Sunday, day of rest

My staff are the best. Waiting for me on my desk this morning: my weakness discovered and acted on by Matt, Nick, Dan, Hen, Jeni, Sarah and Su. It made a slightly jaded Site Director very happy: 2 giant sacks of haribos……


Happy Days

It was a quiet day today…..several team members were recovering from a surfeit of energy at the party the night before…..and others were packing up to leave, whilst the new arrivals moved in. Those of us who have been on site for the last 3 weeks are tanned and weather worn….the new arrivals are freshly white and slightly apprehensive! I was visited by a group of old friends, and the afternoon brought more and more visitors from years gone by. Klare Tootell always has a special place in my heart: my Silchester Project assistant of many years standing, she brought her 3 boys – Tom (husband), Rufus and Jude.


Durham friends from long ago!

I ended the day by welcoming in the half a dozen new arrivals: a nice select group who were absorbed into the ‘family supper’ in the marquee….Silchester claims its latest victims!

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The Last First Open Day: Saturday 26th July

A mass of images for this day! Most prominent was the blue blue sky and the constant stream of the friendliest of visitors from 9.30am to 5pm. It was a great day. I always worry in advance. The nerves of the party host. What if no-one comes? But come they did – and everyone seemed to have a great time. We certainly did.

Everyone on site entered into the spirit of things – everywhere was face paint, blue Celtic swirls painted on tanned skins, togas, laurel wreaths, Roman standards, sandals and smiling faces. And a tiger….on a golf cart?




Tiger at tea

Tiger at tea

Victorians abounded; Jon Tierney made a valiant effort!


Jon as Victorian

At the gates we had a selection of Meeters and Greeters.


Left to right: Alex, Katherine, Josie and Tamsin


A trio of Roman ladies

Meanwhile in the Childrens’ sandpit, Oliver and Steve did a fantastic job .


Oliver (left) and Steve

Around the edge of the excavation we had a variety of stalls and demonstrations: a team from Reading Museum, a selection of childrens’ activities, environmental sieving and sorting, the Silchester Exhibition Centre, a shop, the Finds Display….and the Weavers and Dyers!


The weavers and dyers set up shop


A basinful of woad

And still the visitors poured in!


Queuing for headsets for the Guided Tours!

And the archaeology went on! On Insula IX, Adrianna uncovered a wonderful find in what may turn out to be the backfill of a pit. It is copper alloy…at first we thought it was  a handle of some kind…for a mirror? A razor? A skillet? Or is it a decorative piece to adorn the front of a box? A furniture fitting of some kind? As yet, we are baffled!


In it’s glory

But what is it??

015 We had 784 visitors – adults and children! A record for our first Open Day of any season! A big thank you to Zoe and Will who organised the activities – and a big shoutout to everyone on site who took part and welcomed the day with open arms.

It was an Open Day to remember.

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Tears, tours and saucepan pots: Thursday, Week 3

Another beautiful, unbelievably blue sky day. It started with the usual changes to our published programme: one lecture cancelled, 2 people not feeling well so unable to carry out their rota duties, change of time for 2 lectures, a malfunctioning generator causing lack of tea at tea-break etc etc! There is always a manic half hour every morning while we sort out all the chops and changes….and then things settle down for me for half an hour or so….before the next crisis raises its head!

I gave a tour at 11am to my most favourite of favourite booked in groups: Alan Povall and his Wokingham U3A group! They have visited me every single season since we began, come rain, come shine – in all weathers! They are like family….and I confess I was near tears when they thanked me – and, as well as giving their usual generous donation to the project, they presented me with a bottle of champagne! They have been fantastic supporters of the Silchester Insula IX Town Life project and I will miss their cheery faces.


