Saturday, 17 July 2010


Well, it was a great week, although rain showers and poor broadband signals from the field meant a lack of daily updates. Nonetheless, we finished off the week of students training in a big way, with the recovery of a Late Roman buckle. Two years ago we recovered this one shown below and found another one last year. The students were all energised by this discovery, as they had heard about the previous year's artefacts before they came to the excavation.

Additionally, this year's first (and currently only) Anglo Saxon coin was recovered and a bottle of champagne awarded to the excavator as promised!

Lots of new features have been challenging us at the site with a complex series of pits and ditches encouraging us to think about just how this space was used in the very Late Roman period and Early Saxon.

To the north, the Neolithic cursus and ring ditch have proved an interesting contrast for our diggers, as there are virtually no finds at all, bar the odd flake of flint. But the ditches themselves are being carefully recorded and soil samples taken to inform us what the landscape might have looked like at a time perhaps 6000 years ago when people we gathering in the area for ritual activites.

Pictures will follow more regularly this upcoming week, as we begin the week that solely involves volunteer excavators and your blogger will be commuting from the site home every night rather than camping in a field with students and dodgy wifi!

Saturday, 10 July 2010

July 9 -

Work continued apace over the past two days and at the end of the work week, pits had been half sectioned and recorded. Half sectioning involves removing half of the soil to see the extent of the feature, which is then drawn in detail so that the record of it can be preserved. A good description of this can be found here.

We will have one day off, then begin again on Sunday morning. It has been a really good week, and the Directors seem pleased with the progress. We have had a few interesting finds, including a Late Roman decorated bit of bone, possibly a comb fragment, or piece of furniture inlay.

Also a spindlewhorl used in textile production, probably early Saxon, and a bone pin.

July 7 - Grubenhaus!

It would appear that the series of intercutting pits we explored earlier in the week is resolving itself into an Early Saxon 'grub hut'. These are the simplest types of Saxon buildings, often described as workshops, but their true function is a constant subject of debate.

Known variously as grubenhauser or SFBs (sunken feature buildings),  these buildings were at their simplest a pair of posts supporting a peaked roof which rested on the ground. Evidence suggests that some may have had wooden floors over the pit but again, there is much debate (as with most things in archaeology!)

July 6th- clean clean clean

Intense cleaning of both sites commenced today, with some stunning results for the Neolithic trench. The cursus is not quite visible in the picture below, but the ring ditch is very clearly showing through the surrounding soils.

On the Late Roman site, teams of students and volunteers formed trowelling lines and worked their way back across the site to help reveal features obscured by the particularly dry soil. Many pits are present and in the next few days we will dig into them.

Today's exciting find was a form of colour coated Roman fineware that had not previously been identified.

Monday, 5 July 2010

The geotextile is off, we are digging in features!

The Northern Trench has been machined open tday as well and by Wednesday a team of students and volunteers will work with Dr Gill Hey of Oxford Archaeology to unravel the mysteries of the Neolithic cursus.

Meanwhile, Paul Booth, also of Oxford Archaeology, led his teams to a successful day hard work. We have removed the last of the coverings from the previous season, and the students and volunteers have now thoroughly cleaned the site. The features we began to notice last season are showing up very sharply in the dry soil, and in the bright sunlight. In spite of the heat, morale was high as we began to open up a series of intercutting pits that may date to the Late Roman or Early Saxon period.

The site produces loads of pottery sherds, mostly Roman, and loads of animal bone, mostly from pigs, cows and sheep, the result of domestic food processing. All this keeps the finds tent very busy as the students wash every single sherd no mater how small. Paul Booth's expertise in Roman pottery helps the potwashers realise the significance of what they are processing, as he explains where the pots came from and when they were at the peak of their distributions.

Tomorrow we will continue exploring the pit complexes and with luck even more features will be revealed. Watch this space!

Friday, 2 July 2010

The trench is OPEN!

Exciting times as we remove the backfill from the end of last season and reveal the geotextile laid down to protect the excavation from its long winter's nap. It was exciting to be standing once more just above the Roman street! Sunday morning, the students will arrive and the first tow days of the dig will largely involve cleaning back the textile and preparing the surface for continuing our investigations. Monday we will also open up our Northern trench where Oxford Archaeology's Dr Gill Hey hopes to excavate a remaining part of the Dorchester cursus.

The Continuing Education Department's survey week was a great success, with some interesting results in the Abbey churchyard hinting at a possible Hollow Way of uncertain date. A partial survey of the Dyke Hills was conducted, as well as a buildings survey on the Abbey Guesthouse. More results from today's final day of survey will be posted when they have been processed, in the next few days. All the students learned a lot, had a wonderful time under some incredibly blue skies and presented their findings to residents of the village last night in the Village Hall.

Beginning Sunday, there will be daily updates on this blog, bringing you pictures of finds, details of the day's work and snippets of Dorchester's history to help the pieces all fit into context. We appreciate any feedback, so if there is something about the dig you'd like to know, ask us in the comments section and we will post answers!

Monday, 21 June 2010

Time left to sign up!

We are counting down the days until the Big Dig recommences in the Allotments. Already the archaeology Master's students from the Oxford University Department for Continuing Education are assembling for their survey week which begins on the 27th of June. they will be doing a variety of non-invasive surveys around the village, doing geophysics (know popularly as 'geofizz') and GPS work and topographical survey. A buildings survey is also planned. More details will be reported as the Survey Week shapes up. there will be a public Open Evening in the Village Hall on Thursday July 1, from 6-8pm.

Excavation begins on the 4th of July in the Allotments and in our new North Trench. If you'd like to come dig with us, volunteer applications are still being accepted for the third week of the dig, July 18-23rd. Please complete the application found here and return it by July 3rd.

There is so much exciting archaeology waiting to be discovered and to tell us more about this fascinating location! Come join us!

Monday, 7 June 2010

One month to go!

In a month's time, the 4th season of excavation will begin in the village of Dorchester-on-Thames. Details of the project can be found here, but basically, Dorchester is a place that has played a significant role in the story of human settlement of the Thames Valley. From Neolithic funerary monuments to an Iron Age place of trade and power, from a walled Roman town to the bishopric of St Birinus, Dorchester has many secrets to share. We are poised to uncover some of them through archaeological excavation, and hope you will enjoy reading about the dig as it happens during the month of July.

This blog will take you from the machining off of the topsoil, all the way though the processing of the finds. You will share our triumphs (hopefully, exquisite artefacts) and our travails (digging in British weather!)

If you live in Southern Britain please come visit us or join the dig! If not, pull out your virtual trowel and see what we can discover!