recovered from the sealed context in room 3B of the villa). The virtual villa was a great bit of graphic design, but unfortunately lacked the defining corridor in the exploded view.

Still sieving (we have a flotation tank too!)

Now about the mole! I managed to video it Springwatch style, tunneling and cutely emerging from the site on Tuesday evening - but we couldn't get he 15" sequence off my mid-range DV camera into the editor's computer: the right lead was not on board as it was not usually needed. Never mind! It will be in my own video update of the dig. On Thursday the mole was still conducting its own excavation of sensitive areas of the lower slope, and not clearing away its loose - a serious breech of digging rules! We had already destroyed many of it runs, so an hour or so before transmission, the diggers decided to tempt it out with a couple of worms and remove it to a place of safety. In the process Moley became a TV star! In true showbiz style he had soil to hide in and worms to eat throughout his engagement. Shortly after his or her starring appearance, Moley was introduced to desirable new premises in the copse. My bet is we'll see new molehills on the lower slope before long!

At the end of the day we are very happy with the way our site and project were presented and are of course very grateful for the exposure the BRD had given us. Apart from anything else, hits on our web site this week have been almost ten times more than usual. The experience has been an enormous morale booster, and a reminder of just what an interesting site we are working on. However we must confess to a nagging feeling - which is in no way a criticism of BRD - that now the circus has moved on we can get back to the "real work"!

Jeremy Cooper

Day 10 of 20: Friday 8th July

Whitehall gets a head!

On the last day of digging in 2003, a human skeleton was found underneath the courtyard of Whitehall villa. This year Dr Martin Weaver, our multi-talented volunteer, decided to learn the art of facial re-construction and then spent three weeks producing a stunning model of the skeleton's head. Time Team had planned to reveal the head to the world, including the Whitehall diggers, on Thursday - but the events in London quite properly ruled out any BRD content concerning death or remains.

So we decided to have our own private ceremony today, and during morning break Martin literally unveiled his creation. The reaction of the assembled diggers was an audible dropping of jaws. Here was the face of someone who was at Whitehall during the 2nd century AD. He was about 45 years old and just above average height at 6 feet; his head shape suggests he was of local ancestry rather than a mediterranean incomer; his backbone showed signs of hard labour, but his teeth suggested a healthy diet; overall he was in good health. But he landed in his grave face down, his legs twisted behind him with his feet uppermost - no ceremonial involved there! We have found nothing to suggest how or why he died - a murder victim, or an executed criminal? Possibly, but we'll never know. It was agreed that the head is as convincing as any seen on "Meet the Ancestors".

Look HERE for more about the burial and full frontal photos of the face.

Otherwise the day was a bit of a day-after kind of day, not just for Steve and Nick who enjoyed the generous wrap-party hospitality of the BRD production team at their hotel. But much good work was done, as Steve demonstrated during the end of week site tour.

Barbara explicating the roundhouse - that's my girl!

The probable size of the roundhouse wall has been calculated and there are soil colour indications in the predicted wall positions: there are outcrops of limestone that may have been the floor surface: there are possible remains of a burnt out post hole and a possible post pad in the right places. But it is nevertheless a complex and enigmatic area complicated by later ridge and furrow cultivation and our own previous excavations.

Steve points while Martin folds his arms - interesting body language there!
The debate continues.

On the lower slope there was much debate around whether the rubble surface was a fallen building or just a rubbish tip. Undoubtedly the debate will continue for some time yet with the pattern of drains (including Brigid's post-roman drain) and perceived alignments offering inconclusive evidence. The debate will continue for a good while yet!

Weekend next, and a well deserved rest. Though I have got 25 more coins from another local site to photograph...

Thanks for reading about us. I'm not sure how much longer the BRD weblog will continue, but my daily updates will anyway run here to the end of the dig.

Jeremy Cooper

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