CAER 2017 Begins... Thursday 4th May!

CAER 2017 Begins... Thursday 4th May!
What will be uncovered this year?
We're back for our 11th season during which examination of trench IV will be continued. Our work will examine the interior of the masonry building (the possible chapel) with its drain discharging into the ditch, the western part of the ditch feature where it is overlain by the medieval building and the underlying deposits. This year trench IV will also be extended to the south in order to locate and examine a stone structure identified during the excavation of a service trench in 2013.
Keep up to date with all the discoveries, brought to you by our daily bloggers.

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Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Friday, 8 June 2012

The site is put to bed...

Julie shows us what happens at the end of a dig:

The site having been cleaned, planned, photographed and viewed by the 100s of visitors to the Roman Festival in the Park, despite the awful weather, it was our task today to put in place a protective covering ready for backfilling on Thursday morning. The sun shone for us as we carried the ‘terram’ to site and figured out how to fit the sheets into field drains, deep robbing trenches and all the carefully excavated cut features.

The site was in a pristine condition after the excellent trowelling job done by everyone on Friday – all the masonry and different coloured deposits looked sharp and clear and not a loose crumb of soil in site! This made covering it all over quite sad but at least we know it’s all lying there safe and sound, well protected from baking summer sun and winter ice and snow. Next time the trench is opened up the fabric covering will just need to be rolled back and everyone’s acheivements and discoveries this year will be revealed once more.

The work didn’t take long even though we had to bail out the duck pond in the Roman road trench and one of the very deep robbed-out buttresses:

And sort out some of last year’s fabric to finish the job:

Almost done:

Until a group of French school children arrived, the Park was quiet but a few visitors dropped by to see what we were doing, including Matt B who arrived for a final look (but my camera wasn’t handy, I didn’t leave all the work to Mike and Gill).
It’s been a fun four weeks, everyone worked hard, there was lots of great team work and the discovery of the stone building is a truly significant find that challenges the previously accepted ideas regarding this area of the City.

Now back to the office to record those beautifully washed bricks.......

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Aye fond farewell...

Jonathan says farewell:

Last Day:

After being rained off site yesterday, we were all looking forward to a final day in the trench. Unfortunately we didn’t get to excavate anything new; instead we were just cleaning up the trench for the site photo and setting up for the Roman Festival that’s happening over the weekend. However with a water fight breaking out and wheelbarrow jousting the site was far from boring. After this we went for a drink at the pub to celebrate what has been a really fun 4 weeks enjoyed by everyone.

Dan W. offers up musings on his final day:

It was the last day of the dig and it had the perfect start. I began and eventually planned (in partnership with a beautiful lady) what remained of the hearth, its sandy underdeposits, with militaristic precision that left my lady-friend initially confused. But with practise makes perfect, she learnt with signs such as 'C2 four clicks east from west' and we drew what was I believe is one of the most detailed plans around. This took us, along with the levelling for heights, all morning  - but the detail, including the number of levels taken, made it an information rich data set.

Over lunch I copied a copy of my context sheet, context 603, to ensure I had sufficient material for my portfolio, scribbling way in much the same illegible handwriting that characterises my lecture notes. I argue that it was illegible because I was trying to ensure that after lunch I would have time to plan and take heights on the possible grave slab so it could be lifted before we left the site for the last time (except for the Roman open day of course).

Although rushed, it was done to a military standard with a well drilled work college who, after earlier plans, was now well versed in my vernacular.  It was all done in eager preparation for what would happen subsequently, but Uncle Simon had other ideas - it was going to be left till last. Instead of revealing what was underneath, we had to erect a gazebo for the weekend.

He may have been technically in charge, but Mike wasn’t exactly sure how to put the gazebo up for the weekend so he decided to leave it in the capable hands of myself and another.  With her guide experience and my obvious talents it was up in no time.

It was only after the gazebo was erected that I realised what had happened, our last task on site had been complete and I suddenly felt remorse. It wasn’t due to the fact that I had done a good job, but due to the fact I had had a great time with an excellent group of people and it now meant I had finished the year.  But I was determined to fix my sorrows and I decided that a drink at the Falcon would fix that.

It is thus with sorrow and joy, that we all headed to the pub. A great dig supervised by great people.

Tomorrow it is Roman Day in Grosvenor Parkand I will try and educate them that it is not all about Romans in Chester!

Dan lounges along with the 2012 Team.

Wheelbarrow Joust

Lauren's account of her final day of the season:
On our last day of the dig Sydney did not get to see the light of day. Drawing a complicated feature meant he was not needed. However it gave my knees a nice break!
At lunchtime the boys got inventive with a game of wheelbarrow jousting, with drawing boards for shields, buckets for helmets and metre sticks for weapons. I really don’t know where they got their ideas from.
No wheelbarrows were hurt...
However, after a relaxing pint in the local and all my essays nearly finished I can safely say I will miss our trench. From possible sixteenth century outbuilding to chapel and Roman road a good time was had by all.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Ye Olde Pens

Matt B posts his final blog:

Today was looking good, we had rain! After two weeks of intense sun, rain seemed like a blessing. It would no longer feel like we were scraping at concrete, but mud, real mud where we would see what we were actually looking for. Sadly it wasnt to be, we were told that because the rain would last the day we couldn't dig ( I think Simon, Dan and Julie just didn't want to get wet). So, our morning was taken up by washing all of the bricks from the hearth. Yay brick washing! Julie did try and make it sound more exciting by telling us that it was the earliest brick structure known in the area.

After dinner there was still no sign of digging in the nice soft soil. My afternoon was taken up by marking our finds that we discovered during our dig. Now, I know archaeology is mostly about the past but the olde fashioned pens we had to use are probably older than most of the finds! It was good practice at getting your handwriting to microscopic level on the other hand.

An army of post-ex workers.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Open Day and Olympic Torch

Jasmine gives an account of the big day on Tuesday:
Yesterday was a big day for everyone on the trench as it was finally time for the big open day. This also happened to fall on the day that the Olympic torch passed through Chester. The morning started with everyone on site planning some of the remaining features including the chapel/robber trench/ cellar (interpretation still changing) and although it was still sunny there was more of a lack of people in the park than normal recently.

