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July Finds Processing

Five of us gathered on 1 July in Upper Deverill’s village hall to mark the finds from the June excavation of the north-east corner of the cricket pitch.  This was a pretty quick affair as the excavation had not produced large quantities of finds; in fact the number of bags of finds was only just greater than the number of volunteers!  A vast improvement since the last marking session was our use of permanent Lumocolours instead of scratchy dip pens and nail varnish.  Many thanks from the volunteers for the sustaining tea and eats!

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Bag KDF 19 1101 taking its place in history

June excavation dig diary

Day 5

Following Sunday’s dreadful weather, Monday started quite kindly! This would be our final day of activity, so the teams cracked on with small extra excavations in some key parts of the two pits whilst the post-ex team processed the outstanding finds that had dried overnight. There were a few new finds from the morning’s work, and a few trays’ worth of finds from Saturday and Sunday that hadn’t quite dried were left for onward transport, drying and processing in David’s garage!

By lunchtime the anticipated rain arrived on cue, along with 13 schoolchildren from Crockerton Primary school and their teacher and 2 parents.  Denise Wilding gave a talk  with a Powerpoint presentation on archaeology, supported by the two Davids, and after this the children paid a brief visit to the active excavations at the bottom of the cricket field. As the rain got heavier the whole party retreated to the village hall where Lou, Lorraine, Denise and David had prepared some sand trays with hidden ‘finds’ for them to discover.

Long discussions followed about the significance and interpretation of animal bones, teeth, pottery and coins. Of course we could not ignore the fact that the children’s school is located on Potters Hill, in a place called CROCK er TON (the place where pots were made). Were any of the pot sherds we have found made in Crockerton? Not a question we could answer! The children thoroughly enjoyed their visit and who knows, maybe some future archaeologists were amongst them!

The day was wrapped up by the teams finalizing the recording of the trenches and logging all the finds that have been processed to date and bagging the weighed finds.  The last job was to thoroughly clean the village hall and load the kit into the HE Landrover.

Tuesday would see the pits back-filled and the site tidied up by Chris the digger driver.

(Blog by David Croot)

Day 4

After a morning of clearing trenches 1 and 2, we welcomed the 7th Warminster Brownie Pack on site.  The Brownies’ visit followed on from a presentation David Croot gave to the pack in May, assisted by Lorraine and Lou.

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The Brownies get a first view of the excavation.

The Brownies started with a guided tour of the two trenches given by our own real-life archaeologist, Dr David Roberts.  This was followed by an opportunity for the Brownies to have a go at digging for themselves. Although they were unable to dig in the trenches, they had great fun digging in the spoil heap, once Rod had demonstrated that you really can find hidden treasure in the disregarded spoil!  The Brownies had a great time and soon began to be able to tell pottery and bone from flint and stone, with one Brownie even finding a wonderful piece of pottery with a thumb-print pattern below the rim.

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Great find!

Once they had gathered their finds, they took them to Ted and Denise where they were shown the techniques of cleaning finds and even had the opportunity to have a go themselves.

With the assistance of DAG, the Brownies now have enough experience and evidence to allow them to earn the Archaeology Badge, a new badge and the 7th Warminster Brownies will be the first pack in Wiltshire to earn it!

(Blog by Louise and Lorraine)

Day 3 

Ed and I finished removing the fill from part of the linear ditch in Trench 2 where yesterday we had found a couple of lovely glazed Medieval pottery sherds. We then completed our context sheets (oh joy), including using the Munsell chart to determine the colour of our ditch fill. Soooo many brownish hues to choose from!

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Our finds from Trench 2

The heavy rain held off until afternoon tea break (see, David Roberts is not such a slave driver). Good timing and today we were treated to brownies of a different kind, thanks to David and Lorraine’s daughter, which were delicious. 

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Drawing a section

At the end of each day’s digging, David asks for a ‘willing’ volunteer from each of the trenches to explain what has been happening in their trench that day. Luckily for me, I got this out of the way early on and did my turn yesterday, so I could relax! It is a great idea though to ask us diggers to give the trench tours as it encourages us to keep tabs on what is happening in our trench. There are always opportunities to discuss ideas with fellow diggers and the management! Our supervisors, Mike and Jonathan, together with David, are all good at asking us questions about the features we are digging and giving clear explanations as to their reasonings if they disagree with us!

