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.
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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!

Found anything good yet?

Lauren offers insight into treasure hunting:
As the previous two days of our dig have been extreme opposites (one of beautiful sunshine and the other of heavy rain) today looked to be reasonably mild on the weather front. The majority of the day was spent on all fours in the mud clearing away the backfill from the site. Which leads me to some reflection on the finding of ‘treasure’. One of the most commonly asked questions of the public to archaeologists is “found anything yet?”. Although meant in good favour and mostly from someone who holds a genuine interest in our subject, it is so easy to get wrapped up in this obsession with finding something of worth. Even other archaeologists ask similar questions. Today’s task led to some interesting discoveries, on my part large amounts of animal bone in varying sizes. But my mind started to query the significance of such discoveries, what does this actually tell us about this site? That there were once animals here? Possibly, but all we have proof of is that their bones finally rested in this place, not that they were alive here. And thus the answer to the original question is clear; yes we have found something, but it only lets us glimpse at the context in which the find was deposited at the site. Final conclusions need more than just one piece of bone found in some backfill. Therefore we must journey forward, to more complicated excavation techniques if we are to answer the more detailed questions. If I take anything away from this experience it will be that ‘treasure’ is not the be all and end all of archaeology.
Lauren cleaning back.

Matt B. highlights photography skills:
Our third day started by mopping up puddles of water from all the rain from the day before. This did not take as long as I was expecting thanks to some sponges. We then carried on cleaning the site of backfill from previous excavations. This involves scraping away dirt until we get to the clean archaeology that has not been disturbed yet. A couple of finds came up from doing this, mostly broken pottery, bone, a few small metal objects and yet more clay tobacco pipe stems! My group then had a quick revision session on setting up a dumpy level and how to measure the height of features, a lot of standing around holding a pole was involved.

The afternoon saw my group getting behind the lens of the cameras and learning what is needed to take good archaeological pictures. We practised taking pictures of the whole site, individual features and how to take straigraphic pictures (along with pictures of anything we could see when no one was looking). After becoming true professional photographers, it was time to get dity again and finis the day with more cleaning of site.

Matt B. looks the part of the photographer.

New Archaeology Number One

Daniel W. (aka the Badger Man of day 1) provides an account of his day AND the next Christmas number one:

The sun edging through my not-properly-closed-blinds woke me. Startled I moved sharply, but I quickly regretted it. My muscles still sore from the sharp introduction to hard manual labour fought back keeping me rigid in bed but as I rolled over thinking of having an extra 10 minutes I saw the time. Again in near shock I moved again instantly regretting my decision, but this time I knew I had to ignore the stiffness and get moving. As I rushed through town, thinking about what awaited me, I glanced upwards to the sky hoping that yesterday’s rain wouldn’t be repeated; I was already running out of suitable clothes.

Surprised by my quickness I arrived in time, even with some to spare. I could have had that extra donut: “oh well” I thought as I took a wheelbarrow off Uncle Simon and began heading towards our site, which this morning resembled what I thought might make a good swimming pool with a suitable diving platform from the spoil heap.

I pulled out my trowel. Well, I say mine, inspired by Indiana Jones I raided a tomb that was in effect my housemate’s bedroom, but regardless of the rights and wrongs ‘Tiberius’ was ready and itching to go but Mike said: “Group A are doing photography”. Although I was interested in doing something different I could feel Tiberius’ spirit dying in my hand, but I didn’t care. Throwing him away with less enthusiasm than this morning I picked up a camera.

As I listen I was thinking - “this is easy” - but upon trying the first photo shot I felt my confidence and blasé attitude suddenly diminish and my ears prick up as our first angle didn't work. Yet as I stood there thinking my housemate does photography for a degree - how hard can it actually be - we start trying different positions. I begin feeling better as some of the shots began to work. Wide zoom, close zoom, angled, flat, we began reeling them off, it getting steadily easier to choose the appropriate angle for the features we were photographing. But although it was enjoyable my eye began flicking towards Tiberius, carelessly strewn on the floor, and I felt guilty about my treatment of him earlier but he would have to wait until after the first tea break.

Break came along with the football, but that was not going to stop Tiberius. I whipped him up off the floor, apologised and got on my knees. Fingers twitching I begin cleaning mud, although as I thought about it scraping away I began to think of the irony of it all, but the irony just kept me chuckling as I scraped away. I sat in the middle in a row of five, but I realised that as luck was the residue of design, I had not designed my place well, as the finds began trickling in around me and all I found was slate. I grew rueful but that just made my scraping faster, but it appeared I had found the bottom of the barrel and I just couldn’t find a new barrel.

Dan finds ... slate.

As the mud miraculously got cleaner, well, cleaned back at any rate, and my castle towers on top of the spoil heap multiplied, the day began drawing to an end. I was less muddy than the first day but still somehow being covered in more mud then everyone else combined. I trudged back my wheelbarrow filled with buckets before walking home singing to a hot and steamy shower.

And the song was....

