The final entry

Welcome to the final instalment of this year’s blog. Sorry for the delay, caused by the blogmeister’s urgent need to wash clothes and gratuitously enjoy a supply of electricity. The trenches are now backfilled (thanks to Dave B and Martin C for driving the dumpers) and we are all off site. It is possible that due to last minute torrential rain the toilets and containers are still on site, as when last heard of the chaps from A Plant got stuck when trying to lift them off. We’ll see if they are still there next year.

It was a good season with good finds and lots of lovely people. Final visitor count was something over 5100 over the three weeks and the enthusiasm and interest of people in what we were doing really made a difference. Even on the rainiest days, people turned up bringing good cheer and occasional cake.

So what did we find in the end? The pre-Roman period remained elusive, although the legendary post-holes in the lowest part of the sequence in Trench 1 could hint at earlier activity, although it’s not impossible that they were cut from a higher level and we didn’t see them. Certainly the oyster shell that was the sole find could suggest that this was the case, as consumption of oysters seems to be very much something that came in with the Romans.

The street that we excavated was built straight onto a grey sand layer immediately above the natural. This contained some nice Mesolithic flint but nothing later and it seems clear that it had no Iron Age ancestor. The earliest of the cobbled surfaces next to the street contained what looked to the untutored eye like a late 1st century AD assemblage of Samian pot (shiny red stuff), although it will need Gwladys’ eye to narrow this down. This surface too was built directly onto the same grey sand level (which also Donald Atkinson described in his reports of the 1929-35 excavations). Safe to say that the Iron Age wasn’t in Trench 2, as although we only got to the natural in three places there was almost no residual material in the upper levels (i.e. bits of material from earlier periods that get churned up by later activity).

The early town doesn’t seem to have filled the street grid by any means. Trench 1 showed that much of the early area within the street grid was probably used for cultivation or grazing. In the church trench that reached natural, we found no Roman features at all (remembering also that the 2009 church trench found primarily late Roman features rather than early Roman features). In Trench 2, the area next to the road was filled by a succession of rammed gravel surfaces, which seem to denote a public area of some kind.

We have some hints of a hiatus in occupation around the middle of the 2nd century AD. This may turn out to be nonsense, but in the context of a blog we reserve the right to float slightly random ideas and retract them at a later stage. But two of the layers of cobbles are separated by a thick layer of grey-green silt that also runs over part of the road, which may indicate a phase of disuse. This is then followed by the digging of the famous ritual pits (see previous entries) dating to the later 2nd and early 3rd centuries. Despite the director’s hunger for media fame (meaning he is keen on ritual pits), there are quite good parallels for the digging of symbolic pits and the putting in of symbolic stuff elsewhere in Roman Britain. Indeed it seems to be a continuation of pre-Roman practices. We now need to get back to the Atkinson material and reconstruct the contents of the pits that he dug (hard but not impossible) to see if they look similar.

The town seems to be revitalised in the late Roman period (perhaps following construction of the walls). There was a huge quantity of late Roman material in both trenches (also reflecting that found in the 2009 church trenches), suggesting intensive activity in the later 3rd and 4th centuries. It’s interesting also to note that Atkinson dated the rebuilding of the forum to the start of the 4th century, suggesting that the quantity of rubbish that we found might have been part of a more general civic revival. You have to be a bit careful with this sort of thing as the liberal spreading around of huge quantities of rubbish could equally be interpreted as a breakdown of civic life and thus a decline in civic life. You pays yer money …etc

What happens at the end of the Roman period? Well, it’s tricky. We found no post-Roman material at all apart from a single sherd of pot. We know that there is early Saxon occupation somewhere (based on the nearby cemeteries), but like the Iron Age, it wasn’t in our trenches. The church evidence does seem to suggest a late Saxon church on the site, but we need to look at that a bit more. We’ll come back to you on that.

So that’s the story at the moment. It will probably change when we’ve had a chance to really look at the material. But it was a great season and will really change how we see the Roman town (once we’ve had the chance to think about it a bit).

The roll call of people who made this season possible is a long one, and at the risk of going all Oscar acceptance (peels small onion) I’ll attempt to name them. If you get left out, though, just let me know, and with the miracle of blog technology we can simply insert your name in a seamless fashion as if we’d never left it out in the first place.

First, the season could not have taken place without the permission and goodwill of the Norfolk Archaeological Trust who own the site of the Roman town. The season was funded by the British Academy and the South Norfolk Alliance as well as contributions from the participants themselves. The containers, fencing, tools and toilets were supplied by May Gurney and A-Plant (whose logoed wheel barrows were thus placed in every Time Team camera shot). Chris Skinner supplied us with water and the loan of his cherry picker, and Fred Marsham painted the streets on the field using the Norwich High School for Girls line marking machine.