It was another good day on site and I’m looking forward to finding something Roman tomorrow, hopefully…

(Blog by Sophie Hawke; images by Jane Hanbridge)

Day 2

Flaming June? What a joke!! Cold, torrential rain overnight and all morning followed by heavy downpours in the afternoon. Needless to say we cancelled all activities for the day on the basis of the weather forecast. I wonder if we will be excavating two swimming pools tomorrow!!?

Some may ask why the Deverill valley is so keen to keep its archaeological secrets (snow, unexploded ordnance, and now heavy rain in June!).

(Blog by David Croot)

Day 1

In warm sunshine, we unloaded kit from Historic England’s Land-Rover, stowing every mattock and finds-tray in the village hall on an immense tarpaulin kindly loaned by DAG volunteer Sarah.  In the corner of the field where we’re excavating, nettles stood as high as a proverbial elephant’s eye: fortunately, the tracks on Richard’s Kubota excavator can flatten anything, so no need for Chairman David to fetch his brush-cutter.

Richard had barely scraped off a single length of turf when animal bones and sherds of pottery began to appear: could we be on the right track, as geophys results had strongly suggested?  Once the Kubota was swinging its digging-bucket further up-slope, hard-hatted volunteers scampered onto the area already scraped, cleaning back the surface, and straightening its edges as far as crumbly top-soil would allow. Operations were closely supervised by Richard’s terrier, perched in the cab’s doorway.

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‘Historic’ David and the machine

Soon finds were mounting up in a tray, smartly context-numbered, and a lovely clear chalky surface lay before us: this is the cue for much peering and speculating about whether any clues as to possible features are yet revealed.

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile Richard was scraping off the surface for our second trench, a bit nearer to the village hall.  This caused Historic David (not to be confused with Chairman David) to become slightly excited and wave his arms:  “Look!  Here is clay – here is a bank – here is one edge of a ditch …”  The Kubota scrapes a bit more.  “And here is the other edge of the ditch!”  The word “possibly” was in there somewhere.  Several pairs of hands were moved into the new area to define the possible bank and generally clean back, in the process gleaning another tray of finds, including part of a vessel’s base – could be Black Burnished Ware, local Dorset pots that the Romans used in industrial quantities all the way from Poole to Hadrian’s Wall; “and the obligatory oyster shell” commented a neighbour from down the valley who had dropped by (having Roman remains in his own back garden, he’s seen a few oyster shells dug up).

As shadows lengthen, it is time for the ancient ritual ceremony of Unrolling The Orange Plastic Mesh; and so ends day 1.  “We have one day more than they have on Time Team” says one of the Davids.  But what does the weather have in store?  Tune in again for episode two.

 

 

 

 

(Blog and images by Matthew Tagney)

DAG session with Warminster Brownies

David Croot, Lorraine and Lou responded to an invitation from Brown Owl to help 15 of her 7th Warminster Brownies pack to achieve their Archaeology Badge. The Archaeology Badge is a new badge for the Brownies and this pack will be the first in the area to work towards it. The trio were met by 15 very excited but well behaved Brownies, all aged between 7 and 10 at their community-centre home. We were welcomed with a special Brownie Hello and following this, David started the evening by giving a fun PowerPoint presentation which was geared towards the age group on how to achieve their badges.

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The presentation given by David to help the Brownies gain their archaeology badge.

The presentation was followed with a session “digging” for buried finds (including coins, jewellery (borrowed from Lorraine), bones and pottery) in sand trays, identifying the items and giving them some kind of interpretation. There was a lot of discussion about the items that they had found (especially the shiny coins and jewelry)!

Lou had also brought along some of the pots her dad had found whilst in the fields working with the tractor.  The afternoon was very well received by the pack who were really engaged and were full of questions about archaeology. We thoroughly enjoyed the session too and hopefully other groups will ask for a similar event. Many of the brownies will be visiting the Kingston Deverill dig in June as part of their archaeology badge activities and we look forward to seeing them!

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Artefacts for the Brownies to examine, including  pottery and bottles.

