Week 3: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday…..

A better day today…..the morning sunshine lifted spirits and we had a good morning on site. The level of water within the trench is very high – and this created some difficulties when trowelling features: as soon as you began to trowel an area, your trowel marks filled with water. Some areas of site were more workable than others: Matt Lees’ north-west area, Sarah Lucas’ area and Matt Gittins’ areas could be worked in parts – as could the well in the south-east corner. But the fragile buildings and clay floors were off-limits. However we kept everyone in the trench and it was amazing how spirits lifted with the trowels. In the afternoon I did a teaching session in St. Mary’s church, and was able to gauge team feelings……everyone was upbeat and positive.

But Wednesday brought us back down again – the rain came back with a vengeance and the mud was whipped up once more. Again we kept working for as long as we could, but we finished early. That evening Nick Pankhurst – my second-in-command – gave a talk in St. Mary’s Church on one of his more recent rescue excavations. It was a welcome respite from the mud and puddles of our site and a chance to appreciate the challenges and complexities of a commercial archaeology project. The challenges of a research site like Silchester are very different and it is useful to reflect on the contrasts. Nick is a very accomplished – and unassuming – member of my staff.

Thursday was a madly busy day. The rain has gone – and it looks like it may be gone for a while….watch this space. But the site is still exceptionally wet. Nonetheless we got a great deal done in the trench, and the wet soil is relinquishing its secrets very readily now. The area around the trench is extremely boggy – and I was worried that I might lose some of the group I gave a site tour to as they trudged through the swathes of mud. It is a  great workout for the calf muscles – but the risk of toppling over and upending oneself in an undignified and muddy heap is very great. One of the Wellington Invincibles (my 11am tour!) lost part of their hearing aid in the mud……but one of my students has now found it….so if that particular lady is reading this – do get in touch!

Today we had: Dr. Hella Eckardt’s ‘treasure talks’ detailing all our recent finds and their stories; Dr. Rob Hosfield talking about lithics (sacrilege on a Roman site!); Dr. Kevin Hayward giving a talk on Silchester’s stone types; Chris Speed talking about Geoarchaeology and Dr. David Sim giving a demonstration of Roman weaponry and armour! Our days are nothing if not varied….

Towards the end of the day Jon and I planned the logistics of Saturday’s Open Day: with some of the site under mud we will, of necessity, have to restrict public access to some parts of the site. We then constructed a gravel path through the worst of the mud and between the viewing platforms. And I ordered 4 more loads of wood chippings which we have spread over the worst affected areas. The combination of this – and a dry day on Thursday and Friday means that we are expecting – and looking forward to – tomorrow’s Open Day! Come and see us battle the mud and puddles…..the site is poised between the late Iron Age and the early Roman period and we will do our best to bring it to life for you! Bring wellies!

And, finally….Mike was on Radio Berkshire’s Ann Diamond Show on Thursday, showing off some of our recent finds, most important of which is the single olive stone recovered from the depths of an Iron Age well. It is the earliest example of an olive stone found in Britain – and suggests that the people of Calleva Atrebatum enjoyed imported foodstuffs (we also have evidence of coriander, dill and celery!). We also featured in Friday’s Guardian, and see


See you all tomorrow!

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