On site, it was a day of finds. Quite possibly our most exciting find to date was a Nero stamped tile.  The complete stamp reads NERCLCAEAVGGR Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus. These stamps are very rare and have only ever been found at Silchester. We have only found two from Insula IX and this example was found today in Insula III. 5 have been found on the site of the forum-basilica. The Emperor Nero (54 to 68AD) may  have supported a building programme in far-off Britain, possibly as a way of showing favour to the mysterious client King Cogidubnus (or Togidubnus). Our excavations at Insula III are hoping to uncover evidence of a palatial complex belonging to an important, but shadowy ruler, enjoying the patronage of Rome. The discovery of this Nero tile in our Insula III trench draws us nearer to understanding what the building is that we are revealing there….Mike was suitably excited and his reaction was filmed for a forthcoming episode on ‘Digging for Britain’.

The Nero stamped tile: the 'N' is clearly visible

The Nero stamped tile: the ‘N’ is clearly visible

Another of today’s excitements was Philippe’s discovery of a Silchester ware ‘saucepan pot’. This was found in the fill of a rubbish pit under excavation in Nick’s area by Philippe and Steve. They were just about to break out the mattocks when Philippe spotted the pot’s rim, encased in mud. This pot has now been cleaned up and was identified by Mike as a rare Silchester ware form. Silchester ware is the local fabric, and it dates right the way through from Iron Age to late Roman. This rubbish pit is thought to be late Iron Age in date.



The discovery of the ‘saucepan’ pot, as filmed by Andrew Munson (2nd left) with his Production Assistant Jenny. Philippe and pot on the right, and Steve in the centre holding a tray of pot which may contain some of the missing pieces.

An afternoon of visitors and preparation for Saturday’s Open Day, ending with Mike’s weekly Site Tour. A hot and eventful week! Come and see us on Saturday! Our gates open at 9.30am and the forecast is still good……

004 003 002

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Helium Wednesday: high jinx on site

Another beautiful day…what IS going on here??? This is Britain, remember? Endless, bright blue sunny days with high clouds and a hint of a breeze just don’t usually happen to us! But it is happening….3 weeks in and the sun is still shining…and no hint of rain as yet. The archaeology is crying out for some rain….it is dry and parched, and troweling is becoming a superhuman effort. But – we are loving it! Everyone is berry brown  and we are becoming used to wearing shorts and strap vests, and sitting outside in the evening glow as a red hot sun goes down behind the spoil heap. Perfect summer days.

As I drove on to site this morning, the first thing I saw was Mark with his helium balloon, gently inflating it into the air. All day long we watched as Mark lifted first his kite – and then his balloon – and then his kite – and then both of them together into the air, into an airborne dance above the trench. And the photographs he is producing are wonderful – clear, sharp overhead views of the entire town and our trenches within them. You can zoom in and out of these images and capture every single layer of soil in pristine detail.


Balloon on a beautiful Silchester morning

Busy Wednesday morning, making announcements about our forthcoming Open Day – it’s on Saturday and the forecast is GOOD. I haven’t been able to say that for many years! I also met with Jen Wilson my Database Manager to catch up with progress and use of the iPad minis on site. Progress IS being made…slow but sure…and even Matt was spotted today with one…..

IPad Mini, maximum concentration

IPad Mini, maximum concentration

We had 2 booked in tours today – both groups are old favourites of ours. First up was Petersfield Archaeology Group, organised by Lyn Pease, longtime Silchester digger, friend and Saga Lout. I enjoyed giving this tour – I had about 20 people on the tour and we used the headsets so that I could stand some distance away on the site and talk to them whilst gesticulating wildly at the archaeology. They were so interested and enthusiastic and I loved the interaction. The site looked beautiful, and Basingstoke gently wavered in the distance below a heat haze.

In the afternoon we entertained Judith Broadgate and her U3A Group – they have been visiting Silchester for the last 6 years – and Mike took them on tour. It was hot and dusty but the story of the archaeology is enough to keep everyone on tenterhooks – and I have just received a lovely e-mail from Judith saying what an exceptional time they had. Immediate feedback – and much valued!

