Days 19 & 20

Due to one thing and another the weekend has faded into a blur so I’m going to deal with both days together. Sue from Brampton’s cake was a big fat chocolate cake with a surprise layer of marmalade. It has to be said that an end of day marquee session made some quite considerable inroads into it so there was a large dent in it by the time the rest of the team saw it. Kathryn provided ginger flapjacks, however, so this was a minor inconvenience, while Brenda provided cookies. With the still surviving remains of the Tuesday ladies group cakes (which have been carefully rationed with the fruitcake saved till last on the grounds that it will keep better) a steady diet of cake has been maintained. It’s touch and go as to whether our arteries will hold out until the end of the dig.

The weekend saw a total of 834 visitors to the site. They included John Mitchell from UEA who we confidently expected to make pronouncements on our putative south aisle on the church. “Hmm”, said John. “You want a proper church person on this”. However, he goes away to consider the idea of aisles on late Saxon churches. The general feeling, though, is that aisles would only appear on very posh churches and it seems unlikely that our church is going to fit that bill. John also advises us that we need to date the church. He’s not wrong and fortunately Tony Q finds a large charnel deposit underneath the foundations of said building. This seems to be a deposit of bone that has been displaced by the construction of the early phase. We should be able to get some carbon dates on the bone. Those who don’t get out much may recall that we got a similar deposit from underneath the present church in 2009, which produced a C14 date of AD 890-1020, which suggested that there was an early church on the site.

On Sunday, the director is overcome with a fit of enthusiasm and spends the entire day planning stones on the second road surface down in order that the team can hack it off the following day. This makes a big change from his usual activity of scratching his chin and pointing at stuff (see picture below). Even his son (aged 3) has commented on how little he seems to do, which is surely not a good example to set to such an impressionable young mind.

Meanwhile down in Trench 1 (the one without the road) a nice uniform brown soil has been reached. We are jolly pleased about this because we can bash it off (scientifically of course) to see if we can see any early features below, although William Hill have dramatically lengthened the odds on the Iron Age appearing, following the tragic Romanization of our putative roundhouse. Although a Roman roundhouse is pretty interesting, particularly in the late 2nd century (or thereabouts) when this one seems to be built.

Included here is a picture also of a fragment of a facepot that’s just come up, together with some more complete examples that Sue found on the internet. We just need a whole one now.

The director protests strongly as the 'roundhouse' becomes Roman - Doh!

Our fragment of facepot....

Once a shiny, happy pot like these.

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Day 18

First off, an apology. Professor W. G. Cavanagh (FSA), head of the department of archaeology at the University of Nottingham, has contacted the director to demand why his alternative explanation of the post-holes cut into the road in Trench 2 has not been given due consideration on the blog. On a recent visit to the site, Professor Cavanagh suggested that the large line of pits cut into the road was for a line of posts on which burning Christians could be hoisted as an early form of street lighting. Having given this some thought we now realise that our previous suggestion that the post-holes belonged to a late Roman aisled building paralleled in numerous 3rd- and 4th-century contexts was erroneous and that Professor Cavanagh’s interpretation is in fact likely to be correct. We therefore offer him our full and unreserved apologies.

In the morning we are visited by an unexpectedly large number of children and parents from Education Otherwise, the organisation for home educated children. The director leads a straggly crocodile around the site. “I know a lot about the Romans” he was told by one five-year old, not lacking in self-confidence. “And the Egyptians”, she added. At the end of the tour he is a beaten man. Dave L buries George, a plastic skeleton purchased on Ebay, in the spoil heap so that the children can experience some of the thrills of excavation. At the first sight of plastic bone, however, poor George is ripped unceremoniously from his shallow grave. On the up side, however, the children find a nice piece of Iron Age pot, which the diggers have seemingly missed.