It wasn't long before that changed. After morning break the people that had finished their planning went to gather tables and other equipment for the open day. Ollie's method of doing this was to carry two tables on his back. This worked pretty well until it came to helping to get them down, when he nearly took out three of us. We spent the rest of the morning setting up and opening up the fence around the trench to make the site look more inviting. We had an information point at the front of site that had leaflets and brochures on the amphitheatre. Inside of the site we had set up a table of finds including, that's right you guessed it, one of the bone dice! Jonathan was pleased.  There was also finds washing for the children and some very keen adults and we gave site tours throughout the afternoon.

At about half three everyone started to pile into the park ready for the torch, including the tv crew (I'm still waiting for my tv appearance) and the trench became the center of attention. The finds table was incredibly popular as everyone enjoyed being able to handle the artefacts, but a lot of people were interested in seeing the new finds that had just come out of the soil. At about half five the attention seemed to die down as everyone went to look for the torch, so we all sensibly decided this was a good time to get ice creams and climb to the top of the spoil heap to look for the torch. After one incredibly disappointing mock run through "was that the torch?" the real deal finally passed through the park and we all had a brilliant view.

All in all it was a brilliant day on site and I can't wait to get involved in it all again for the Roman Weekend (come down to the park this weekend!).

Final recording is underway!

Time flies!

Sam starts to pack up her trowel and say farewell:

Well its our last week, and that means that this will be my final blog entry. In the last 4 weeks we have all worked very hard and have gone from being curious students who were nervous about getting stuck in lest we inadvertantly destroy a find, to being confident enough to take a mattock to the ground. Our skills have increased greatly and I don't think there's a single person from our group that hasn't been bitten by the archaeology bug. Yesterday we were delighted to open our gates to the public for an open day (coinciding with the torch going past our dig site) and were very pleased with the numbers of people we managed to get in to see the site and some of our finds. Although this meant that our day was longer leaving us a little more tired, it was definitely worth it.

After yesterday's celebrations we began to realise that we have now hit midweek and our time is running out. Although you would expect that this would see us winding down with our work on the site it has had the opposite effect; there is now a great sense of urgency to try to get as much done to the areas that we have been working on as possible. So I spent my morning with "Del" my trusty hand trowel digging through a layer of brick, clay and mortar searching for the limits of the sandy layer that is a part of the late/post medieval hearth. As the hearth is located right next to the chapel wall this meant that finds were scarce... mainly small fragments of animal bone, and I found myself missing the clay pipes that we had all gotten a little disillusioned with due to the multitude that were discovered in the first weeks making them less exciting. The monotony of having no finds was broken up by our token duck (who I like to call Goose) that likes to visit our Roman Road Trench for a paddle in the puddle there.

This afternoon was spent at the finds lab finishing our individual reports that will eventually become part of our portfolios for the university course and bagging up our finds ready to go into storage or be sent to specialist laboratories for analysis/conservation. The sense of urgency at the finds lab is now equal to that of the dig site, if not more so, as every day there are a great number of bags of finds that are sent in to be cleaned and assessed. As the cleaning and labelling process is a fairly slow one, there is a danger of finds getting backed up, but hopefully we will be able to get them all washed and divided up before we have to end our project on Friday.

Working together as closely as we have been, we have all began to feel like a large, diverse family group and I'm sure we will all be sad to see it end. We have been through a lot together; back-breaking labour, the excitement of new finds, sunburn, meeting the public and learning new skills. Thank you to all the people who came to see us, and also to our supervisors and lecturers: Simon "the eager tourist", Dan "the troll hunter", Mike "the camera man", Gill and Julie "the finds experts", Jane "PR rep", and Meggen "boss of all".
Ed note: I'm not really the boss of all....!

Sam seems at home in the finds room.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Tiles and a Roman Brooch!

Julie, our finds expert, hghlights some of the great artefacts uncovered so far:

A quick update on finds. We’re continuing to find large amounts of building materials: roof slates, ceramic crested ridge tiles in white and red fabrics, mortar, white wall plaster, brick, apparently structural ironwork and floor tiles. Most of the floor tiles are medieval with two colour or line impressed designs but a few fragments are from large square tiles which are possibly late 15th or early 16th in date. These tiles have two types of design: one is  line impressed with floral (daisy like) designs similar to those found at the 25 Bridge St excavations in 2001, the other  has unglazed relief moulding  and is similar to tiles found associated with the redesign of the west entrance of Chester Cathedral in the early Tudor period.

Some of the medieval designs are types that have appeared in previous seasons a griffin and the remains of this stylised lion’s head (14th century):

These tiles are possibly from the ecclesiastical buildings that formed the precinct of St John’s Church perhaps even the buildings that Cholmondeley acquired at the Dissolution for his townhouse. The mortar floor in the western end of the site uncovered last year may be the foundation for a tiled floor.

Back to the demolition debris and bricks; despite the earlier postings the bricks from the site are potentially quite interesting. The earliest bricks so far from Chester were found in a 16th century cess pit at 25 Bridge St and many of the bricks from the Park look like these. At this time bricks appear to be only being used for hearths and chimneys so if the brick hearth or fireplace belonged to Cholmondeley’s post-Dissolution house then we could have found one of the earliest in-situ brick structures in Chester.

Quite a wide range of pottery has been found including some residual Roman and medieval wares but the majority are of 16th and 17th century date and include Cistercian-type ware cups, Midland Purple-type ware jars, imported Beauvais earthenware and Rhenish stoneware, blackware and yellow ware.

As you might already know three bone dice were all found in the same context, these all appear to have the same configuration of dots which regularly appear on dice found in London in 16th/17th century and later deposits (see Geoff Egan’s Finds Research Group datasheet 23); it has been suggested that perhaps dice production was being regulated by this time and hence the standardisation of the dot configuration. Clay tobacco pipes with bowls dating to the first half of the seventeenth century are also being found, some of them stamped with makers marks but none are initials previously recorded in Chester. Then of course there are the musket balls which are still being found by the students or by Colin on the spoil heap.
An unusual find last week was an amber bead, it was found with some 16th/17th artefacts and may well date to that period as amber beads have been found elsewhere in early post-medieval contexts.

