Follow along everyday throughout our June 2022 Archaeological Digs in partnership with the University of Leicester (School of Archaeology & Ancient History)
Follow along for daily updates from the excavation team on what we've found, interviews with the archaeologists, and updates on how the students are finding a live excavation.
IRCHESTER FIELD SCHOOL BLOG 3: Progress on site
The team has been working in three main areas. One group has been working on cleaning an area close to the main east-west road, which led to the east gate in the wall of the small Roman town. This area includes buildings and a side road. In the process, the team has discovered pits and several post-holes. They will continue to clean this area, which will hopefully help us to work out when the side road went out of use, and whether there is any evidence for late and/or post-Roman activity.
To the west of this area, at the northern end, the team is excavating pits and ditches which were in the back yards of buildings fronting the east-west road. These pits usually contain fragments of pot and bone.
The western edge of the excavation is densely packed with burials. We are finding multiple graves, lined with stones, with up to three burials on top of one another. It is likely that the burials date to the late Roman period. The skeletal remains are uncovered using fine tools and are treated with great care and respect; they will be studied by osteologists (human bone specialists) at the University of Leicester (the team that identified Richard III). This will provide us with important insights into the lives of the townsfolk, including information about diet, disease and lifestyle. Stable isotope analysis can provide additional insights, such as where an individual lived when they were a child, based on the chemistry of a bone sample.
In the northern area of the excavation, there is a side road and Roman and post-medieval structures. As we have dug through the late Roman buildings, there is evidence for activity dating to the early Roman period. We have also discovered two additional burials here. One burial was partially destroyed when a post-medieval drain was constructed. Another burial was disturbed by post-medieval buildings.
Alongside the excavation we are running site tours, talking to school groups and welcoming visitors. Today we were delighted to meet Councillor Helen Howell and Kerry Purnell (Assistant Director Housing and Communities) at North Northants Council, as well as John Griff from BBC Northampton (making a podcast) and a team from the One-to-One Development Trust (making a film).
The day ended with a pottery workshop with Dr Jeremy Taylor. Fun hands-on activities and lots of new knowledge (and some Saxby’s cider!). Great to hear team members debating whether the fragments of pot they are finding are wheel made or coiled!
IRCHESTER FIELD SCHOOL BLOG, DAY 2 - 20TH JUNE 2022 - MEET THE TEAM:
Our team includes University of Leicester students and staff, volunteers and staff from the Chester House Estate and students from the Creating Tomorrow College. The University of Leicester staff are Professor Sarah Scott, Dr Jeremy Taylor, Sarah Morriss and Danielle De Carle from the School of Archaeology and Ancient History and Donald Clark and Chris Naisbitt from University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS).
This is a field school for students studying archaeology by distance learning, with many studying alongside full-time jobs, or whilst caring for young children. It is lovely to meet our students in person, rather than on Teams! They have travelled from all over the UK and further afield, including the US and Australia.
Students are working alongside volunteers from the Chester House Estate; some of the volunteers have been involved with excavations here for many years, while for others this is their first experience of an archaeological excavation. The team also includes students and staff from other universities in the UK and around the world, such as the University of Seattle in the US and Linnaeus University in Sweden.
Students from Creating Tomorrow College, a further education college currently based at Chester House, are having a great time on site, excavating a wide range of archaeological features and learning new skills. The aim of Creating Tomorrow College provision is to prepare young adults for independent living and to provide employment opportunities as they transition into adulthood.
We are excavating in the suburbs of the Roman town, but there is evidence of human activity in this landscape over 10,000 years. A fascinating find today was this rare early HP sauce bottle (not Roman!). HP sauce was developed by Frederick Gibson Garton, a grocer from Nottingham, who sold the name and recipe to help clear his debts, and in doing so missed out on a fortune https://www.heartofthemidlands.co.uk/a-z-of-heroes-heroines-heritage/hp-sauce-and-frederick-gibson-garton/.
We also found this unexpected visitor in a shady part of the site ...
irchester field school Blog, day 1 - 20th June 2022:
It was lovely to see new and familiar faces arriving for the first day of the field school, including students from the School of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester, together with former students, Chester House Estate volunteers and students from the Creating Tomorrow Trust. The field school is taking place in the area of the eastern suburb of the well-preserved small Roman town that lies within the Chester House Estate. The area of the suburb (from the Latin ‘below the town’) extended to the west, east and south of the walled area of the town and contained multiple buildings as well as cemeteries.
After introductions and a site tour, everyone made a great start cleaning back new areas and we have already exposed what looks like a strip building or house. In the area of the cemetery, we have signs of further partial and complete burials beneath those previously excavated as well as deposits of animal bone.
Archaeology is a destructive process. The team is therefore making detailed records, including notes, drawn plans, sections and photographs. These records will help us to interpret and date the layers and features produced by natural processes and human activity. Everything we find is carefully washed and labelled, and will be stored in the Archaeological Resource Centre (ARC), conveniently located within a few metres of the excavation site!
The team includes highly experienced volunteers and students, as well as those new to archaeology. It is great to see everyone working together, sharing their knowledge, experience and enthusiasm and learning new skills!
We have found a range of mostly late Roman pottery (3rd and 4th centuries AD) and other finds including a fragment of a copper alloy bracelet. There was a surprise discovery of a small hollow created by a tree (a tree throw) containing a range of flint objects, possibly dating to the Neolithic or Early Bronze Age; further evidence for several millennia of human activity in this landscape.
The day ended with an excellent guided tour of the house and buildings led by Bruce (who kindly agreed to do this at very short notice!), with some fascinating insights into the exploits of the individuals and families that lived on the Estate. Many of them called Thomas!
We are very lucky to be working in such a beautiful place with amazing archaeology and a state-of the-art archaeological archive in one place! We are also very grateful to the Chester House Estate team for making everyone feel so welcome.