I took some family time out today! My sister Emma visited us with my nieces Eliza and Josie – Silchester veterans all 3. Emma was my very first site manager in 1997 when we first began, so it was fitting that she should be back in this the final season. Sadly I couldn’t persuade her to don an apron and start washing up…but I did coax Eliza and Josie into the trench where Josie showed a definite talent for troweling…..

photo-4 photo-1 011Meanwhile on site everyone coped admirably with the hot hot weather,and the fact that our generator had died. This meant we had no power for our computers and printers – and, most importantly, no internet. So, poor Jen, my normally desk bound Project Assistant had to find other ways to pass her time……


Lesson 1: using a pickaxe


Lesson 2: leaning on a shovel

The hot weather did not deter the Saga Louts in the slightest…and Steve, Kevin, Lyn and Peter laid waste to Nick’s cultivation soil horizon……never have I seen 4 people more in need of a refreshing glass or two at the end of a day.

Peter in action

Peter in superb action

As the very hot day drew to a close Mike and I took stock…we walked around both trenches looking at the archaeology and planning strategy for the week ahead…..

Let’s end with a Happy Birthday to Ceri….21 today! Ceri celebrated by getting to the very bottom of an early Roman rubbish pit she and Bradley have been excavating. Nice work team!


21 today


Bradley, Ceri, and one beautifully excavated early Roman rubbish pit!

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Tuesday, Week 3

Mark Houshold is with us! Mark flies a kite soaring up over the archaeology and takes fabulous pictures. I sent him and Jon off today to buy helium (not a sentence I use often in my daily life…) for Marks’ balloon…which he will use to take photos from when the wind dies.

It was a glorious day: wall to wall sunshine with a deft breeze.

I managed  a complete tour of the archaeology with Nick…something I haven’t managed for a few days! Our sites are looking beautiful…intriguing….challenging….puzzling…and, ultimately, finish-able!

Andrew Munson, an Anthropology and Media Arts graduate from California State University has joined the team in order to make a documentary about Silchester. He has self-funded this trip and the equipment – and I am loaning him students as ‘production assistants’. Sounds like a good deal! More about Andrew anon.

A few images to sum up my busy busy day… we had 90 children visit us! Zoe and her team made a magnificent effort…which took its toll…..

021-001 022


After…..Zoe and team, suitably exhausted


Zoe…down…and out….


Sunny day at Insula III


Ellie makes comfort an art…with Peter (in the trench)


Henry and Lauren excavate a Victorian trench to reveal a flint structure which the Victorians called a ‘drain’. What do we think it is? Watch this space

Today's star find from Insula IX - the most perfect of arrowheads

Today’s star find from Insula IX – the most perfect of arrowheads

And…some pictures of ‘my’ film crew!


Director Andrew (right) and Jesse (Production Assistant)


At work


Boom at rest

‘One Take’ Amanda Over and Out

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Monday, Week 3

Time is creeping by…a few images of what was one of my busiest days! 46 new people inducted to the archaeology and our fullest week so far!


Supervisor Matt…


A medley of mobiles


The challenges of SignUp sheets…Who? When? What? And Who again?


HQ’s Notice Board

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Super Sunday!

Today was a very surreal day in the life of the Silchester ‘Town Life’ project……we began with an official opening of the Silchester Excavation Centre…red ribbon, scissors, champagne and all! Mike cut the ribbon and gave a short speech of thanks to our Saga Louts: Kevin, Sue and John Brown. This exhibition is to showcase Kevins’ photographs of all the people who have wielded trowels on insula IX over the past 18 years. They are as important as the archaeology! John Brown has recreated a section through a shored well, and Sue has created a mini-excavation running through the exhibition (and, although she is too modest to admit it, we are also showing one of her paintings of the Silchester landscape). Margaret Mathews’ fantastic reconstructions of the town’s development also evocatively adorn the screens of the exhibition. It is our Retrospective. Come and see it!


I declare this Exhibition well and truly…open!

009 This was also a Big Day for me…..’someone’ had picked up on a reference I made in this very blog…..woefully asking if anyone had a hanging basket for my portakabin…..Thank you Sue! It is beautiful.