 So the evidence suggests that we are still dealing with demolition deposits of the Civil War or just after.

However today’s star find is a bit earlier, an enamelled Roman brooch of possible mid 1st – late 2nd century date; it is a residual find from an early post-medieval layer on the northern edge of the site (ok it was actually found on the spoil heap – the ground was a bit hard today and the weather very hot so it escaped notice as it was shovelled into the wheel barrow).

As you can see it is in quite a fragile condition but the form a plate or disc with circular projecting lugs and a central projecting stud is quite clear. Alternating squares of blue and red and white enamel can be seen circling the central stud.

A Chapel? And photography

Katie describes the robber trench:

Today was the start of our final week on site and once again the sun was out making some of us uncomfortable and even mildly disorientated on my part.

Last week and today giant strides were made on what was thought to be a cellar, but is now thought to be a robber trench. Robber trench for what you may ask? Now this is where it gets very exciting.
Dan and Uncle Simon believe that this trench was used to rob out a very substantial wall structure, which looks to have had buttresses on the outer wall. This is exciting as it could indicate that this wall belonged to a medieval chapel, the location of which has been lost for centuries.

The majority of today was spent cleaning areas of the site in order to take photographic records of features. Although we still record all the features with plan and section drawings to record accurate levels and measurements, we take the photographs so that we can look at the archaeology after it has been destroyed and refer to them in cases of doubt in the initial paper records.
(l-r) Sam, Emma and Katie define the floor of the possible medieval chapel.


The Final Week

Emma updates us on Monday's news:

Today was the start of the last week of the excavation. It’s strange to think that next week that we won’t be digging, but putting the finishing touches to our portfolios instead.

For Monday’s task there was not much digging involved. Group D was assigned to clear up some areas of the trench that needed to be photographed. It’s important to have the site look tidy for photographs just in case they are ever used for publications. By mid-morning we were sent to the Chester Renaissance building to get a further session in photography. Unlike the session we had in week 1 this time we were giving open criticism on the photos that we had taken in week one. This was insightful as it was good to have a better idea on how to improve our photography skills. For the rest of the afternoon we were sent back to the trench to clear more areas.

To give our readers a little update about the site - I would like to mention that we now believe the building we are investigating was a Medieval chapel that was later converted to a residence after the Dissolution. We’ve been uncovering a lot of decorated floor tiles from this period that are normally associated with chapels. Other features that we have discovered also point to the building being a former chapel. 

This is my final blog entry. I would like to thank the site team for giving us the opportunity to be a part of this excavation and for teaching us a lot of skills. I would also like to thank Meggen for spoiling us all with home-made treats. I’ve really enjoyed the last few weeks. It’s been brilliant.
Emma (in black) prepares the site for photographs.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Breaking News: A Chapel?

Meggen gives us news from the start of Week Four:

I popped down to the trench first thing this morning to see the latest since I was digging elsewhere on Friday - and the site looks very different! What we had thought was a cellar pit now appears to be a robbed out wall. Not just any old wall, either - this was a very substantial and well-built stone wall with nice facing stones and a rubble core. It even looks like there may have been buttresses on the outside of the wall.

This has made Dan and Simon very suspicious (and excited) since there is an account of an old medieval chapel (St Mary's) that used to be in this area. It was demolished and/or built into the post-medieval mansion house and its location has been lost for centuries.
Have they found the missing chapel!?! They've only got one week left to find out!

Picture of the robbed out wall.

Uncle Simon's Birthday!

A big happy birthday goes out to dig director Simon who celebrates a rather important milestone today.
For he's a jolly good fellow........

Saturday, 26 May 2012

The end of Week Three! Boar's tusk!

Calum sums up his final day of week three:
After waking up to another blistering morning, it was something of a relief when our group was sent to Albion Street to take part in our third finds session. This time we were learning how to identify different types of pottery, building materials and other types of artefacts. We also learnt how to judge how the artefact was made and record its texture, colour and date. After this relaxing morning of sitting down we were raring to go when we got back on site where we did what Group C do best, mattocking!
However it was with a mild sense of relief when we were told it was time to pack up. I’m sure we were all imagining the refreshing cold beverage (alcoholic or not!) waiting for us at home. The most notable finds for our group today had to be a boars tusk and a piece of roman amphora. All in all a great end to the third week!
Eagle-eyed Calum (finder of amber bead!) excavates in a corner of the trench.

A barn building?

Matt B. finds a barn:

Today started off by finishing the section drawing that was started the previous day. The section was of a linear feature that could have possibly held a beam/ It is still unclear what sort of building it was for, but it has been suggested that it could have been for a barn. After the section drawing was complete, we needed to clear the baulk to link up with the next section of the feature, which just so happened to be the one I spent most of yesterday with my head down it as it was about four feet deep!
The afternoon saw us back inside with the finds. We learnt how to classify the objects we have excavated over the past two and half weeks. We had to descirbe the object, commenting on its form, condition and fabric. This allowed us to classify and bag the objects by their groups. The last hour of the day had us cleaning more finds in the finds room -  as usual, we all avoided the bags full bones!

Preparing to excavate a section through the 'barn' wall slot.

The cellar

Jonathan updates us on Thursday's activities:

This morning group A got a chance to complete some more post excavation work on the finds of the dig. We started off marking more of the finds so that if any got separated, for example when specialists examine them, we know which site and trench they relate to, which is very important. While others in the group seemed to have refined this technique from earlier in the week, Dan and I were as bad as ever, frequently running to the sink to wash ink off the finds before they we permanently ruined as well as getting ink everywhere, although thankfully we had remembered to put paper towels down this time. After this we started to divide finds into groups based on their material; for example glass could be divided into window or bottled amongst others. This again was a challenge with some materials, such as pottery, due to its wide age range, from Roman to modern and its vast amount of types, such as glazed and slipware.

