Phase 2 - 2007

Introduction

A substantial part of the western end of the villa building was already excavated by the end of 2006: part of the stokeroom, two rooms with hypocausts, a central room, the south corridor and part of the north corridor (Fig.1). This also shows the location of new features on the north and east side of the trench where excavation was focused in 2007. A further trench was excavated 25m to the north of the villa and enclosure, over the line of a possible ditch. In addition, the large quantity of ceramic building material excavated from this part of the villa over the past few years was recorded and added to a database for further analysis (see CBM Recording).

View North

Fig.1. View north over excavation showing the layout of the building and new features

Excavation

Stokeroom

Part of the stokeroom remained unexcavated and proved very rewarding for younger diggers who did most of the work in this area. The accumulated deposit of soil and domestic refuse included plenty of large pieces of pottery and animal bone. The two most remarkable finds were discovered by a young SOAG on consecutive Sundays. The first was a Roman spring padlock bolt (Fig. 2). The padlock would have consisted of an iron box with a projecting bar attached. The two ‘eyelets’ of the spring bolt slid home along the bar. The pointed catch springs engaged within the box until compressed by a key. In fact a Roman key, of the type associated with such a padlock, was discovered nearby in the same deposit when the south side of the stokeroom was excavated.

Spring padlock bolt

Fig. 2. Spring padlock bolt

The second find was a decorated copper alloy bracelet: a thin strip 12cm long and 0.4cm wide, with a diameter of 6.5cm (Fig. 3). This probably dates from the 4th century when it was fashionable to wear several on each wrist and it may have been fastened by a clasp or hook.

Copper alloy bracelet

Fig. 3. Copper alloy bracelet

There are patches of what appears to be a chalk floor surface, covered of course by much soot and charcoal. Found in this deposit was a fragment of shell tempered pottery, probably late 4th-century.

Central room

This large room is 6m square and has a chalk floor.

In 2006 an area of tessellated pavement was found close to the doorway in the north-east corner and more has emerged this year. Partly covered by a fall of painted wall plaster, the tessellated area is at least 1m by 1.5m and may extend further into the room under the unexcavated area in the centre. These are large terracotta tesserae, made from roughly cut tile.

This room was also the focus of a study of Roman owl pellets (see Roman Owls) the bones of small mammals originating from Roman owl pellets were found in the rubble and soil above the floor. It was important to obtain further samples, so during the winter of 2007 a small area on the west side of the room was excavated. A team of hardy volunteers sieved minute bones in a cold polytunnel in December and processed even more off site. The effort was worthwhile and SOAG Janet Sharpe has another good sample of these bones for analysis.

North corridor

Over 6m of the corridor on the north side of the building was excavated in 2006, extending eastwards from the stokeroom (Fig. 4). A further area on the north side of the trench remained unexcavated and covered with a deep layer of soil and demolition rubble. The intention was to discover how far the corridor extended.This was a good area for training new diggers, with plenty of interesting finds and eventually, after a lot of trowelling practice, new features appearing.

View of north corridor looking towards stokeroom

Fig. 4. View of north corridor looking towards stokeroom

By the end of 2007 most of the floor surface of the north corridor was exposed, extending for a total length of 8m. At the stokeroom end, the floor has thin patches of concrete, reinforced or repaired in one large hearth area with re-used roof tiles.There is little evidence of a surface at the eastern end, but there are more hearths and burnt occupation areas with lots of charcoal. These burnt deposits abut a new feature, an L-shaped wall (discussed below) that marks the eastern end of the corridor. Finds in the demolition layer include a fragment of pottery with a glossy black slip, yellow and white scrolled barbotine decoration and rouletting. This is late 2nd- to mid 3rd-century imported fineware, from Trier in the Mosel region, part of a drinking ‘motto’ beaker (Fig. 5). Also found were part of a plain shale annular bracelet (Fig. 6) and a well preserved bronze coin of Constantine II AD 331-337 (Fig. 7).

Trier Ware

Fig. 5. Trier Ware

Shale bracelet

Fig. 6. Shale bracelet

Bronze coin of Constantine II

Fig. 7. Bronze coin of Constantine II

Exterior walls on the north side of the building

The exterior north wall of the corridor was excavated; the wall footings are of flint, packed with chalk stones in places, and are up to three courses high above floor level. The wall is 0.5m wide except for the centre section, 3m long, that is much narrower. This may be an entrance and coincides with a cobbled surface found outside the building at this point.