The culprits outside HQ: John Brown (left), Sue and Kevin aka The SagaLouts

But the really BIG story of today is that it was our Donors’ Day. We had invited all the Friends of Silchester who have supported the project in many ways over the past 18 years to a Grand Finale trench-side meal in a marquee. First we had drinks under canvas when our Friends could meet some of the students and participants in the excavation, and look at some of our finds of years gone by, glass of wine in hand (thank you Emma for providing the expert finds commentary). This was then followed by the sit down meal, a few speeches, and a followup tour of the excavation led by Mike. A good day was had by all. To add to the fun and general unreality of the day…we had the Tadley Silver band playing throughout…I particularly remember the theme to James Bond’s ‘From Russia with Love’ echoing around the trench, with an accompaniment of scraping trowels……


Not a view we will see again! The excavators work as the donors eat…..


Dudley Fishburn (2nd right next to Mike) founder and stalwart of the Silchester Friends


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Saturday: day of slog, sunshine and visitors

We started today with an exam in the marquee! All assessed students sweated over a paper designed to squeeze out of them every last ounce of knowledge they have gained during their 2 weeks on site….

Many visitors today, past and present! I suspect that by the time this season is over I will have seen a high percentage of Silchester graduates revisiting their first experience of field archaeology.

Jane Timby came to see us today – Jane is our pottery specialist, and she provides the dating information we require in order to refine our stratigraphic sequences. A very important and influential  lady! Additionally, Dr. Rowena Banerjea dropped in to look at our trench sections. Rowena’s specialism is micromorphology: she did her PhD on the microscopic slices taken through the floors and hearths of Insula IX – sections through the soil, examined under a microscope, prepared and coated in resin in order to interpret. This technique provides a wonderful additional strand of information to add to the picture excavation gives us. The story is definitely in the floors. Rowena is planning to do some further micromorphology work this season on selected areas.


A posthole in the southern section: up close and personal

A quick visit to Insula III showed that the trench is buzzing – lots of new discoveries for Mike to talk about on his 4.30pm Site Tour. Below are a couple of pictures of us at work in Insula III – note how much of field archaeology consists of standing and looking, and staring, and puzzling, and discussing….


Hmmm…now what IS going on here?


Rose clearing the street frontage of the building discovered by the Victorians in insula III

We ended the day with the professorial tour…..Mike is beginning to put the pressure on us all. Nearly 2 weeks gone…and still much to do. We, all of us, had our backsides gently nudged by the professorial boot. This is not a holiday camp! We are here to work…and to discover……


The road to insula III – long, but not winding


Mike On Tour: the N-S street frontage at Insula III


It was THIS big…..Mike discusses size on Insula III

And so our Saturday ends, as Mike fades into the sunset….

008See you tomorrow!

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Thundering Thursday

Okay….today it was hot! And we did finish early on site….with Mike’s blessing…..quite a few cases of heat stroke! But morale remains good, and boy, you should see our tans!

Ross modelling the latest in digging footwear - duct tape and all!

Ross modelling the latest in digging footwear – duct tape and all!

Dr. Hella Eckardt from the Department of Archaeology at Reading was here with us today – Hella gave 4 talks on our finds, to each team, one after the other (bolstered by Haribo sweets, cherries and Diet coke).

Treasure talk!

Treasure talk!

Today Zoe and I talked Visitors…..we are expecting large numbers over the weekend, so best to be prepared!

Glamorous Zoe

Glamorous Zoe

We are hosting a lunch on Sunday for the Silchester Friends…this will include the Tadley Silver Band!

Marquee ready for the Tadley Silver band

Marquee ready for the Tadley Silver Band

We all found different ways to stay cool…..

Roger and Lesley's anti-heat cocoon

Roger and Lesley’s anti-heat cocoon

John, Sue and Kevin have nearly completed our wonderful Exhibition on site. We will have an official opening on Sunday – and you will all then be able to visit it!

The Silchester Exhibition Centre - ready for a grand opening on Sunday!e

The Silchester Exhibition Centre – ready for a grand opening on Sunday!

Elsewhere on site, in a wonderful example of serendipity….Hayley (who is in Hen’s team) found a tile which had a hen’s claw print on it……

Hen...with hen footprint on a roof tile!