In the afternoon it was back to the trench and the sun. Over the last few days I have been excavating one of the two trenches in what we currently believe could have been a cellar. Today we finally reached the bottom of the ever deepening trench and when attempting to clean up the sides for photographs discovered the trench’s depth provided great shade from the sun. As well as photos we are currently recording the features of the trench using a site plan and a context sheet, but hopefully we will get to excavate more of the possible cellar before the end of the dig next week.

The start of excavating the cellar pit.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

On The Disingenuity of Soil

William deals with a difficult feature:
Today was spent mired in mild vexation. After a pleasant morning spent focusing on speaking to the public (and discovering that whilst I was ill, Calum had uncovered an amber bead in a layer I was working on!), Calum and I began work on a feature that had only recently revealed itself in the south-west corner of the trench by holding onto its rainwater moisture rather longer than the soil around it. Unfortunately, it had the most awkward shape to it imaginable. Not only was the soil so dry and crumbly that cleaning back the soil layers resulted in the edges of the feature blending into the layer around it, but also its form was distorted by both a large clay inclusion and a cut filled in with a large amount of charcoal residue.

It eventually reached a point where Calum and I were unable to tell wether we were looking at a single long feature, or two separate pits that simply happened to lie close to each other. Simon and Dan eventually assured us that it was one feature, and that what we were excavating we had done quite neatly and accurately!
(I still suspect they said that just to stop us panicking...)

William puzzles out recording a complicated feature.

The trench's biography

Tom tells us the story of the trench:

Record, record, that’s the job in hand.

Here’s the story so far uncovered, just so I can try and get it into my head and your's, the reader.

In the trench we have the core of a Roman road (if I had a photo to show you I would, but I haven’t). It’s not your typical Roman road, like what you might expect to see in a textbook. It's missing its lovely cobbled surface. This is because on top of this layer lies the medieval plough soil, which may explain its loss, in that it has been taken up by the plough. Within this ploughsoil there has been some Roman pottery, which has been churned up with the ploughsoil. On top of all this is a lovely seventeenth century occupation layer, which so far has been interpreted as an out-building belonging to a manor house built close by. Why this interpretation one might say? Well, we've come across what has been interpreted as being the imprint of beam slots, which would have laid directly on the ground. On top of this would have been a timber wall made of wattle and daub supported by a timber frame. What is left behind for us to find is a shallow trench, left when the timber beam was taken away, leaving soil and rubbish that had built up around the building when in use to fill the space. We ahve also found evidence that might point to the building having a slate roof and glazed windows. At its centre of this building lay a rectangular brick hearth with to one side the remains of what has been interpreted as a large paved stone lined sluice. Is it a kitchen or brew house we’ve uncovered? Maybe. We have recovered a lot of animal bone, fish bone and shells as well, including oyster shells.

But the story does not stop there - it keeps growing alongside the finds that add to the interpretation.  So here I am back in the trench recording everything I can like pages in a book.
Just one thing - I'm sorry to confess to the young ones amongst you, we have not come across any dinosaurs!
 Ed note: In case readers are wondering, that's because archaeologists study people, not dinousaurs!

Tom completes context sheets (a wall slot can be seen in the background).

And here's that Roman road - the stones show the road and the level above is medieval soil.

A possible cellar structure!

Sam finds herself in a hole:

Today as the weather really heated up, I found myself down a hole feeling a little bit like a cross between Charlie Dimmock with my shorts and trowel and a meercat as I kept bobbing my head out of the top of the hole to see if there was anyone at the fence waiting to speak to us. With the heat came the crowds, and the number of people coming up to the site to ask questions dramatically increased compared to those who braved the rain.

Today I was mainly digging out building materials and layers of sand while investigating a possible cellar.  Although the beach-like feel of sitting in the sun digging a hole in the sand was very enjoyable, there was not much in terms of finds from my half of the hole. I found some pieces of unidentifiable bone and what was possibly a sherd from a plate or jug, which had an interesting blue/green glaze on both sides.
Sam/Charlie excavated the potential cellar structure.

Soil samples and finds work

Emma works on finds and takes an environmental sample:

For a third day in a row the sun was shining. Good for some. For pale skinned people like me it always ends in sunburn! As the temperatures soar, temptation for ice cream and unhealthy drinks rises, which is torture for me as I’m on a strict diet. Although it is nice not to work in the pouring rain for once.

This morning group D managed to escape the sun’s burning rays as we had a finds session. In today’s finds session we were given the task of marking the artefacts that we washed last week with the site code and context number. Not as easy as it sounds as we had to use old-fashioned fountain pens. Ones where the ink was applied by dipping the pen into a bottle of ink. Needless to say that I was the worst at this as I kept making ink blots on the artefacts (Tom & Katie how can you guys write so small with those pens!?!) Fortunately for me (and the archaeology team), after tea break I went back to washing unsorted finds.

By the afternoon we were back outside in the trench. Although the usual digging was involved, the soil from the context was put into buckets for environmental analysis. This is an important process as it finds the smaller artefacts and organic material like seeds and charchoal that is hard to spot and it can tell us the nature of the soil in the context. As a result, archaeologists can have a more detailed knowledge about the site.

Before I sign off I would like to thank Meggen for giving the group home-made cookies and doughnuts over the past 2 weeks. :)
Emma adds glamour to the trench whilst taking samples.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The trench becomes a popular tourist attraction

So another day in the trenches begins with beautiful sunshine. And we all learnt the importance of sunhats and suncream. Already the competition for the worst sunburn has begun, but luckily I have my special suncream protection with super powers to protect me from the burning sun attacking little me and my ginger hair and fair skin.
So weather report over, the park was full with people (or the public as we now refer to them). And so interested with our discoveries they were, that some members of Group A found it impossible to stay in the trench with the overflow of questions and queries. Not to mention any names, but we can all tell when you linger longer than necessary on the way to empty your bucket in the hopes that someone will come up to the fence so you can start a long-winded explanation of the linear feature you are currently digging... In all honesty though, talking to the public is good fun and it is refreshing to meet such lovely, interested people. And even I enjoy the break from the breeze-less trench occasionally.

In finds news, Will Ma. stole the day with his key. Sorry Jonathan, but I think he trumped your three dice. Ten points for the person who finds the chest of gold it opens!

