Archive | August, 2012

Day 16

29 Aug

Sunday is marked by a huge increase in the amount of Saxon pot coming from the now Almost Definite sunken-featured building in Giles’ World of the Anglo Saxons. We now have two sherds instead of one, which represents a statistically significant increase of 100% in our Anglo Saxon pottery sherds.

Neil recovers from Saturday’s penalty travesty

Meanwhile the ditches are going down and down and the Dear Leader exhorts his team to greater effort, even resorting to digging himself. John P accurately sums this up as “leading from the front in a futile gesture” and indeed the DL soon gets bored and wanders off to point at something and scratch his chin reflectively. Everyone is cheered up by Heather J. finding a monumental piece of our gladiator Samian bowl. She takes a picture and sends it smugly to Dave G as it is bigger than his lion bit the previous week.

The Dear Leader gets down with the workers

It’s the Bank Holiday weekend but amazingly it hardly rains at all. The visitors come out in their droves. This is much needed as we still have quite a lot of merchandise left, including the tasteful Guantanamo Orange T-shirts, which thus far have not proved a great seller despite Chrissy’s modelling efforts. Peer is told that he must buy one as he is Dutch and therefore genetically disposed to like orange. The Dear Leader, meanwhile, tells his students that anyone using gladiator transfers in their essays next term will get extra marks but they remain similarly unmoved.


Day 16

29 Aug

It’s Saturday which is the day that Gwladys the Samian Lady comes to admire our splendid collection of red shiny pottery. This includes some sections of a very bloodthirsty Dragendorff 37 (big fruit bowl type dish) which has all sorts of lion devouring gladiator stuff going on. We also have a lion-spout mortarium (mixing bowl) in which the potters have made the lion resemble Micky Mouse by using their thumbs to create ridiculous looking ears.

Mickey Mouse mortarium


A bit of beast munching gladiator action

The North Ditch is getting ever deeper and even more excitingly seems to be later than the others. The south and middle ditches have a road running over them but the north ditch seems to cut the road. This is thrilling stuff and just the sort of thing that archaeologists get very excited about. It’s now a sequence with a story, instead of just being three great big ditches.

Neil has the day off to watch Norwich City vs QPR. His devotion to the Canaries is such that it amounts to religious belief and thus we must make due adjustment to working practices. Sadly, however, it is a 1-1 draw after City were ROBBED by Bobby Zamora being inside the box while a penalty was taken. Boo, hiss etc.

Day 14

29 Aug

Giles’ World of the Anglo Saxons is a reality. We have Anglo Saxon pottery from the possible sunken featured building, which can now be upgraded from possible to probable. Soon even Kathryn of the Small Finds Tent may believe it, although as a lawyer she thinks that archaeologists make most things up, particularly post-holes. Early Anglo Saxon pottery is unmistakably rubbish. It is hand-made rather than wheel-turned and tends to be poorly fired and much softer than Roman pottery which will generally survive a nuclear attack. In the olden days before the Anglo-Saxons were reinvented as Germanic lifestyle advisers (© Heinrich Harke) this was seen as an indication that they were beastly Teutonic barbarians, with their inability to turn out a nice pot a sign of wider inadequacies. Now, however, it merely shows that they were expressing their diverse identities through different media, which apparently included making pottery that fizzes like Alka Seltzer if you drop it in water.

Expanding the ditches trench to create a sweeping vista

Elsewhere the extension trenches to Giles’ empire on the other side of the river are being staffed exclusively by people called Tony. They are finding the enclosure ditches around the probable Anglo-Saxon building plus a lot of gravel.

In the World of the Big Ditches, the trenches into the ditches are now being expanded to sample the material on the edges of the ditches and also to enable us to reach the bottom in an Elf and Safety compliant fashion. They are also being expanded because the Dear Leader wants a glorious sweeping Mortimer Wheeler-style section through all the ditches and doesn’t think the current trench width looks impressive enough.

Friday is also quiz and barbecue night. Heather and Giles come to join the campers with Giles armed with a luminous frisby. The quiz is riven with dispute over the correct name of the Chinese currency, but Ian is quizmaster and his decision is final.

Day 13

29 Aug

Thursday is truly a day of innovation as we are visited by Elliot from Hexcam and his amazing Octocopter. The Octocopter, as the name suggests, is a small helicopter with 8 rotors. This makes it buzz around in the manner of a little airborne spider, looking like something that the Americans would use to spy on the Taleban. The 8 rotors, however, make it an amazingly stable platform for low level aerial photography, with the capability for video and some interesting 3D effects. As well as being very effective, it is a top quality boys’ toy and arouses great interest from all in the vicinity. The team are given strict instructions not to look up as there is nothing worse than an aerial photograph of a site with a load of people staring gormlessly up at the aeroplane.

Elliot and the Octocopter

Elliot and his amazing Octocopter

The Octocopter has arrived at a fortuitous moment as the trenches are looking quite pretty (at least from the point of view of someone who doesn’t get out much) and the streets of the Roman town are showing up very nicely as parch marks in the ground. The Octocopter also proves to be very useful for chasing sheep which interestingly follow the lines of the streets as they run in panic across the landscape.

Elliot’s work at Caistor can be seen below and also at plus some amazing 3D stuff at He is available to hire for all your aerial photography needs and comes with the Caistor seal of approval, although if he crashes through your conservatory roof it’s not our fault.