Love, Is A Burning Thing
And It Makes A Fiery Dig
Bound By Wild Desire
I dug down to the Roman road

I dug down to the Roman road beneath
I dug Down, Down, Down
And The mud Went Higher
And It Burns, Burns, Burns
The trowling down
The trowling down

The Taste Of Mud Is Sweet
When Trowels Like Ours Meet
I Dug For You Like A Child
Oh,But The Roman Road Went Wild

I dug down to the Roman road beneath
I dug Down, Down, Down
And The mud Went Higher
And It Burns, Burns, Burns
The Roman Road
The Roman Road

Love Is A Burning Thing
And It Makes A Fiery Dig
Bound By Wild Desire
I dug down to the Roman road beneath

I dug down down down to the roman road beneath
And The mud Went Higher Higher Higher
My hearts desire
My hearts desire

By Daniel “Johnny Cash” W.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Puddle management

Michael updates us on what happened on day three:

Following a night of torrential rain the prospects for today were not good, but apart from a shower in the afternoon the weather held off. The first job of the day was to get rid of excess water from the site and this was done with hand shovels and sponges…the latter being FAR more affective. Once the puddles had been soaked up, we continued towelling the site and the building foundations became clearer. That was how the day began and ended for us, Group B, but we also had a go at levelling and photography in-between. When setting up the dumpy level for the levelling we all took it in turns standing like lemons with the meter stick whilst someone else in the group took the readings. For my turn I was approached by several members of the public who seemed interested in what we were doing and were keen to hear about what had been found today. I was able to tell them about the various finds we unearthed earlier including a piece of unstratified Roman pottery, numerous fragments of animal bone and lots iron artefacts (nails I think?).

Apart from the septic smell that is developing from near the spoil heap, it was yet another pleasant day. As a result of the trench being cleaned further, it is beginning to look more like an archaeological site opposed to just a big hole in the ground with few points of interest as it did a few days ago. Here’s hoping for a dry night so the work everyone did today is not undone!

Mike and Matt and ladder prepare for a photo.

Hi ho - it's off to work we go

James offers his view on days one and two:

Our first job on the site was to clear the remaining earth from the surface of the terram so that it could be removed. This meant whipping out the shovels and getting down to some digging! Suprisingly the sun did make an apearance, but its probably best not to get used to it.

At the end of the day it was great to see the progress we had made as the terram was peeled back revealing the excavation site that we would be working on and we will have to wait and see what things we find. Looking forward to the next few weeks!
James and his trowel

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

An invitation!

Tom gets philosophical:

Life and archaeology go together. 
How’s that one would ask? Because they are both full of lovely complex stratigraphy just waiting for someone to tell its story, just like the one we are going to have the opportunity to tell from this year’s Dig in Chester’s Grosvenor Park.

This year has given me the unique opportunity to view archaeology from a different perspective - from inside a trench -  and to be able to answer the questions I would usually ask an archaeologist.  Things like - what types of archaeology have you uncovered so far? What do you hope to find? Have you created your own interpretation about what’s going on in the archaeological record?

Hey you! Yes you, the public! When you’re out walking one day in the park and see our excavation going on don’t be afraid to come up to us and talk.  If you want to know what’s going on just ask, don’t be afraid. You might worry about what to ask, but we are students who worry about how to answer! The more you ask us, the more it helps our confidence.
We have only just started to scratch the surface and who knows what might be uncovered, so come along and find out.  You might be there to witness something exciting!
Tom and Emma find photography funny.

The Soil Sausage Test

Oli becomes one with mud:

After being attacked by a downpour of rain our chance of finally starting to get some archaeology revealed was sadly shut down and so we had to retreat back to the cabin where we had a session on how to write out context sheets. We learned the main purpose of the context sheets and how to fill each part out in depth. With excavation being destruction, it was essential to learn how to preserve as much of the evidence as we could and context sheets are our main written form of to preserve this knowledge.
I think it was beginning to show how the dig was affecting people as being in that snug cabin after 2 hard days digging people were already beginning to drift off, not mentioning any names of course *cough* Daniel *cough*. We did however get an opportunity to get our hands dirty again in the second part of the session where we were taking soil and trying to understand how to classify it by looking at its texture, composition and malleability. Have to admit it was great fun making sausages out of mud to test whether it could make rings or not. Luckily for us though, the rain eased up a little bit and we finally got back out to the dig site to begin uncovering the archaeology (or in our case revise how to use a dumpy level).
Oli, Calum, Joe and William examine soil in the dry warmth of the site cabin.

The trowels - they deserve respect

William provides musings on a varied day:

Our second day on the site managed to be surprisingly varied. After a morning session spent on site photography, we spent a while helping to excavate the trench, cutting back the fill from the previous years’ diggers (turning up a surprising amount of plastic – careless of them).

After a beautiful morning spent in these genteel pursuits, the heavens decided to open, and sent us scurrying back into the safety of Dee House, abandoning the trench in favour of a session on the proper use of a context recording form. Entirely necessary, but strangely uninspiring when you could be poking things with trowels.

(On that note, I am obliged by the mighty Jasmine to inform all and sundry that “Trowel-5” is a thing. Try it, you’ll enjoy it.)