We also had a talk from Ian Smith today about the importance and relevance of environmental archaeology. Informative and certainly something that needs looking into further. Personally, I would rather like to be able to tell the difference between a bird bone and a mammal bone with all the examples we have uncovered.

With the third week well on its way to being hot and sunny, our interaction with the public on red alert and finds popping up all over the shop, it looks to be a good’n.

Lauren talks to visitors - lots of visitors!

The sun has got his hat on, Hip hip hip hip hooray?

Katie beats off sunburn... just about:

Today the sun was shining in the sky relentlessly baking not only the site from the moment it rose, but also the diggers, too. Even when covered with sun cream some of us, including myself, have suffered from sunburn.

The majority of this morning was taken up by a lecture on environmental samples given by Ian Smith from Liverpool John Moores University. This lecture informed us of the importance of collecting environmental material on sites and how they could be used to interpret a site. Although I knew we missed some finds while excavating, I did not realise just how much and how minute some of the objects could be.

The rest of the day was spent in the trench, being scorched by the sun overhead. My task on site today was to remove half of the ash and coal from the pit it was deposited in to see the extent of the pit, which turned out to be fairly shallow and full of shell, bone and demolition material. In comparison to the finding of a key, by Will M, these finds seem fairly normal and boring.
Ed. note: Ah... they are all jaded now and only want the treasure....

Not evn the power of the white hat can protect against the English sun.

Summer is finally here!

Jasmine gives us the news for today:

It's the third week of the dig and we have had a second day of gorgeous sunshine. That's right you heard it here -  gorgeous sunshine in England! I would also like to mention that everyday I've written the blog, we've had sun...

Today we were given a talk on environmental samples and why it is important to take these on site. I usually try to sift through most of the soil when I am putting it into the buckets; however, I didn't realize how much can be missed. Some of the bones we were shown were minuscule.

This talk only took place over the morning and the rest of the afternoon was spent back in the trench. Clearly the work we do is fascinating to all as we had an invader on site in the form of a very confused mallard; this is not the first time this has happened as it was a squirrel yesterday! I think probably the best find of the day was a medieval key found by Will (not dice man Jonathan as you would expect!). Sorry Jonathan, but everyone agrees this has to be one of the best finds from the excavation.
Jasmine enjoys the sun - and excavates the wall trench!

A sunny day and visitors in the park

The musings of Dan W.:

With the sun shining through my window I awoke to a day as beautiful as the stars that had preceded it. Although rushed (as usual) with sun beating on my face, my mood was as happy as a dog's as I trundled through town towards Grosvenor Park and a day in the sun. Having whipped out Tiberius and my newly arrived trowel and his yet to be named co-worker on arrival, I hadn’t even changed my shoes when I realised I wouldn’t be in the sun for the morning, but the finds room.

I thought 'it won’t be too bad I suppose, last time was quite fun' but this time the sun was beating down with gay abandon and with the weather I was nervous about missing it, but I needn’t have fretted. As we sat in the circle again waiting for instruction I could feel the tension in the room with last times antics still hanging in the air - everyone eyeing nervously the seriously diminished finds trays wondering if another scramble was about to ensue. Fortunately, for the rest of my group anyway as I had already stalked about a potentially good bag and I wasn’t about to lose the fight this time, we were not going to need any new bags. Instead we were marking finds from ou previous trays.

As we whipped out our previous trays, thoughtlessly moved about by persons unknown, Julie conjured up ink and weird fountain pens. I saw eyes bearing down on me. This task obviously had a lot of scope for mess and I was going to be the prime suspect for any left behind.

Marking the finds was daunting to me as I knew it would require skill with a fountain pen, neat legible handwriting and a steady hand. I knew I had none of those skills and it was going to show. What seemed like hours later with several rushes to the sink to clear the ink before it dried, there was me still fiddling with what by now seemed like irrelevant clay pipe. However, it wasn’t going to beat me and after getting the ink on the table, floor, hands and somehow face I was triumphant until I realised that we had thirty minutes left and we were washing finds again.  It was still a relief from what had just transpired.

Lunch was rudely interrupted by what I thought was a lost British tourist near the finds room, but on closer inspection it turned out to be Uncle Simon calling us for an afternoon dig. My baby trowels were ready and eager to get going.  There was a snag - we were on 'public archaeology duty' and the park was busy.  This meant I seemed to be climbing in and out of the trench more times than the amount of times I had run to the sink this morning.  But, at least the public were curious and interested! Although I wished they wouldn’t roll their eyes so much when they find it out it isn’t Roman. Time is the harbinger of all things and perhaps in time we will be able to instil in them that medieval is way cooler than their puny Romans.

Dan W (seated outside the trench) talks to people in the park.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Under the hearth and an amber bead!

Ollie updates us on the start of Week Three:
Today I was assigned to excavate a really delicate part of the site, the stones under the hearth. It was quite an interesting task as generally the difference between the two layers, the upper clay soil and the sandy soil underneath was difficult to notice for a learner like myself. Once I’d uncovered half the hearth area, I had to do a context sheet and draw the section, which would have been fine if there hadn’t been a small house worth of bricks in the middle of it. After this, I had the pleasure of finally ripping that huge pest of a rock out and then preparing it for photographs. I took great pleasure in drawing the plan of the hearth including all the bricks and surrounding areas.
Sadly for me there were no interesting finds, but a member of my group did manage to find an amber bead which was truly amazing. Well done Calum!
Ollie (left) gets advice on his plan from Dan the Supervisor.

Half way through in the corner of the cramped…

Katie sums up on Friday the 18th:

I am writing this after having a wonderful relaxing soak in the bath to ease my aching muscles and to wash the dirt off, while sat in a very comfortable armchair watching Doctor Who.

Although the weather was overcast today, it was quite pleasant to us and allowed us to work on the site for the entire day, unlike yesterday where the weather had us staying in the mess room washing the bricks from the hearth and weighing the lead shot so far found on site.

This morning Tom and I were charged with setting up the dumpy level to record some levels in the feature that Tom had been excavating earlier in the week. This consisted of setting the dumpy level up so that it was level, which can be much more complicated than it looks. We then took the backsight then the foresights and calculated the reduced levels to record on the plan.