Blog and photos by David, Lorraine and Lou.

 

Geophysics Week 25 – 30 March

John Russell recounts an eventful week of geophysical survey, with some unexpected discoveries!

We’ve just completed an excellent – and varied – week of surveying in the Kingston end of the valley. Unlike our last geophys week, this one was completed in marvellous weather.

We started in Church Field, which for a field situated opposite the church is both aptly and cleverly named.  The original intention had been to spend most, if not all, of the week in this field but unfortunately it had recently been sown so we were only allowed two days of surveying. With the new timescale in mind, and under the expert guidance of Paul Durdin, we set to with gusto and soon the field was a blur of tape measures, bamboo poles and red pegs, all to the accompaniment of the steady bleep of the magnetometer. By the end of the day three ring features had been revealed by the mag, the largest being some 50m in diameter. The other two were very faint but one had been covered by the res, which showed a ring about 30m in diameter with the high resistance response inside the ring ditch suggesting it could be a barrow. We also made a number of surface finds from field walking, including some Samian ware shards, and parts of quern and wet stones.

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Some Samian wear finds

Soon it was upsticks (well, bamboo poles) and we moved our effort to Seagram’s Field, a dauntingly huge field on the road to Maiden Bradley.  Excellent progress was made until agriculture struck again and we were told that the field would be drilled sometime during the day.  Keeping firmly in mind that it is farming rather than archaeology that puts food on our tables, we kept going until the tractor and drill were ready to start. Fortunately this wasn’t until the mid-afternoon, by which time we had achieved a solid amount of work.

On the following day surveying continued apace until there was an announcement of a munitions find. Initially this generated huge excitement – was it a ballista bolt in mint condition? Or a hoard of perfect flint arrow heads?  Or an Anglo-Saxon sword with gold inlay? Sadly it was none of these but rather a World War 2 2inch HE mortar bomb, probably dropped by the Deverill’s equivalent to Pte Pike.  All the correct procedures were followed and the next day the bomb was detonated by an Army EOD team.  Although the field suffered a small dent and we lost half a day of surveying effort, we have the satisfaction of knowing that we have removed a potential threat to the farm staff.  At Seagram’s Field our surveying has revealed various linear features scattered across the mag results, possibly parts of enclosures. The clearest feature though was in the southwest part of the field: a sharp rectangular enclosure with a double ditch on its eastern and northern sides. We surveyed this with both mag and res – the latter showed a smaller internal enclosure, along with suggestions of other features. The form of the rectangular enclosure suggests it is Roman. Surface finds in this field were few and far between: a few pottery shards and some small pieces of worked flint.

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The Magnetometer

Although we didn’t conduct the surveying we intended, this was a successful week greatly helped by the wonderful weather. Our thanks to Paul for his patience and guidance, to David Stratton for allowing access to fields for survey, and well done in particular to Adrian and Matthew for their work with the mag.

Blog by John Russell.

DAG Lecture series: ‘Prehistory and the changing land-use and environment of the Wylye Valley’ – Talk given by Dr Mike Allen on 06.03.2019

Denise Payne summarises an informative and enjoyable talk on the environmental archaeology of the Wylye valley.

After a particularly wet and inauspicious day, the evening of the 6th March cleared through sufficiently to ‘winkle’ (hope you got that!) a full house of some 50 DAG members and friends to the village hall for the 3rd of our winter lectures, which was given by Dr Mike Allen of AEA: Allen Environmental Archaeology, based in nearby Codford.

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David Croot helps Mike finalise the IT set up.

Entitled ‘Prehistory and the changing land-use and environment of the Wylye Valley’, Mike delivered a very brisk (definitely not snail-paced), illuminating and entertaining talk, illustrated with a very informative selection of slides, graphs and photos showing the prehistoric settlement and burials associated with the Wylye Valley.

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A full house prepares for the talk with a welcome glass of wine

It was particularly interesting to see where these are located in relation to the ancient routeways, many of which we still use today, together with land use and the farming methods utilised over the millennia from Prehistoric times up until the Romans  arrived (beyond which Mike considers far too modern) which have changed the environment from ancient woodland to grassland – all aided by his conchology expertise and research.  He explained how he obtains samples of snails and processes them in his lab in order to help ascertain the land usage at the time they existed, and he brought a number of examples which were passed round the assembled meeting for all to see, together with a microscope so the  members could have a closer look at the specimens.