In Trench 1, the round feature seen on the geophysics and previously bigged up as potentially of Iron Age date is revealed to be unequivocally Roman. However, there is a lot of stratigraphy left and so the potential for prehistory remains. In Trench 2, the series of pits noted yesterday reveals some lovely stuff, including a strange deposit including a complete Samian cup (Dragendorff form 33 for you Samian fans), a horn, some scapula (?) and a piece of human skull. It could be a late (2nd century) example of structured deposition or so the director confidently proclaims to Time Team who are filming the removal of the cup. He scores some points, however, by correctly identifying it as a Dragendorff 33, cribbing the information from one of Gwladys the Samian lady’s educational handouts.

Sue from Brampton returns with more cake, made using eggs from her chickens, one of which is called Boudica. It must be an omen.

Dave buries George.

The sorry state of George after excavation by the children from Education Otherwise.

It's a Dragendorff 33 proclaims the Dear Leader.

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Day 17

It’s a Thursday, and a big day as today we start going into the road. We’ve removed all the features cutting into the surface and now we can actually start going into the first layer of surfacing. There is about a metre of successive road surfaces to take off, but we are hoping they can be removed relatively easily enabling us to get down to Boudica’s trackway underneath. Francesca shows the volunteers the fine art of mattocking into rock hard gravel and it lifts off quite easily onto something that is either another surface or the make-up level for the upper level.

Elsewhere in Trench 2 (the one with the road) we are coming down onto a series of complex intercutting pits. This is in some ways the sort of thing that we would expect to see here. Donald Atkinson found a lot of lovely pits at Caistor in the 1929-35 excavations and it seems that in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, the residents of Caistor liked nothing better than going out of a morning and digging a big pit. Why they did this remains a mystery. Traditionally pits have been interpreted as storage or rubbish pits, or storage pits that were then used for rubbish. More recently the pendulum has swung towards seeing pits and their contents in more symbolic terms. Particularly in the Iron Age, people seem to have deliberately included certain things within the fills of pits and it seems that rather than being just rubbish the contents were carefully selected. Archaeologists, who are now aware that everyone knows that the word “ritual” is a euphemism for “can’t think of any other explanation”, have adopted the term “structured deposition” for this sort of behaviour, thus skillfully avoiding having to explain it.

In Trench 1, we have more features appearing, including something that (shock horror) looks remarkably similar to the roundish thing that we saw on the geophysics. For a feature that shows on geophysics to actually be located on the ground would be virtually unprecedented in archaeological history. The Trench 1 features are very difficult to see and don’t appear as tightly packed as those in the road trench, so hopefully we will be able to head downwards fairly rapidly.

In the church trench some other bits of structure appear, as well as an interesting jumble of bones apparently disturbed by the building of the buttress in 1811 (as we now know). There is one skull at present, but a large number of limbs (too many for everyday use).

We have our first day of Gwladys the Samian specialist, who comes in to pronounce on our Samian, which is mostly bits and pieces of 2nd-century stuff turning up in later contexts. She also brings cake. The Iron Age, however, remains conspicuous by its absence.

The road. One layer down, at least four to go.

Heather tells Ian why she is afraid of bananas.

A super cake made by Hazel M. Sadly it disappears in seconds.

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Day 16

A quiet day on site as the Church and Trench 1 are both having a day off. Trench 2 have the place, and the remains of the previous day’s cake, to themselves. The archaeology of Trench 2 is lovely – real textbook stuff, with late post-holes cut into the road, at least 3 phases of road surface, and lots of lovely ruts and gullies in the upper surface. Most excitingly there are early features starting to appear, one of which could be the mysterious round thing of geophysical fame. Certainly if we don’t reveal any more of it to spoil the illusion, we can say that it is the mysterious round thing. Whether it is early or not remains to be seen.

The horse bridle bit is finally removed and disappointingly the other end is not present. It is also very small, so it seems that it belonged to Boudica’s Little Pony, rather than Boudica’s Mighty Warhorse. Richard the Bone Man also appears to start his stint and rubbishes the director’s bone comb making theory, which he cheerfully expounded to Time Team’s cameras the day before.