Once this was done we were tasked with trowelling the soil from the surface of the far corner of the trench. This task took up the rest of the day, even after we were joined by other people, making the corner very cramped as we were all nearly sitting on each other’s laps. This corner proved quite fruitful with finds and for me produced a piece of possible Roman pottery, many pieces of bone, including a fish spine and some purple glazed pottery. Some of the other finds from this corner include some fine examples of Cistercian Ware.

After the second week of digging and being half way through, the site is now unrecognisable from the site we started on last Tuesday and I am looking forward to getting stuck into more archaeology come Monday morning.

Katie shows off pottery from the 'cramped corner' of the trench.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Archaeology Equals Destruction

Emma gets us up to speed at the end of week 2:
Not many members of the public seem to realise that when an excavation happens, it does result in destruction of the site. We, the archaeologists and archaeology students, come in and disturb the site. In the process of looking for finds and context layers, this destroys the site. Once we have done our job of retrieving the site’s hidden secrets, the archaeology that was once there is now gone. Lost forever but surviving in records, documents, storage buildings, pictures and publications. The best example of this has been the work I have been doing for most of the past week.

For the past week I was given a slightly different task from the rest of my peers (although Jonathan took over on my study leave). I was assigned to help our local finds expert, Julie, to take apart the hearth that was discovered last year, brick by brick. Not as easy a task as it may sound! Due to the conditions the individual bricks had gone through, both during its life and during its burial, the bricks were not stable. Most of the bricks had become crumbly (particularly around the top part) and so removing them was a tricky task. For all the individual bricks that broke in half, I had to bag them in order to keep them together (as they needed to be measured for post-excavation analysis).

The dismantling of the hearth took longer than expected due to the heavy rain on Thursday. So for the morning we ended up having to wash the excavated bricks. Yes, you read that right. Groups A & D had to wash the bricks before being stored for post-excavation. I never thought I would have to perform such task in my life! By Friday the hearth was gone. Excavated, recorded and soon to be stored into the archaeological record.

Emma says goodbye to the hearth - by carefully washing each brick.

Wednesday's Updates: Bones, Rain and Lottery Wins

Lauren and Sydney excavate animal bone:
After the last couple of days of beautiful sunshine, this morning started off with drizzling rain and thus excavation on site was called off and the morning was spent washing bricks in the dry mess room. Although messy work, it is quite therapeutically calming. Other groups were weighing and cleaning the musket balls found in the spoil heap by the metal detectorist we work with. Today also coincided with the Queen’s Jubilee visit to Chester Zoo and a frantic effort was made using Twitter to ask her to visit our site. We were disappointed, but then it was quite short notice!
Work started again in the afternoon as Group A finally saw some hard work (our avoidance of it has not been by choice - though you won’t catch any of us complaining) and began mattocking another section of the trench. This led to a massive amount of animal bones being discovered, and I really do mean massive, in both size and numbers. Myself and Dan M. were on ‘trowel duty’ -  as the boys peeled back the layer with their mattocks we were called upon to excavate the bones. Many of which were impressively intact and obviously from a large animal. With the last few days of the second week and the half-way point drawing near I am becoming rather attached to my trowel, affectionately known as ‘Sydney’.  A note is to be added in credit to Jonathan the ‘Diceman’, after finding three bone dice in the last three days, celebration was needed and subsequently he is now £90 richer after winning the lottery. He is now the luckiest, but most envied man on site. And yet is still complaining he “never finds anything!”
Lauren (in purple) and others in her group wash bricks from the hearth structure.

Matt B. finds Continental pottery... and more animal bone:
Wednesday ended well for me, I found a large piece of Rhenish stoneware dating to between 1650 - early 1700's AD. I thought Thursday was going to carry on being good, but that wasn't too be. Today started with rain, lots of rain. Working on the dig site was put on hold for the time being due to the rain; instead we had indoor activities. We were split into two groups, one group cleaned bricks from the hearth and the other weighed all the lead shot that has been found from the site over the past few years. I was involved with weighing the lead shot. A simple process that involved scales and a recording sheet. Well, simple for the first hundred lead balls anyway. Monotony soon kicked in and the mind began to wander!

Just before dinner, the rain had stopped so it was decided we would take all the equipment to the site in preparation for continuing work. The afternoon for me started with creating drawings of a single context in plan view, something close to what we did on last year's fieldwork (on Halkyn Mountain). Mike and I had a grid set up and we had to measure points of significance then plot them onto a draughting sheet and join them up to make the plan. We both just wanted to dig! We got our wish for the last half hour of the working day, but with very little of anything interesting coming up. Hopefully tomorrow will be full of treasure, not bone, please no more bone!

Lead shot number 101.....

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Man down!

Joe and his group tackle post-med debris:

This afternoon our group had the job of removing a layer of post-medieval debris with mattocks and hand shovels. Unfortunately, our group was forced to toil away at this sun-baked layer a man down due to Oliver going AWOL on us. After deciding that this betrayal could not go unanswered, we concocted the story that we had found a gold Roman Sestertius (which don't even really exist - normally they are silver or copper alloy) on site in his absence. Needless to say he believed every word....

PS. I don’t think he reads the blog, so if everyone can keep up this pretense it would be much appreciated!

Joe works on taking the trench down to Roman layers.

Mattock for hire

Calum describes Wednesday:

Today our group took part in our first finds session, where we had to wash the artefacts that were found and clean them all up. This was really enjoyable as it gave us a chance to get really close to the artefacts and see what has been found, as we have done a lot of mattocking in the last week and have not really been finding much! We also found out the different ways in which we can identify metals and also how to record the different contexts. This really opened my eyes to what goes on behind the scenes with archaeology; something most people will not think about.

In the afternoon we were back to using our trusty mattocks, trimming down a section close to the site of the Roman road. As we did this we found a veritable hoard of finds, from bone to pottery and glass. However the highlight of the day with regard to finds has to be another die found by group B, making the total up to three. I think by the end of these 4 weeks group C will be mattocking pros!

Calum planning the hearth feature.

A special brick?

