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.