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Dr Mike Allen in full flow

In conclusion, Chairman David Croot said that Mike had kindly offered to lead a walk for members to help illustrate the prehistory and changing land usage in our own Deverill Valley – a date has yet to be determined, but watch out for more news in the coming months!

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Blog by Denise Payne. Photos by Mike Stanley.

DAG’s second public lecture: ‘South-West Wiltshire in the Roman period – Farming, Pagans and Wealth’ given by Dr David Roberts

DAG’s second talk in its winter lecture series was given by the Deverill Archaeology Project’s director Dr David Roberts. John Russell takes us through the events of the evening.

Last night was the second in our series of Deverills Archaeology Group lectures and it was delivered by our very own Dr David Roberts from Historic England. The audience was north of 30, not bad considering it was a disgusting night and there was a re-run of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum on the telly. Before taking the stand he mentioned that he had only just made it back from the Cairngorms. This was most impressive news and there was a gasp of astonishment at the sheer professionalism of the man and his dedication at conducting archaeology in February, in Scotland and at 1200m.  A vision emerged of David in a Force 9 gale with beard covered in frost, knee-deep in mud and ptarmigans, busily excavating a Pictish midden or some such. A vision entirely in line with what we have come to expect from him. It was therefore with some disappointment that we heard him go on to say he had been on a stag weekend in Glenlivet. From this early low point the evening could only get better – and get better it most certainly did.

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DAG Chair David Croot and speaker David Roberts prepare for the talk

The title of David’s talk was ‘South West Wiltshire in the Roman period – Farming, Pagans and Wealth’ and his intention was to provide us with an overview to give a wider context to our villa and what may emerge in the valley. He started with a slide of the conventional view of early Roman Britain with names of British tribes and their areas with a scattering of towns with their Roman names: Verulanium etc. I’m not sure if it was a typo or the author of the slide had a sense of humour but clearly visible on the south coast was a town called ‘Selsey’. That didn’t sound very Roman to me and I would have been only marginally more surprised if the map had marked Bognor or Peacehaven.

Having convincingly debunked the conventional view of a neatly tribal Britain, he then went on to establish his talk’s baseline by describing how things probably were in the First Century. He started by mentioning hill forts and describing how most were unoccupied by the time of the Roman invasion, that they had dominated the trade routes from the south coast and were displays of power. He then spoke about round houses and the very extensive villages of which they formed part. He gave a particularly interesting description of the village in Stockton Wood on Great Ridge, with the size and complexity of the village with its defensive ditches strongly suggesting the availability of large scale labour and an organised society. He then gave a brief resume of the Claudian invasion and the part Vespasian’s 2nd Legion played in it by advancing down the A303. Vespasian was clearly a bit of a star having accomplished his mission on time and within budget. It appears that SW Britain thereafter was pretty secure and didn’t need a continuing military presence – that was reserved for the north…

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The Roman campaigns in Britain AD 43-60. Source: Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0

David then focussed in on Wiltshire, starting by showing a map with roads, towns and villa sites. However, this picture doesn’t show what people actually did, which surely to my mind is the really interesting part of archaeology and a point that David, and indeed Professor Simon in the first talk, returned to a number of times. He structured his description of Wiltshire by using the various sources of evidence, starting with contemporary documentary evidence in the form of the Antonine Itinerary and its mention of Old Sarum (Sorviodunum). This didn’t appear to be a particularly rich seam so he niftily moved on to antiquarian evidence, particularly Nan Kivell’s excavations on Cold Kitchen Hill. Perhaps not alone in the audience, I thought Nan was a woman and I conjured up an image of someone in a tweed skirt and very sensible shoes. However, on checking Wikipedia I discover that Nan was a chap, and a pretty exotic one at that.  Anyhow, I digress. Kivell’s excavation produced Samian ware pottery, more than found at the exploratory excavations of the BD villa, suggesting high status activity on the hill.