The director is consoled by a trip in Heather Jewel’s plane, which is a true beast of a thing – a Yak 52 previously used for training Mig pilots. She takes him for spin over the site, then out to Burgh Castle and down the coast to Southwold, finishing with a couple of victory rolls. He is so exhilarated by the latter, that he inadvertently presses the wrong radio button and says something informative like “F**k, yaarrgh” to Norwich air traffic control instead of Heather. Doubly pleased by not being sick, he walks around for the rest of the day with a large and stupid grin on his face.

The “Back to School” promotion is coming on a treat, to the extent that more Roman themed product has had to be ordered as an emergency measure. The Veni Vidi Vici pencils have been a major hit, although the rulers are still a bit of a hard sell. Come on everyone. Buy, buy, buy. Andrew Ray is back from his hospital bed and is exhorting us to greater commercial success so don’t disappoint him.

Heather and her magnificent flying machine.

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Day 15

Apologies for the delay in posting, caused by running out of battery on the lap-top. Big Time Team day today. The helicopter does its flyover about 9.00 am and the team are VERY GOOD and don’t wave, look up or write “Hello Mum” in white flints on the grass. Tony Robinson appears and various random members of the public magically produce Blackadder DVDs for him to sign, while the director continues his desperate quest to carve out an alternative career as a TV archaeologist. A grotty bit of possible Iron Age pot is waved in front of the cameras as definitive possible putative proof that Boudica was here, and everyone is shot troweling the same piece of ground several times. Guy de la Bedoyere also arrives and gives his opinion on the site, although we don’t know what it was because he does it out of earshot of the team and only Tony Robinson and the camera crew are privy to his thoughts.

Alice, our lovely pottery specialist turns up and is seized upon to validate some scruddy bits of pottery that might be Iron Age. She pronounces most of them Roman to the director’s disappointment as he is hoping to wave them at Time Team. There are enough inconclusive sherds present, however, for him to talk hopefully about “background noise” and keep the Iron Age flag flying.

At the church Jenny conclusively provides an absolute date for the construction of the buttressing on the south aisle. She does this not through the application of an exciting new scientific dating technique, but by noticing the date of 1811 carved into the wall, which had eluded John P and his crew the year before. John is slightly exonerated by having dated it archaeologically to a broad period of early 19th century but his powers are clearly on the wane. He retreats for a day to be substituted by Heather who is afraid only of bananas.

The presence of Time Team comes second to a visit by very nice group of ladies who meet to do something interesting on the last Tuesday of every month. They come equipped with their own mugs and a massive teapot, as well as more cake than has ever been assembled on the site before (see below). Their contribution to site cake has been similar to the arrival of Usain Bolt on the scene of international athletics, raising the bar stratospherically in a single cake event. We may have peaked on the cake front.

Our Glorious Leader estimates how much taller he is than Tony Robinson.

Staff adorn themselves with Celtic-style art to woo the Iron Age.

The Tuesday Ladies group significantly raise the cake bar.

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Day 14

It’s Bank Holiday Monday and after a bit of a dreary start, the sun comes out and all is well with the world. The public descend on us in droves with more than 330 visitors recorded as entering the marquee. This means that we sell loads of stuff, with even some of the hard-to-shift rulers leaving the tent. Dave B has the excellent idea of a “Back to School” promotion with all stationery needs fulfilled with Roman-themed product.

In the trenches, we continue on the road with more ruts appearing in the surface. This is all good but is delaying us getting down to prehistory (which is of course there). We’re going down in one area of the trench to give us a bit of a window on what’s going on in the lower reaches of the trench. This was where an auger hole showed a very deep feature with a possible incy wincy piece of prehistoric pot in it. The natural sand is very undulating and it seems increasingly likely that the road was constructed in an earlier hollow-way formed by repeated passage of traffic, which was then formalised in the Roman period. Certainly the lowest road surfaces seem much deeper than the natural sand on the south side of the trench. It’s going to be a nail-biting finish for Karen and Susanna from Time Team, who are nervously waiting to see if their programme is going to have an end. Will Godot come in the form of the Iron Age, or will Karen and Susanna be left as Time Team’s Vladimir and Estragon, perpetually waiting for an end to their torment? Watch this space. Susanna does a star turn on Chris Skinner’s Radio Norfolk show, which you can listen to here.