The supervisory team was comprised Giles Emery, Mick Boyle, Francesca Boghi, Sarah Bates, Jon Cousins, Heather Wallis, John Percival and Becky Pressler. Alice Lyons (pottery), Gwladys Monteil (Samian) and Richard Easton (faunal remains) also contributed their knowledge on site and ran training sessions for team workers. Dave Bescoby was responsible for getting the trenches in the right place and other scientific wizardry.

Our biggest debt is to all our volunteers, both on the excavation and in the marquee, and particularly to Hazel and Dave Leese who every day for four weeks started work before anyone else arrived and finished after they had all left. The success of the season owes everything to them. See you next year.

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Day 26 (the last day plus 1)

Although we’ve officially finished, we’re actually carrying on for a bit, on the grounds that we haven’t quite finished at all. There is a lot of drawing and a little bit of digging to do. Ian continues to dig bodies in the graveyard, Rhiane continues in her own personal corner, Martin digs some post-holes, and Wendy draws a million stones. Nevilla turns up too, for a cameo section drawing appearance from Albania.

Rhiane’s dedication pays off and she strikes gold on the datable pottery front, with a respectable collection of Samian (the nice datable Gallic shiny red pottery) from the very earliest layer of courtyard surface. She gets a bit with a maker’s stamp and a bit with a bare chested spearman (Dragendorff 37 again Samian fans). Gwladys the Samian sorceress will be able to tell us who made them, the day of the week he did it and whether it was raining. We’ve decided that this is probably a public area rather than just a courtyard (on the grounds that it’s quite nice and jolly big). Based on a saloon bar knowledge of Samian this suggests that these surfaces start in the late 1st century (slightly later than the town is thought to have been laid out) although we reserve the right to change this opinion once Gwladys has told us we are completely wrong.

The post-holes of Boudica are well and truly present in Trench 1. They are indeed the earliest thing present and it’s unfortunate that they didn’t show up a couple of days earlier, as it would have formed a more satisfactory end for Time Team, as Tony Robinson walked into the sunset with an absence of pre Roman features two days previously. However, hats off to Time Team, as a realistic reflection of the normal archaeological process in which the truth is simply the most recent opinion. Interpretations change from day to day and season to season, and the cut-off point at which interpretation is presented is always arbitrary.

The marquee comes down with a remarkable lack of comedy. Nothing blows away or explodes, so in terms of entertainment the whole exercise must be counted as a failure. However, if anyone is short on amusement and would like to see some utter rubbish associated with Boudica, may we suggest that they venture no further than the Iceni Mineral Water website. Great Britain, England, and the Iceni are all seamlessly linked in a smorgasbord of vaguely jingoistic sentiment. Poor old Prasutagus doesn’t get a look in.

Incidentally, we neglected to mention that the picture of Jon C on the previous entry bears an uncanny resemblance to the iconic image of the Clash’s Paul Simenon on the cover of London Calling (see below). Has any other reader spotted a resemblance between an archaeologist and a seminal 1970s musician? If so, please respond in the comments section below.

'London calling, yes I was there too...'

'...and you know what they said, some of it was true'.

Rhiane basks in the glory of dating the entire sequence from Trench 2.

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Day 25

It’s the last official day of the dig, although there will be some fiddling about for a couple of days (so no escaping the blog), particularly up at the church where an unfortunate number of bodies are appearing. As we are digging in a graveyard this should perhaps be less of a surprise than it is, but they are slightly lower than we expected. Hopefully most of them will be able to stay where they are, but we need to be sure that they won’t be affected by the foundations of the new building.

Elsewhere it’s a race to the finish with Trench 1 removing the last layer to reveal the natural sand. And guess what. It has post-holes cut into it. Probably. Kathryn S thinks we’re making it up and our post-holes wouldn’t stand up in court (and as a lawyer she should know), but archaeologists are hard wired to preface all nouns with the adjectives “possible” or “probable” (as in “probable post-hole”, “possible chariot burial” or “probable cake”) so we can live with this degree of uncertainty. Hopefully we will be able to ring Time Team and tell them that they’ll have to reshoot the ending of the film as torcs and Iceni coins come pouring out of our three possible post-holes, but it doesn’t seem terribly likely.

In Trench 2, the bottom of the road is finally reached and there is square root of nothing at all in terms of dating evidence. There is also no evidence of an early track-way and as we are pretty much bang in the middle of the road, the idea that the diagonal road followed an earlier Iron Age route can be fairly conclusively laid to rest. So the date of the town’s foundation remains enigmatic. Although we have our nice pit of AD 60-70 in Trench 1, there is no evidence that the streets were laid out at this time and indeed most of the evidence still suggests that this took place slightly later. It’s all going to need some pondering. Rhiane continues her quest for the record of the greatest number of gravel surfaces to be planned and removed by a single person. She has now gone through at least 6 phases of courtyard and has come to a final surface. Giles has assured her that this will be the last one, and that beneath this final layer of cobbles lie ultimate truth and knowledge. She believes him and agrees to come in tomorrow and hack them off.

