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WHITEHALL ROMAN VILLA AND LANDSCAPE PROJECT

AN OCCASIONAL PROGRESS REPORT
of the 2009 Excavation

by Jeremy Cooper

The views expressed are Jeremy's own and the information is his own understanding - he has been known to get things wrong!


Day 1 of 20: Monday 15 June

And they're off! At least 30 turned up for the first day - plenty of the returning faithful, but a few completely new faces too. We'll catch up with them when they've had a chance to settle down.

Nick the Farmer has planted the loathsome oilseed rape (I'm allergic to it) in the field below the site. But it cannot be denied that it's very pretty, especially when mingled tastefully with poppies.

And here's the annual poppies-on-the-spoil-heap shot... plus rape, plus...

The dig was lucky to avoid the downpour which deluged my neck of Milton Keynes and points North to Towcester this afternoon. From the blocked drains and strong smell of soaked vegetation I found on the way up Watling Street, I expected to see the diggers wallowing in mud (great photos!) - but no, they had endured just a slight sprinkling.

I think we can boast a first - I took "site record" shots on Day1!

This bit of Bath House 1 wall is going to be partly "taken out" to reveal more about its structure and history, so this photo (and several others) will be all that is left to remind us of it in its last fully intact moments - apart from the plans of course.

Note the posh new context labels - Dave now walks around (and sits, as can be seen on the right if you look carefully) with a bright new blue toy (lots of buttons!) making labels to stick on things. Maybe underneath it all he really wants to work in a supermarket. Detailed photos of the entire process coming soon.

Metal detectors were spied...

and this is some of what they found.

The coin is of the reign of Elizabeth II (very late empire). And this turned up...

... is it a wolf, is it a mammoth? - no it's super-sheep! (Probably).

That's enough jaw for today.



Day 2 of 20: Tuesday 16 June

No blog today - sorry. I had an important meeting which ran over, and then we went for a workinc flunch and you gnow howa it ish...

A little bird told me that there were no earth-shattering revelations on site today (more earth-scraping bit by bit, really), although Beryl nearly came cropper - she was rescued by Fred who almost fainted at having a woman fall into his arms at his time of life.

Tomorrow promises rain, so you may get some of those arty-farty glistening raindrop type photos, and some nice muddy boots shots...



Day 3 of 20: Wednesday 17 June

The morning was fine enough, but it started to rain just before I arrived and was on and off all afternoon. A cold wind blew up too.

So the spring line across Bath House 2 lead to copious and prolonged bailing-out.

Still in BH2, the feature in the foreground...

...is a nice piece of herring bone stonework in the stoke house wall...

similar (but not as well constructed) to the herring bone wall in the BH1 stoke house ...

... a nice symmetry between BH1 and BH2.

The eastern end of the south wall of BH1 is being taken down, as foreshadowed in Monday's blog.

This pot base came out of the West wall of BH2.

Two of our newcomers are Evin from Taiwan...

... studying archaeology at Edinburgh University, and Ulas...

who is just graduating in archaeology from Newcastle University.

As I left the site, I saw my better half counting the pilae - definitely time to go home!

I wonder whether it is now feared that some of the dissident group of pilae spotted last year have gone AWOL (to get out the rain, no doubt). Curiouser and curiouser! Very noble of Fred to hold the brollie.


Day 4 of 20: Thursday 18 June

Dry all day, apart from an occasional drop or two, but seriously threatening towards the end (see below).

Some nice finds today:

This pot (decorated Nene Valley colour-coated fineware) may be closely related to very similar shards from earlier digs (see Material Culture, Pottery - the difference in colour is probably just a photographic inconsistency).


Hand modelling by Jenny

OK, so this one doesn't look like much! But when it first came out of the ground there was a clearly visible golden sheen to the top of the rim, which you can clearly...not see here! Now, I saw it myself, honestly! If you click on the photo you can look closely, and see some light coloured specks - possibly crystals.


Hand modelling by Colin

And here we have a piece of tile with what looks like a very large nail stuck to it. Just what you always wanted. I'll catch up with it when it's been tidied up.

Newcomer Laura who's been here all week, and...

newcomer Laura (first day today), and...

newcomer Sara (first day today).

Caption contest anyone?

At this point I went home. Last day of week1 tomorrow - already!


Day 5 of 20: Friday 19 June

Fine all day! But the spring-line was bursting, so...

... Ruth models this season's muddy look (to hit the high street soon).

And this is Tony K and Dave H with the context/features department's mobile office - "on the way to the spoil heap?" I asked. Ouch!

Without any further delay we'll cut to the Friday site tour.

First Tony introduced us to beginnings of The Trench which will cut right across the courtyard area and provide the answers to all imaginable dating and sequencing questions. Glen has made a start (at this end) and found the piece of shiny pottery (see yesterday) which, Steve told us, is an early type of coated pot designed to sparkle like gold! So we weren't seeing things! The effect is produced by dipping the pot in a clay glaze with the right ingredients. We'll look out for more.

Barbara then outlined developments in BH2 (and it really is a bath house, and NOT a winter dining room or a second villa or anything like that - Steve assured us).

She thanked all the people who had had the particularly unpleasant job of excavating the sludge (see first photo today) and said she'll accept bribes not to give people that work next week (we accept all major credit cards).

When the digging gets far enough on the east side of BH2, it will be possible to open a new drain, so the going should get drier.

We were introduced by Sandra to some new pilae to the south of the herd, which are remarkably well preserved and probably full height as they line up with the known floor level on the other side of the herd. ("Herd" is not, so far as I know, a technical term for a group of pilae, yet).

There are still lots of questions about the North end of BH2 (and indeed about the South end!) and how the structures there relate to those to the East of BH1 which they abut.

Barbara emphasised the fragility of the remains in the BH2 - they have become very brittle in just two years of exposure, which suggests that, to have survived as long as they have, they must have been covered up quite soon after the completion of the of process of plundering BH2 to build BH1.

Tony then showed us the results of taking out the South and North walls of BH1 room 5. The South wall was largely rubble and came out in one go, leaving the massive foundation stones just behind him in the photo.

The northern wall was properly built - the top layers were of careful dry-stone construction and the layer shown above is mortared.

We ended up at the stoke house of BH1. Tony explained the week's incredibly complicated process of investigating different phasing possibilities, which ended up with the conclusion that they had been right in the first place all along: I'll pin down what this was at a later date.

Steve thanked everyone and we went home.

Week 2 next. Onwards and downwards!

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