We start to prepare the lovely kiln in Trench 1 for its untimely destruction in the cause of archaeomagnetic sampling. The principle of this is based on the fact that the earth’s magnetic field changes all the time. When the kiln is fired all the iron particles in the clay of the kiln lining whizz around and align themselves with the earth’s magnetic field as it is at that particular moment in time. So you measure the magnetic orientation of the iron particles in your sample and compare it against the known history of the earth’s magnetic field (which we know over the last 3000-4000 years). The point where they match gives you your date. Easy peasy. The process involves sawing off a chunk of the hearth lining after recording its precise compass orientation. This orientation then has to be recreated under lab conditions, where the magnetic direction of the ancient particles is measured using some techy gizmos. It’s good for the late and post Roman period because the earth’s magnetic field goes mad at this point, producing very recognisable signals. This is handy because the same period is one for which radio carbon dating is often a bit rubbish, for reasons that need not detain us today.

Tomorrow we have Time Team in full effect with Tony Robinson etc. They are starting off with some helicopter shots in which we have been forbidden to wave or look up at the helicopter. So formation mooning is probably out of the question.

Bank Holiday visitors.

Dave B prepares the kiln for archaeomagnetic wizardry.

And have we found the remains of a colour coated jar, similar to the one found at Burgh Castle?

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Day 13

Determined to rise above the ignominy of being overshadowed by a massive goldfish on Saturday, the team set to work again in the hope of pushing back the frontiers of knowledge. We are now through much of the late Roman deposits that have been producing such copious quantities of finds in both trenches and getting towards something a little earlier. Find of the day is probably part of a Romano-British painted flagon identical to one from Burgh Castle and illustrated in glorious colour in John Davies’s Land of Boudica (available from all good bookshops and our marquee as well). Unfortunately we only have a bit with three painted dots and not the elaborate head that forms the stopper of the Burgh Castle flagon.

We also find a whole pot squashed under a rock (in Trench 1), which may (and only may) be post-Roman. Post-Roman material has been surprisingly thin on the ground as far as we can tell at this stage, but we reserve the right to change the story on that. Tons of Roman grey ware coming up, perhaps manufactured at Caistor itself, although Brampton (home of Sue, now revealed as the maker of the mystery ginger cake) holds the record on grey ware production, with evidence of over 100 kilns.

Making a cameo appearance in the church trench, Heather finds some more of the wall of our putative 11th-century church, although she thinks that the soil that the wall is cut into “doesn’t look very old”. As she is a professional archaeologist of many years standing and the favoured project manager/consultant for many a unit, we will bow to her judgement on this, although it’s up to John P. to decide how to use this data in the final report.

Good day for visitors despite the weather, with numbers approaching 250. We’re flogging some stuff, with T-shirts the runaway winner according to the attached sales graph. Roman rulers are a poor seller however, with only 2 shifted. A sales drive may be in order. Some donations in the bucket although we are still open to bribes from Middle Eastern betting syndicates who are organising complex betting scams based on us mentioning cake in the first line of three consecutive paragraphs or similar. It won’t alter the outcome of the excavation, so if you are of a shady persuasion do get in touch. We can then sell our story to the News of the World and double our money.

The weather is rubbish quite honestly. Wind and occasional downpours including hail at one point. The roof blows off the contractors’ portacabin in the next field, although our tents and marquee stay firmly on the ground. But this is hopeless really. Come on Norfolk. Must Try Harder.

Our first week's merchandising sales stats!

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