Next up in the evidence list was aerial photography. While this is efficient at showing what is there, it is expensive because of the large area it covers and doesn’t often help with dating. He showed an interesting slide of crop marks on the Great Ridge before moving on to research projects, using Teffont as the example; a particularly interesting project for us in the Deverills as it is also community-based. This blog is not the place to cover both the fascinating techniques and evidence revealed by the project but we were all intrigued to see how they provide the raw materials for forming a picture of life at the time. The last item on the evidence list was the finds made by detectorists. Their finds are very useful in geographically focusing archaeological effort and David described a temple site in Wiltshire that had subsequently produced a wealth of finds, including curse tablets! Given that some of the tablets referred to the theft of tools, perhaps there is a business opportunity here for those who have had quad bikes and chain saws stolen.

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A Roman penannular brooch from Teffont, Wiltshire. Image credit: Teffont Archaeology Project.

  David concluded the main part of his talk by describing what he believed the archaeological evidence reveals about Roman Britain in Wiltshire at the time of the Deverill villa, namely: it was a strongly religious society with a mix of paganism and Christianity and rejoicing in large numbers of temples and other religious sites; its economy was based on farming (sheep, grain and cattle) but with significant iron smelting and stone quarrying industries; and there was not much instability.

His finale was to give us an overview of our recent archaeological activity in the valley. He described last August’s dig at Brixton Deverill before giving us a fascinating readout on last week’s geophys at Kingston Deverill. This suggested the possible presence of a henge and a multi-roomed Roman building. How exciting is that!? As only 15% of the field has been surveyed, there is more work to be done…

David packed an immense amount into his 40 minutes and we all departed into the disgusting weather feeling much more knowledgeable about our area and how it might have been. Our sincere thanks to David.

Blog by John Russell. Pictures by Mike Stanley (unless otherwise stated).

 

Geophysical surveying in January is not for the faint hearted (brrrr… it’s cold)

Claire Watts provides an update on the chilly geophysical survey work undertaken by some very dedicated DAG members!

The week was spent on a site close to the ford in Kingston Deverill.  The area on the other side of the ford was surveyed last year with spectacular results and our site had had many PAS (Portable Antiquities Scheme) finds in the past, so there was much anticipation of a great discovery at our fingertips.

Arming ourselves with flasks of hot drinks and dressed in multiple layers topped off with hats and gloves, over the ford we walked and through the gate into our field.  I say field, but it felt like we had a whole county to survey, it was SO big and there were only 6 of us with some canes, pegs, tape measures etc.  However, the ace up our sleeves of course was the presence of Paul, our professional “geophyser”, who had agreed to guide this bunch of enthusiastic amateurs.

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Above: A small section of our field (at the start of the week)

The first task was to mark out accurate grids across the field. This sounds easier than it is in practice. Without a giant set square to hand and after a few false starts we resorted to our O-level maths and Pythagoras’ theory came to the rescue. So, having worked out the tricky matter of right angles we were off and there was no stopping us.

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Above: Pythagoras theory was used to mark out accurate grids.

My old Maths teacher at Queen Anne Grammar School, York would have been very proud of me!

With the team now on a roll Paul was able to start the magnetometry. This is quite a speedy job which involved walking up and down the grids that have been set out.

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Above: Paul demonstrates how to use the Magnetometer

It was soon time to get the big beast out – the resistance meter. Unlike the mag (speedy work- the hare) the res makes slow progress (the tortoise). You move forward just a metre at a time, plant the machine in the ground and wait for a double beep. We discovered that if you rush or try to have meaningful conversations the machine throws a wobbly. So dedicated concentration is the name of the game.  Now, you’ve seen a photo of part of the field so you might be able to understand the scale of the task we faced. We knew we wouldn’t be able to cover the whole area, but we’d do as much as we could and if our dreams that week were to be punctuated with double beeps then so be it.

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Above: Patience grasshopper – volunteers get to grips with the resistance meter

Thus, we continued all week until ….

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Above: Our field at the end of the week

All we could do was retrieve our canes and pegs, warm ourselves up and await the results of all our hard work. Villa? Henge? Who knows, but we’ve got our fingers crossed that the hare and the tortoise will reveal something amazing between them.

Blog post by Claire Watts. Photos by John Russell and Paul Durdin.