Will Mo. recaps his last week and gives us an account of Tuesday:


The first week is over. After several days of labour - removing the backfill left by last year's diggers - we were left with a surface that, when trowelled, presented a series of abstract orange and white smudges that defied interpretation (at least to my eyes). This all seemed rather inconclusive and by Friday I was impatient to scrape it off and see what was beneath it. If progress seemed slow, it is only because my experience of excavation is limited to watching Time Team: I am therefore accustomed to think that three days should be ample time in which to complete an extensive programme of archaeological investigation.

This Friday I was tasked with excavating a small section presumed by Dan to be the traces of a wall (indicated by aforementioned white smudging). It did indeed look like a wall - lumps of stone and mortar were removed. Beneath all this lay tantalising clues as to what lies beneath the post-medieval layer currently exposed. A more substantial rock feature was visible. I was only able to view this through the 2x1 foot hole I was permitted to make, but I'm eager to expose more of it on Monday!

Will Mo. puts his back into it. No toothbrushes used here!

The morning was spent removing spoil from the eastern side of the trench – hard work but rewarding. I think we made good progress in a relatively short space of time. Whilst this was happening, several interesting finds were made by those who were peeling back the surface of the trench near-by, including Medieval and Roman pottery.

In the afternoon we had our first experience of post-excavation work. None of the finds recovered so far require particularly careful handling; most were washed in water with a toothbrush – a process fairly monotonous but important none-the-less. These finds were largely ceramic objects such as sherds of pottery, clay pipes and building materials (brick and slate). It is hoped that these objects will help in our interpretation of the contexts from which they came, and in this way even such commonplace objects as these will be of value. Whilst delicately toothbrushing a brick, however, I did wonder why this particular example had been selected for curation over the many others that had found there way onto the spoil heap...

Dice man strikes again

James spends the day on finds:
In the morning we had a finds session, which involved a lot of scrubbing as we cleaned up the finds from some of the contexts learning how to record the finds and what information was important to record. Afterwards we got to snoop around the chapel, which was packed with finds from prevous excavations. We were like "kids in a candy shop".

Over the afternoon we worked on finishing up our context when Dice man (Johnathan) found another die, which matched the die he had found previously. And he still has the nerve to say he doesn't find much!
All in all a good day for archaeology!

No dice! James excavates the wall trench.

It isn't really all about the finds....

Having listened to the thunder the night before followed by the hail, I walked to the dig pondering Dan’s request for the weather, rain at night and sun in the day. Perhaps I would be able to see my feature more clearly today but as I turned up early, surprising all things considered, I realised my feature would have to wait - it was finds time.

As we trundled to Albion Street with me unsurprisingly lumbered with the wheelbarrow full of finds, the bragging and banter started trying to claim the best find. I stayed quiet knowing full well my best find wouldn’t make it into most people's top ten, but for the time being it didn’t matter. I had all the finds, but I wasn’t going to make a quick exit - the wheelbarrow was too rusty and slow for that.

Dan doesn't realise walls are better than finds! Cheer up!

We had the quick introduction from Julie, but as she began to finish my eyes began wandering behind me to all the bags of finds knowing we were going to get one each and I wanted a good one. “Ok everybody get a bag” Julie perked up, but I didn’t wait for the end of the sentence. I had swivelled round and was hunting through the bags before she had finished but my impatience was infectious and before I knew it I was being jostled for position around the trolley of the finds. It got quite heated with plenty of argy bargee but I was standing my ground.

Jonathan was determined to have his die and quickly found it, but everyone else was just picking the biggest bags leaving me looking through an ever smaller pile before I realised I was the only one left and my face become forlorn. Undeterred, I realised I had started and I may as well finish - evaluating, deciding on a bag that seemed to have a broad selection of finds if none of them particularly good.

Although cleaning isn’t my speciality, as the room will testify, I thought how hard can it be? So, I quickly got stuck in, realising perhaps I should do my room if it is this easy. Then I hit some fragile bone. My idyllic ideas about cleaning were shattered like the nineteenth century glass bottles I had just cleaned and my room was going to remain messy.

After a few hitches, I might have very nearly dropped my glass finds tray on the floor, I completed the bag and placed it to dry thinking: Why didn't I find any of this? I resolved to be more underhanded in getting finds, but as we returned from lunch I realised my new found plans would have to wait. I was still digging my feature in the middle of the trench by myself, but at least I had found what appeared to be a wall followed by a piece of black pottery bigger than my hand.

I was reasonably happy for a full minute before Jonathan found another die and I tried not to break the small glass pieces I was digging up, but I was better than that and I was going to find a coin. Well, I'm sure I’ve got a chance to find a coin, but it had to wait.  Context sheets needed filling out and other people’s finds need bagging, but tomorrow is another day and another chance to find something good, other than a wall.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Beyond the fence

Sam talks to the public and investigates some mortar:

As we entered into day six of the dig there was some apprehension within the group about the weather and whether or not we would get rained off, but we persevered through the showers and the sun broke out giving us a pleasant afternoon of digging.
Today I was mostly trowelling the surface of the eastern end of our trench looking for a line of white mortar that Dan "the troll hunting foreman" thinks may have been evidence for a medieval wall. I was also doing a spot of "public archaeology," which basically means going up to the boundary fence and explaining to any interested by-standers what we are doing, what we hope to find, and what we have found so far. It was an enjoyable task, and we all hope that the members of the public will continue to find interest in our work and continue to interact with us about it.

Sam enjoys the 'summer' weather.

Our 1st Archaeology Meme!

Matt W. is suspicious:
Today and yesterday yet more digging was carried out. Although this afternoon a welcome change of pace started with the delivery of the doughnuts by Meggen and finished with cleaning finds from the previous days.

Yet again the weather proved favourable to group A who always seems to get the indoors work when it is raining and always get out of the heavy digging and skip to the good stuff, how suspicious...   

The blog's 1st meme...Matt W might just have trench fever already.

It’s Finally Sunny!