Hen…and hen…!

Hayley has been carefully removing the Victorian backfill to reveal  a Roman clay surface studded with tile, slumping into a large Roman feature beneath. All very exciting!


Cheshire cat Hayley

And, at end of play….I took delivery of 200 Roman rubber ducks to sell on site! Go on, you know you want one! See you all soon.

Duck Towers

Duck Towers










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Woeful Wednesday

Ok – this was my dilemma. The forecast screamed HIGH temperatures, heat stroke warnings… I believe the forecasters and change the working hours? Or….or…? So, I decided to put my trust in the great British weather team….and announced a longer lunch break, and an early finish at 4.30pm. And what happens? By lunchtime the skies have clouded over….still hot though…..but I stick to my guns. Never prevaricate publicly in management! We pack up at 4.30pm – and by then a deliciously cool breeze has wafted in, the clouds have obscured the shimmering sun….and it is a really lovely evening. Perfect digging weather in fact. You win some, you lose some. And of course what else happens? Professor Mike decides that he will call in at 5pm on his way back from London meetings….to be greeted by a completely empty trench, a cool breeze and a sheepish Assistant Director. His first words were ‘Where is everyone…??’

However…we DID have a really productive day (up to 4.30pm that is….).

Huge progress is being made in Nick’s area in Insula IX where we are investigating what looks like the earliest pit or well in a sequence of pits and wells running right up to the 3rd century AD, all dug in the same location, one on top of another. Great continuity of use. A tag team of Ceri and Caitlin started the digging here; Caitlin was then replaced with Assistant Supervisor Matt Cano…and the team was then completed with the addition of our Time Team celebrity, Matt Williams. Matt W was keen to show us that he still has ‘it’….and this area was in fact his area way back in 2004. A trip down memory lane for him….

First up: Ceri supervising Matt Cano. Let’s hear it for the Silchester Girls!


Call that a full shovel Matt?


Next, Ceri shows Matt how it is done:

004Matt’s muscles reminisce….


And, finally the pit is dug and the team pose for a task well done!


Matt Bookends: Matt Cano (left), Ceri and Matt Williams

We had another school visit in the morning, followed by a quick tour for the Silchester Village panel. Next up was the University of Reading’s International Summer School: 8 participants, from all over the world, visited us with Bruce Howells, Programme Director. We did a tour of Insula IX and Insula III and I then handed them over to Elise and Cindy to show them our finds and scientific techniques respectively.

A visit to the Science Hut reveals trays and trays of sample residues ready to be sorted through….


And the Silchester Science dragon, won in last night’s Silchester Marquee Quiz:


Even Dragons drink Diet Coke

My next visitor was Alice Mauchline, a Research Officer with the Biodiversity Crops & Agro Eco-Systems in the School of Agriculture Policy & Development at the University of Reading. Alice had received a set of iPad minis from the University of Reading Annual Fund, to support the use of technology in fieldwork – and I have booked 8 of them to use at Silchester. My main aim is to put our bespoke database onto the iPads as an app which will allow us to enter data in the field and without wifi. Once we are off site and in the kabins where we are connected up, we can upload the field data onto our database on the University server. Mike Rains has developed this app, which will allow us to enter context cards, plans, photographs, finds and sample information etc. If successful this could potentially do away with double handling of data and save time in post excavation.

I have given an iPad to each Supervisor, and one to Dan as Planning Manager, one to Zoe as Visitor Manager and one to Elise as Finds Manager. Jen, my Database Manager is monitoring each group to see how they use the iPads. So far we have had some success with database entry – and I will report on this over the weeks – but we are also finding the iPads useful for photographs for our social media platforms – especially Instagram. Alice came out to see the site and to talk generally about our use of the iPads – and she also brought out an iPad with a microscope attached – which Cindy and Lisa Lodwick have had a look at. We are certain we can find a use for it…beginning with a look at a fish bone, probably salmon!

Salmon bone viewed microscopically!

Salmon bone viewed microscopically!



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