A Boudica moment occurs in the afternoon when a coach and horses suddenly gallop into the town at a fairish lick. The Boudica image is dispelled when the driver (for want of a more equestrian term) turns out to be a posh looking bloke in a flat cap, rather than a hennaed warrior queen but you can’t have everything. The aforementioned warrior queen (who looked a bit like Carol Decker from forgotten 80s soft rockers T Pau according to the pictures in John Davies’ new book) will remain undiscovered for another year unless she’s wedged into a very small post-hole. The hypothesis has been tested and found wanting. But the cake was nice.

Boudica may have been more masculine than Tacitus suggested...

John's heroic race to the finish.

Izzycam!

The Director makes a last ditch attempt to locate the Iron Age.

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Day 24

It’s Time Team’s last day on site. Will we find the Iron Age, or can the director find a blinding excuse as to why we haven’t? The day starts badly with pouring rain, which is not a good result on the penultimate day. Chris Skinner arrives with his cherry picker, which turns out to be a cunning device involving a box mounted on a bailing fork. It’s just the job for taking pictures and has the added advantage of looking like a comedy weight that is about to fall on Wiley Coyote. It only needs “10 tons” written on the side to complete the picture. Chris also tells us that the rain will ease off later in the morning and we believe him as he’s a farmer so will know about weather and stuff.

The team wait in the tea tent sunk in gloom. Thankfully a well-known comic actor arrives in the form of Tony Robinson, but rather than come into the tent and say “I have a cunning plan” or similar to lift our spirits, he remains ensconced in his big blingy Range Rover.

The rain eases and the team gingerly step out into the drizzle, as we need to crack on. There are still large pots to come out and a road surface to remove in Trench 2. The church trench, who’ve kept themselves to themselves since the discovery of the south aisle (only emerging periodically for supplies of biscuits) have spoiled the party by finding a load of bodies rather late in the day. Trench 1, meanwhile, only has to remove some bits of features and a layer of dirty sand and they’ve won the race to get to the bottom.

Time Team emerge from their motorcade and get set up. They have a super whizzy boom thing that allows them to do sort of sweeping aerial shots. There is a continuity issue from the first week, so the director has to dig out the clothes he was wearing then, which have been mouldering in a bag in his tent ever since.

Tim from the Castle Museum arrives with the famous curse tablet, a splendid thing from the River Tas, which tells how a certain Nase has had some items stolen including a pair of leggings. In return for Neptune’s help in securing the culprit’s blood, Nase offers to give Neptune the leggings. What a bargain for an all powerful ocean deity that was. Unfortunately the outcome is not recorded. Tim won’t let the curse tablet out to play in the rain (as it’s made of unstable lead) so the scene has to be filmed in the car.

At last the filming draws to a close and Tony Robinson walks into the sunset (or towards where it might have been on a clear day) followed only by the mighty boom. The Iceni have not been found, but we did have nice pots and ritual pits so it’s not all bad.

Heather rides the comedy 'cherry picker'.

The director snaps a cheeky shot in the rain.

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Day 23

Apologies for another blog delay. Blame O2 and their rubbish dongle. I may soon follow the advice of Dave Griffiths (aka Steve Jobs’ number 1 salesman) and buy an i-phone. Top marks to Caistor Hall Hotel and their ever reliable supply of electricity, however, which has once again saved the day.

Anyway on the archaeology front there is more serious ceramic bling from the pit in the road trench. There’s glass, Samian and all sorts, although if you’re thinking of popping down and hoiking it out of the pit don’t bother, because we’ve taken it out already. It’s a very deep pit though and still survives as a sort of nighthawk trap. Karen and Susanna from Time Team are very excited as the potential ritual aspects of it as it may yet save their film from the anti-climax of not finding the Iron Age.

They should, however, be excited at our lovely roads, which have resolved themselves thanks to sterling work from Giles and Mick and the Trench 2 crew. The road has a lovely camber and the only downside is that it’s made of gravel that is rammed to a hardness that would survive a nuclear attack. David C. bashes away manfully with a pick-axe striking sparks that threaten to ignite his colleagues. We would again make it clear that safety goggles were offered to all involved but they chose to decline the safety equipment offered. This may not be sufficient defense in the event of loss of eyes or other significant chafing resulting from the hacking of Roman roads but it seems wise to get it on record. The director has been drawing gravel since sun-up in order that the rest of the team can carry on bashing gravel and is heartedly sick of drawing rocks.