Jonathan excavates a timber framed structure:

While last week’s weather conditions varied greatly, we were finally greeted with a whole day of sun today. However, this novelty quickly wore off when we discovered the effects on the soil.  It was rock solid. Despite this we continued to excavate our context, in this we were greatly assisted by Timothy the bee and his friends. We now believe the context is a fill from where a timber framed structure had originally been constructed and subsequently removed. Unlike Friday, when we excavated an array of finds including floor tile and a bone die, we were left disappointed today finding very little except animal bone and a vast quantity of degrading snail shells; however, we remain optimistic.

We also had a lecture on the importance of the public’s perception of archaeology, its branding and communication in relation to Chester Council’s current focus of renovating the city walls today, which showed us that as archaeologists it was important to inform the public about our work.

Jonathan (centre) excavating the beam slot of the timber framed structure.

Archaeology for all!

Jasmine outlines her first day of week 2:

Today we started our second week of the university dig and I was surprised to see that everyone was very upbeat considering that it was a Monday at 9 o'clock! This may have been to do with the glorious sunshine we were lucky enough to have. The day started with most people finishing off the work they had begun on Friday, but after mid-morning break we were given the opportunity to be split into groups (I would like to add that our groups were split into AD and BC, quite relevant to the periods we are digging on the site...) and take part in a public archaeology session with Jane from CWAC's Historic Environment Team.

I found this session really interesting and helpful towards our upcoming essay on public outreach, and its good to see how archaeology is keeping up with the times on Facebook and Twitter. After the initial talk our groups got to go and see how work was coming along in the Phoenix Tower on the walls, which is currently going through refurbishment.
Jasmine digging at the start of week 2.

I think what I am personally enjoying most about the dig is meeting the general public who are really interested in the site. There seemed to be an increased number of people aksing questions today (probably because we're more inviting when we aren't looking like drowned rats) and I think everyone is looking forward to the rest of the week and the finds sessions.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Wow, Dusty!

Daniel M kicks off week two on the dig:
Finally we had some nice weather. Alas, it made it impossible to dig the ruddy soil! I had cramps in my upper arm after an hour of digging the same section and for practically nothing. All I found were a few corroded nails and sherds of bone and moved hardly any of the rubbley-mess which needs to be completely removed. The dry conditions also caused dust to fill the air all day and was no help for my breathing along side this bloody cold we all seem to have.

We got a preview of the new interiors of the King Charles Phoenix Tower (in Chester), though. That looks like it's gonna be pretty good. This was followed by a short lesson on how to publicise archaeology, which is more complicated than first thought.

Ah well, back to digging tomorrow and tonight's thunder/hail storm will make it much easier AND messier tomorrow. YAY! ^_^

Daniel M powers through the fill of the beam slot.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Will Ma. (there are so many named Will!) and his group find a bone die:

Since this is now the fourth day of the dig and everyone has seemed to be putting in hard work, the benifts are really paying off! The weather has held out, also, and it has been a great pleasure to excavate this week.

The finds that have been excavated today have been the best yet, including a stem of a clay pipe which was embossed with the Cheshire crest, a bone die plus countless animal bones and pottery including a number of pieces from the Roman era. This shows that the site is coming on leaps and bounds, but there is still a lot to do! There is still a section of fill that needs taking out and the Roman road to uncover.  Also the hearth and drainage sections needs finishing off and with a good portion of the site been troweled, we can now begin to excavated the archaeology that the students from years before us on thier digs had not reached.  Many of us are looking forward to the weeks to come - let the fun begin!
Will trowels near the hearth structure.

Week 1 Completed

Matt W. reflects on his first week of digging:

Over the first week there have been many different activities that we have done. Day 1 was the 'day of digging,' which took a while to get used to, for a townie such as myself.  Through the back-breaking shovelling and intense heat the progress was hard, but fulfilling at the same time. Day 2 was mostly pulling up the canvas material from the site which we had dug down to the previous day; in the afternoon my group had a well earned rest. On day three we began the seemingly neverending task of scraping the site clean, which gave birth to the phrase 'there's always more dirt'. Even so, we kept scraping and came up with a few finds such as animal bone and pottery. The most exciting find I discovered was a musketball and a cow or horse's tooth. Ee also did site photography and touched up on our topography, where Mike B had a touching moment with a squirrel. Day 4 we did yet more scraping and learnt how to fill in a context sheet, but soon the site was cleaned and we were assigned some excavating tasks along a linear feature on the site, possibly a wall of the building containing the hearth. In my section of excavating the notable finds were a piece of Cistercian Ware, a large bone, a Roman tegulae roof tile, a late medieval roof tile and lots of mortar which Will Mo. was most captivated with.
Matt W surveys the trench.
Emma discusses the end of week one:

Then there were two…

For the past two days the numbers in Group D have started to decline. Starting out as a group of four our numbers are now down to two. Hopefully those who were absent will return by Monday. Fortunately, we weren’t separated into different groups to do different jobs. Instead three of the four groups spent the morning scraping off the remaining topsoil to uncover the archaeological level that was discovered during last year’s excavation.

After our lunch break we started to dig down deeper into the archaeology. However, after about 30 minutes Tom, myself and some of the other guys were called out of the trench for a session on context sheets (we were off during the original session). The way we were sat around Uncle Simon was like we were more about to participate in storytime than a lesson in how to fill out context sheets. For those who are unaware of what a context sheet is, it is a very important document. When an area has been excavated in a trench, archaeologists need to note down key information about:

1) The type of context it is (e.g. a ditch, a wall),
2) The colour of the soil and the type it is,
3) Size,
4) Method used to excavate it,
5) Artefacts found,
6) And a drawing of the location of the site,

Once our lesson in context sheets had finished we went back to our previous task. While I was digging I found a large piece of slipware which was once part of a plate; according to Julie it dates back to the second half of the 18th century. I also found a vertebra (back bone) of a cow.
As the day came to a close and we had packed up we were lined up on the south end of the trench to look at our work of the first week. It’s come a long way in one week. It has gone from a hole in the ground to a site that is covered in archaeology. Simon concluded the week by giving a talk to explain the different parts of the archaeological site.

This week has been very hard work and tiring. However, it has also been fun and a good learning experience. I can’t wait to get back in the trench next Monday and to see what we uncover next!