Still, we did get to learn about soil classification, which satisfied our strange desire to muck around in the dirt (Dan W enjoyed this more than most).

The remainder of our group's day was devoted to a refresher course in the esoteric art of the Dumpy Level, a fundamental part of which is a mathematical process of stunningly simple addition that I was morbidly ashamed to realise I had forgotten the steps to. (Seriously. There were three of them, and I’d managed to mix two of them up. I only used the ruddy thing last year.)

After wiping the egg from my face, we spent the rest of the afternoon determining the relative heights of the flowerbeds and paths around Grosvenor Park, and pondering the site, planning how best to take a hypothetical level measurement of the brick hearth feature in the centre of the trench. A perfectly intriguing day, although it may take a month of washes to get the mud out of my jeans.

An Addendum on the Importance of Naming Your Trowel

  1. It is important to name your trowel.
  2. Very important.
  3. Your trowel will appreciate it.


Brenda and Agrippa arrive on site

Calum and Joe fight through the rain for day two:

Today our group was first up for learning the basics of photography in archaeology. We tried and tested a range of different angles and locations to try and get the perfect picture of the entire site as well as some individual features. In the end we discovered that elevation was key and ended up standing on top of the spoil heap to get a top-down view of the whole trench.

The digging took on a new shape today as the last of the plastic covering was taken up from the trench. This really made a difference to the way the site looks as it began to take the form of a real dig and not just a mound of soil and grass!

The next stage then began as we had to scrape off the clayey compacted layer of soil that covered the main layer that we are going to excavate. This was a good chance to utilise the new trowels that we had bought in preparation for the dig. Some of the trowels have even been given names, ranging from “Brenda” to “Agrippa”! Unfortunately this portion of the dig was cut short due to our first bout of heavy rain leading us to take cover in the mess hall and learn some more about context sheets.

William, Joe, Calum and Olly with Julie getting ready for levelling.

Day one - muscle ache

Daniel M. describes his first day on site:

The first day on the dig was brilliant. A great first day! The dirty-looking rain clouds moved away and we stayed dry the entire time - some of the students even cracking out the sun-cream.

The main job for the day was to carefully remove the remaining soil on top of the cover over the area of excavation. This had to be done without damage to the cover, which obviously didn't happen. (Meggen's note - its only plastic...)

The soil was then dumped on top of what is now a huge mound of mud. It got so big we had to create a path which circles around its ascent. When extending the path I found the biggest sherd of pottery of the day! Muscles definitely aching and can't wait for my lie-in tomorrow morning.
Daniel M tidies up the edge of the trench.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Prehistoric Flint Already?!?

Sam gives us the highlights of day one:
Today was our first day at the dig site, and we were all a bit nervous as to what to expect, but once we got stuck in everyone found their own jobs to do and what had appeared a daunting task became a fun activity. We were digging down to the layer of Terram left by the previous year's excavation, and found a lot of interesting items. I personally found a lot of pieces of clay tobacco pipes, slipware, Samian ware, Burnished ware, glass, bone, and a musket ball.
I was very excited to find a piece of flint that Dan the Supervisor said is very likely to be prehistoric if it shows signs of having been worked. I can hardly wait to hear about the outcome of that.
It was very exciting to go into the dig today and to start finding artefacts straight away and I am very excited to see what we will uncover tomorrow.

Sam already has an eye for finds.

Everyday I'm Shoveling

Jasmine and Jonathan update us on their first day:

Today was the first day of the annual Chester University dig, in association with CWAC. Despite it being monsoon season in Chester of late, the sun actually came out for our first day of the job, and we were able to peel back the remaining spoil on top of the terram that covered last year's remains. Although it should be said that this feat would have been almost impossible without Dan the Badger Man, or Dan W as many of us know him, flying through the dirt and making almost as much mess as he was clearing away.
Over the course of the day we removed an excess of artefacts from the site ranging from clay pipes and slipware to musket balls that were found in the spoil heap. Tomorrow we should start excavating the layers under the terram, which include the foundations of a medieval out building.
Overall, everyone had a great day and are looking forward to the next few weeks. Hopefully the sun will keep shining.

Heads down - Jasmine, Jonathan, Lauren and Dan the Badger Man at work.

It Begins!

Well, the trench is open and the new diggers are beginning their journeys to understand why we get so excited about changes in soil colour and texture...
This year's excavation is not only about trying to figure out the riddles of the past underneath the soil in Grovesnor Park, but also about getting the word out about archaeology in Chester.  You might just have heard of something called the Olympics (!) and on May 29th we are lucky enough to have the Olympic torch passing through Chester - and it will go right by the trench! So on May 29th in the afternoon we'll be having our Dig Open Day and we invite everyone to come down to have a closer look at the archaeology including opportunities to handle some of the finds from the park.  If you can't make it down on the 29th and find yourself in Grosvenor Park this May, you can still peek through the fence and ask questions of our diggers.  We're happy to talk about what we are doing and what we've found.  Let us know you've been following the blog and you might even get a mention in that day's post.
Here's hoping the day stays dry for the diggers.