The view from above

Days 11 & 12

24 Aug

Tuesday and Wednesday is when successive trenches have their days off so it all gets a bit quieter than normal. The Dear Leader and Dr Dave go to lay out the new trenches using a sort of “here be dragons” plan that involves a lot a tape measures and finding of grid pegs. Previously the grid pegs had proved hard to locate and in his absence Keith’s colleagues in trench 11 (aka the trench of the sunken-featured building) had suggested that he had removed the pegs from the ground because they were red and shiny and he liked red and shiny things. Keith had thus been unfairly maligned, because the Dear Leader and Dr Dave couldn’t find the grid pegs, so their rediscovery meant his honour was restored.

One the trenches were in position, the Dear Leader went for his once a year photo opportunity with a mattock and removed some topsoil aided by Brian, Alex and Ian. Having exhausted himself by mid afternoon he was relieved to see Andrew Selkirk from Current World Archaeology appear over the horizon so he could return to his traditional activity of wandering around pointing at stuff and scratching his chin.

The ditches trenches are being expanded to allow us to reach the bottom and Lydia scores find of the day on Wednesday with an ace bronze pin. She is congratulated on her find by Chrissy’s mother, who at 98 is probably the oldest visitor we have had on the site. She gave Chrissy a good telling off for spending all her time with a bunch of reprobates and gave the Dear Leader a good telling off for keeping Chrissy away from house and home.

The cake count is on the up and Brian provides a cracker of a cake complete with edible trench. Sword sales are not looking good however and the Dear Leader may be forced to make the students buy them as compulsory material for their course.

Chrissy’s Mum (Frances) visits the trenches

Brian raises the bar for cakes in 2012





Day 10: 99 problems (but a ditch ain’t one)

22 Aug

After the excitement of the family weekend, it’s back to the day-to-day business of pushing back the frontiers of knowledge. We’re going to open up some more trenches around the sunken-featured building to look at the enclosure that seems to surround it. Hopefully the residents of the building will have spent some time chucking stuff into the ditches so we will be able to get some more idea of who was living there at any particular point. We are of course hoping that it will come out with a nice 7th-8th century date to go with the other material that has come off the field over the years. Our initial ideas for placing our other trenches come undone when we realise that, as is traditional, we’ve put the spoil heap for the original trench in exactly the same place as we want to put the new trench. The Dear Leader toys briefly with the idea of asking some students to move the spoil heap but realises that this might play out badly later when they’re asked to fill in the National Student Survey form. So the new trench will get shifted slightly.

Peer demolishes the small wall of soil he has left between himself and his colleagues (courtesy of Sue)

Meanwhile in the ditches trench, we may have some Saxon pot to go with our post-built structures, although it has been identified by people who by their own admission don’t really know much about Saxon pot, so we won’t publish that one yet. Richard the Bone Man has arrived to do a lot of sieving in the hope of recovering fishbone. He doesn’t find any but draws an admiring crowd of women of a certain age who are taken with his manly sieving prowess.

The ditches trench in action, with Neil’s array of planning frames ready for some extreme stone drawing. Don’t try this one at home kids (courtesy of Chrissy).

The heat has meant that the portaloos are starting to whiff a bit and it’s been so humid that the grass is growing like anything inside the marquees, which have a sort of hothouse effect. This is particularly pronounced in Kathryn’s Small Finds tent which is starting to look like Max’s bedroom in Where the Wild Things Are. This is not, of course, to suggest that Kathryn either wears a wolf suit, or makes mischief of one kind or another, but we may have to get a strimmer in.

Day 9

22 Aug

It’s day 2 of family fun at #caistor and Gilbert the Samian pot man is replaced by Nigel the Roman cavalry man. Nigel is without his horse today or strictly speaking without his pony (as the Roman cavalry used ponies) as his most recent pony has recently retired. He is excellent value and a font of knowledge and spends the day tirelessly letting children put on helmets and weaponry. It’s a slightly cooler day so visitor numbers are up. John mans the kids’ dig to great effect and manages to stop the assembled tots stabbing each other with trowels. Andrew and Nat continue with their historically questionable Welsh war cries and the cultural enrichment of the public is thus ensured.

In the trenches, ditches are being revealed and rather nice bits of Samian pottery are being revealed, including one with an amphitheatre scene with a lion seemingly about to eat an unfortunate individual. We’ll get a picture up in the next day or so. Rather more unusually we also have a piece of 1st century marbled Samian, a very rare find in Roman Britain, spotted by Gilbert the Samian man as he was looking at the finds drying in their trays. We’ll use these finds to entice the lovely Gwladys (who studies our Samian) to come down and see us.

The ditches trench (courtesy of Mike Page). The white lines represent the middle of the ditches as seen on the geophysics and aerial photos

For those of you who were disappointed by the rather non-descript photo of the sunken featured building, we can now offer you a much better one courtesy of Mike Page who once again has taken to the skies to document our trenches. The SFB shows up with wonderful clarity as do the white lines that guide onlookers to our ditches.

Mike Page’s splendid picture of the sunken featured building

Kathryn in the small finds tent is getting increasingly frustrated by the team’s inability to find any notable objects (or even any unidentifiable metal blobs) and indeed the contrast between the archaeology inside the walled town (where we dug in 2010 and 2011) and outside the walled town is striking. There was clearly very intensive occupation in the walled town in the late Roman period (which most of our stuff dates to). The Dear Leader mumbles the usual stuff about the value of negative evidence but Kathryn is not convinced.

Big push on swords needed, otherwise there’ll be a fire sale in the last week.