WHITEHALL ROMAN VILLA AND LANDSCAPE PROJECT

AN OCCASIONAL PROGRESS REPORT
of the 2011 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!

Pre-dig

This from Sandra Deacon (just to get you all in the mood - weather looking good for the start of the week at least!):

Hello Jeremy. Here are the pictures I took on Tuesday (7th June).

The first one is the site under its plastic mac...



The second, after we had removed the plastic...

And the third looking rather sad under a great deak of somewhat wet sand.



We then had the obligatory ballet of the tents, and we just about managed to get the big one up before the rain came down.



Regards, Sandra.


Day 1 of 20: Monday 13 June

They're off!

The weather looked a bit dodgy first thing, but it soon caught up with the forecast and brightened up. A fox was first on site (Fred and Barbara tell me), leaving fetching footprints in the sand, and less fetching gifts seemingly at random but probably marking its territory. There was also a bees' nest in one of the straw bails over the pilae: a cunning canvas wrapped round the bail got it moved safely. But the bees were still much in evidence in the afternoon.

Here's the traditional completely irrelevant, gratuitous shot of the poppies growing in the oilseed rape, with, special for this year, a matching red narrowboat in the background.



The geography has changed again this year: the village is now to the South of the excavation...



... so the whole caboodle is a long line from south to north, or north to south if you prefer.



Steve's caravan is still where it was last year (you can just see him there), and the spoil heap is growing up behind it. You'll notice that Barbara is back supervising - but at this point hiding behind Fred and under her hat.

Here's the view from the top of the spoil heap, just east of Steve's caravan...



This was day of the metal monsters, driven with fascinating dexterity and aplomb to remove the topsoil to south and east of the site.



To the south the more delicate excavation has started on the cleared area...



... and the archaeology extends well beyond where it got to last year, and seems to be heading towards Steve's caravan.

To the east of the site, there doesn't seem to me to be much going on under the top soil...



...but I could be completely wrong, of course.

For some, the day began (and continued) with a joyful recap of last year's context and features.



At tea-time Beryl did her marketing bit and explained the merchandise on offer...



Later on I ordered my 2011 t-shirt: the colour scheme is yet to be decided, but I thought I'd take a risk!



The pilae have over-wintered well and the whole hypocaust area is already looking spickus and spannus.

True to form, Fred found (noticed?) some more wood - this time an upright post just south of the hypocaust...

And here, to end, is the group photo - no quite everyone who was actually on site, but a fair sample.


Click on the photo for a larger version in a new window.

Nice to be back!





















Day 2 of 20: Tuesday 14 June

Today's blog by courtesy of Chris with his new camera (photos) and Barbara (thoughts). Many thanks to both.

Look what the digger turned up...



Is this the end (wall) - at last?? Or does the bathhouse run under Steve's mobile home?



Steve's on the job...



...so watch this space to find out!

Fred has decided to protect the sharks swimming in the spring sump...



And finally...

  • Congratulations to Natalie (Chris' sister-in-law) for quite the prettiest kneeler on site
    so-far: M&S Rose. (Editor's note: no Tony, this is NOT another competition).

  • Happy holidays to Dave, Pam, Alan and Geraldine.


















The spoil heap


Day 3 of 20: Wednesday 15 June

Didn't make it to the site today - but Barbara provides the following:

Today's news is that there maybe ANOTHER heated room. More pilae have popped up in the east of Sandra's area. She's beginning to dream at night about this feat of Roman engineering! But why are there so many heated rooms? And where on earth were all the non-heated rooms you'd expect with a bathhouse? Were the Whitehall Roman/Romano-British complete wimps or were they indeed Romans from deepest and warmest Italy who really couldn't cope with the
British climate?

Well the British climate was at its most variable today - from hot sun to sharp showers (just in time for lunch).

The enigmatic southern end of Bathhouse 2 is still eluding us. Margaret, Claire, Robin & Fred couldn't get a definite answer to finding a southern wall in Room 6 - so we're going to have the digger back in tomorrow to take yet another chunk out! After spending all day cleaning the stones, thanks to Leslie they've now got a plastic raincoat on, as no one could face having to
do the complete job of cleaning them AGAIN tomorrow after the digger!

Talking of innovation, it's being actively encouraged on site. Colin and I have got the same model mobile phone they discovered at lunch - but neither of us knows how to use it properly yet. (This was the most innocuous part of a foody conversation which covered how to eat a hedgehog...mmm.) Oh, and Laura was lent Fred's hightech cordless handheld dustbuster to clean the mosaic. Next thing you know we'll be using conveyor belts to take our spoil up from the site to the spoil heap - well, if the Japanese can do it, why can't we?! Farewell, broken black buckets and squeaky wheelbarrows.....ahhh.


Day 4 of 20: Thursday 16 June

There were showers...


Photo by Chris Wiggins

Here you can see both of the main groups of diggers, pushing ever eastwards the frontiers of the known site, to boldy go etc...



Note that the tessellated pavement is now covered after Laura's vacuuming yesterday, awaiting drawing and detailed photography.

Sandra's team have uncovered lots more of the corner-turning wall that tantalised at the end of last year's dig...

Wherever Sandra digs, pilae tend to appear - note the new ones by the corner at the far end of the wall in the shot above.

The pilae go round the corner too - just inches below where the digging stopped in 2010...



See yesterday's blog for Barbara's eloquent expression of the questions that naturally arise.

Meanwhile Barbara's team have dug up... well not much really, and its slow going on the hard soil.

But there is a bijou drain heading east from the edge of last year's dig.

Fred spent some time clearing out the course of the spring where the timbers were found...



By the way, in case you hadn't heard - back in March, Roman wood expert Damian Goodburn examined the timbers...