Meanwhile down in Trench 1, they are pretty much at the bottom. There is some dirty orange sand that is almost the natural subsoil and there are some features cut into it that aren’t Iron Age. They have some Samian, however, of AD60-70 ish, which is about the same date as Boudica. More or less.

Cake news: Sue H brings the cake to end all cakes (picture forthcoming). Sue from Brampton brings a cake of such splendour that Hazel has temporarily hidden it. And Andy’s mum brings some chocolate brownies including some of vegan persuasion so that Jon C (who is against persecution of eggs) can eat them. She also takes Andy to a hotel so he can have a bath. So it’s thanks all round to Andy’s mum.

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Day 22

Big day in the world of strange ritual pits. Andy and Keith’s journey to the centre of the earth in Trench 2 culminates in the discovery of a complete mortarium (big mixing/grinding bowl of a type discussed in a previous entry). This is a lovely thing as you never get them complete because even the crazy people who lived in the Olden Days didn’t usually throw away complete vessels. Unless they lived at Caistor, in which case they thought nothing of digging a great big pit, putting some pots in, and filling it up with sand. Why? Who knows? Certainly not the director, who is reduced to using the word “ritual”, the last refuge of archaeologists who can’t think of another explanation. He says it on camera too, ensuring the eternal ridicule of his peers.

Karen and Susanna from Time Team are pleased because it makes up for the total absence of the Iron Age. You could probably dig two trenches in any field in Norfolk and find more Iron Age stuff than we have. However, now we have ritual weirdness, which is good and will make for better telly than failure to find Boudica. It may even be better than Chris Skinner’s horse, filmed the previous day. The ritual weirdness case rests on having two upturned complete Samian cups (Dragendorff form 33 for all you Samian fans) in adjacent pits, together with parts of wild animals (such as boar). The mortarium pit also contains red deer. One of the Samian pits also contains the jaw of a teeny dog (a sort of Romano-British Chihuahua equivalent) which has had the canines filed down. Weird or what?   The fact that these pits are adjacent to the road running between the two temple complexes suggests they are symbolic in some way. If anyone has a better suggestion, all comments gratefully accepted, unless you believe in leylines and suchlike, in which case it’s best to keep your thoughts a secret.

Trench 1 are winning at the moment because they are almost at the bottom. There are a couple of features cut into the lowest level. Could they be Iron Age? Probably not. Wait for tomorrow’s exciting installment etc.

Today’s photographs, as with many on the blog, come courtesy of Chrissy, who remembers to take interesting shots of people, rather than boring ones of soil and red and white poles.

Giles draws the collection of 'ritually' deposited pots.

Mick takes an aerial shot of Trench 2.

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Day 21

It’s Monday and we hear dire reports of forthcoming bad weather and the like. We soldier on undaunted, however, fortified only by cake and tea. Dave B is feeling slightly overcaked but rallies to manage a couple of slices of the rather splendid apple cake provided by Karen from Time Team. After all, reasoned Dr Bescoby, the apple content of said cake must constitute one of the recommended five daily portions of fruit, so to refuse would be doing his body a disservice.

In trench 2 (the one with the road) we start removing the second layer of the road and it has to be said that those Romans/Iceni/individuals engaged in constructing complex discrepant identities had the road building thing pretty much down to a fine art. Picks and mattocks fair bounce off the road surface, while chips of gravel fly off in all directions. Safety goggles WERE offered at this point and thus any subsequent eye damage resulting from flying bits of Roman road is absolutely the responsibility of the individuals involved and in no way the fault of the Caistor Project.

There is a lot of complex archaeology emerging in trench 2, which increases the anxiety of Karen and Susanna who see the Iron Age evaporating like Brigadoon in the sunshine. It’s a world of pits that are descending into the earth, with not a hint of natural in sight. They console themselves by going off to film Chris Skinner’s horse, as Ofcom regulations require that any television mention of the Iceni is accompanied by some footage of a galloping steed.

Trench 1, by contrast, is proceeding smoothly as a model of an excavation proceeding smoothly towards its goal of natural sand and gravel, despite its early faux pas of producing a Roman, rather than Iron Age, post-built structure. Martin C. produces a sherd of what he confidently proclaims to be pornographic Samian, although the figure in question seems to be a rather androgynous Hercules whose nether regions are modelled in the ambiguous style familiar to anyone who ever owned an Action Man.

Thankfully our rescue parcel of Roman product arrives, courtesy of the nice Mandy at Westair (purveyors of historically themed souvenirs to the gentry) and thus the good citizens of Norfolk will no longer be deprived of the right to own a Veni Vidi Vici pencil.

Apologies for the picture free post, but this is uploaded from site via the miracle of a broadband(ish) dongle, which might expire with pictures. By way of compensation, we’ll try and add some video tomorrow.

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