At the eastern end of the trench, the exterior wall of the corridor abuts a new feature: an L-shaped wall, similar in construction, that projects 0.5m further out on the north side (Fig. 8). This wall also extends southwards at least a metre and probably more, across the end of the north corridor. It may also enclose a new area or room at the eastern end of the trench.This was found to have burnt hearth areas and small deposits of yellow clay and opus signinum under layers of flint and tile demolition rubble. The initial impression from the small area so far excavated is that this may be a working area.

View of exterior walls of villa on north side

Fig. 8. View of exterior walls of villa on north side showing corridor wall meeting the L-shaped section of wall in foreground

New corridor

This new corridor, just over 2m wide, links the north and south corridors.There is a distinct inset doorway giving access from the south corridor. At the northern end it is not yet clear whether there is another doorway or if it simply joins the north corridor at a right angle. It also provides access to the tessellated area and adjacent to this doorway was a deposit of very large flint stones, cut into angular shapes – two are L-shaped – that were probably part of the doorway structure. Large quantities of wall plaster were also found, painted deep red and bright yellow.

Gravel path

A small section 1m wide and 4m long was cut across from the north wall of the building to the enclosure ditch (Fig. 9). The ditch is very close to the building, less than 3m. The intention was to find out more about the relationship between the ditch, the building, and the features and deposits between them. Immediately outside the wall is an accumulated deposit of demolition rubble with a distinct layer of fallen tile on top. Beyond this is a gravel path about 0.75m wide that runs to the back of the stokeroom. With careful trowelling, the path was found to have several layers of renewal and patching.Tucked under one side of the path was a fragment of late 4th century Alice Holt pottery. Below the gravel there appeared to be a very clean, natural layer of clayey loam but a small section cut during the winter indicates that a cobbled surface lies under this. Both of these deposits appear to be cut by and pre-date the enclosure ditch.

Gravel path

Fig. 9. Gravel path

Enclosure ditch

The section across the enclosure ditch was extended eastward and recording completed. The ditch is Ushaped, approximately 2.5m wide and almost 1m deep, cut into a Roman soil surface and the underlying natural gravel. Several pieces of a small glass vessel were found in the accumulated deposit of silty loam lining the ditch. A late 3rd-century radiate coin was also found in a lens of dumped demolition rubble.

Trench 11: two small ditches

This trench was opened to investigate a possible ditch, on a slightly more northerly alignment than the villa enclosure 25m to the south. Indicated by clear crop marks and by the geophysical survey of the area around the villa, a more detailed resistivity survey showed that there were in fact two small ditches, less than 3m apart (Fig. 10). Both ditches are quite small: approximately 0.8m wide and just over 0.5m deep with a bowl-shaped profile. Due to modern disturbance, so far only the lower fill of the more southerly ditch has been excavated.This produced mid-Iron Age pottery including fragments of two rims of ‘saucepan pots’ (Prof. Michael Fulford and Prof. Richard Bradley, pers. comm.). The second ditch is on a marginally more northerly alignment and the fill included plenty of animal bone, black burnished and Alice Holt pottery, including several pieces of the same vessel.

View north of Trench 11

Fig. 10. View north of Trench 11 showing ditch with Iron Age pottery in foreground, and Roman ditch in extension to trench area in background

People

One of the most important aspects of the villa excavation is to provide opportunity for people of all ages and ability to experience real archaeology and this was a record year for participation (Fig. 11). 77 volunteers dug at the villa in 2007: 25 SOAG diggers from the previous year; 27 new SOAG members; and 25 day diggers (those who live too far away to join the group or who dug for just a day or two).We were particularly pleased to welcome several families, including 11 children, a great success as they seemed to discover all the best finds! The site was open for two Sundays during the Council for British Archaeology's National Archaeology Week in July for visitors to see work in progress or join in the excavation, which many did.

The dig in September 2007

Fig. 11. The dig in September 2007

Training

Basic training was provided for new diggers and all participants were encouraged to add to their excavation skills in a range of on-site activities including excavation, recording, planning, surveying and finds processing. Several SOAGs used their dig experience as part of their course credits for undergraduate courses at the University of Bristol and the University of Nottingham. Others are attending courses at the Universities of Reading, Oxford and Oxford Brookes.

Bibliography

Hazel Williams - Project Co-Director