His provisonal verdict was that the joints cut in one of the timbers were not consistent with it being used in a roof. It may have been part of a mechanism of some sort - perhaps part of a mill. Interestingly, the way the timbers were shaped is non-standard and may indicate a regional or local variation. Meanwhile the timbers have been drawn and photogrpahed in detail.

And finally... Good luck to Margaret C tomorrow in her agility competition at the East of England Show - actually its her collie that's doing it, but she still has to do a lot of running!























And two more from Chris...




Day 5 of 20: Friday 17 June

Sorry to miss the end of week fun today. I didn't make it up to the rainy, cold site today because I was waiting for a new computer to be delivered - only 5 weeks earlier than I was originally told! Anyway, I missed the delivery mid-afternoon because I was descaling the coffee machine (as instructed by my archaeologist wife) and the noise masked the front door bell - don't ask. All the way from Shanghai in 5 days, and the system collapses on my doorstep - the shame of it. Anyway, the nice driver took it upon himself to try again when he was passing later (he wasn't supposed to really), so my nice new iMac arrived at just after 5pm. It's a... but you don't really want to know do you? I think not.

So unless someone sends in some pix (don't be shy), this is going to be a rather un-illustrated blog. Barbara has written a bit for me and asked other supervisors to do the same. Bits will be added if and when they appear.

Barbara's bit:

We had the digger in today. Ollie and his mate (apologies I didn't get his name) did the work of 10 wo(men) by stripping off the topsoil in the area to the south of Room 6. The idea was to establish whether the scattering of limestone we found there was actually the end of the room or range of rooms. It was a joy to watch such a professional digger peeling of slivers of topsoil so delicately. And thinking how much time he was saving us! So the answer to the question is - quite probably we are at the end of the range of rooms. The clues we've working on are (1) the surface exposed was a small pebbly one set in orange soil, looking like an outside surface, and (2) the limestone scatters didn't extend out into this area. So this may be it. It just needs a good clean up now to make absolutely sure.

The other area we were working on is to the east of the mosaic room and it was hard graft as the ground is so hard. But we've found quite a pile of sandstone/ironstone with large lumps of mortar - leading to speculation that this is a W word - say it very quietly - a wall!. After we'd been hard at work all morning making moderate progress, Steve went straight in this afternoon and exposed loads more sandstone. So it's looking good for Monday as a day of W-word chasing - but we don't do that, do we, ever?!


Charles and Malcolm working yesterday on the extension of the Roman drain

Good luck and thanks to Charles who left us this afternoon to travel home (I think someone said the Solomon Islands) via the rest of the world. He's been pressured to take part in the T-shirt competition, so keep an eye out for his entries from exotic locations over the next couple of months!

Sandra's bit:

1) We had the two late pebble drains, beautifully excavated by Ruth running NE/SW and E/W through C1328 on the east side of our area

2) We have a row of 4 laid stones showing in the section at the N end of F1692 (East wall of room 7) which if they should turn into a wall would make a channel about 14cms wide. It is packed with grey clay and soot and overlaid with stone rubble at present. Could this be the source of heating for the room?

3) By cleaning and more cleaning we have finally managed to see the cuts of F 1543/1080 (that's the destruction swathe cutting N/W S/E through room 4), and the late (Post Mediaeval) feature that cuts through the whole site N/E S/0W (poss F700?). We can also see this feature coming through in through in the section where there is a diagonal break in F1692 (E wall room 7) beautifully cleaned back and revealed by Ken.

4) We have the feature (not yet numbered) that Norman had in the centre of room 7, namely an area of laid sandstone abutting two, in situ floor tiles one of which sits on top of another laid stone...


Photo by Ruth Downie

Is it the floor? Norman likes the idea of it being a pediment for a statue! The stone element has faced N and S sides and looks like a small section of a wall to me. On the western edge of this feature you can now see a cut right through room 7 running N/S with the reddish brown rubble filled material on the E side and yellow sandy material on the west. Is this the end of the room? It lines up exactly with the westernmost pilae base found in the section.

Tony's bit

The primary objective of this year's dig is to try and establish the relationship if any, between Bath House 1 and Bath House 2 in the area previously known as the Lower slope. The first task was to establish the whether or not the different layers of Blue/Grey Clay were all one in the same. By removing the different sections between them we were able to show that that they all joined up giving us a continuous platform throughout the area.

The next task was to look at the newly exposed area to the North of Bath House 2 to establish if the long drainage ditch which cuts through the whole of the Bath House 2 site continues through to the new bulk. If it does then it might give us a sequence of events which took place in the area since it abuts the blue/grey clay surfaces in a number of places. We found the edges for the most part and excavated the ditch. However the edge at the south east corner is highly contaminated and the edge is not clearly defined indicating that there has been subsequent activity in the area. A small interesting feature developed when cleaning back from the west edge of the ditch a very straight narrow cut developed about 5 cms wide running parallel to the bulk and looked as if it was going to continue under the blue/grey clay. Unfortunately it ran out just in the interface area, had it continued then it would established that the clay had been laid and not naturally occurring. The jury is still out on that issue.

The task of removing the fill from the Victorian Drain was started and is an on going exercise

The dark grey sump area south of Bath House 1 where all the different materials were found last year was cleaned prior to excavation and another fragment of glass was found - a taste of things to come.

Another find worthy of note which was found during the cleaning process was a fine piece of Mortarium with red painted decoration.

The final point of interest is the presence of small fragments of iron. You will recall that last year there was an area at the far North of the excavation where we found a large quantity of irregular shaped fragments of iron indicating hammer scale, this can now be found over the entire newly exposed area with one exception where it appears that a pit has been cut. This suggest that iron was either being worked in the area or the spoil from iron working on the site was being deposited there.

So watch this space for the next installment.

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