Parasites, sheep bones and a shocking surprise

Post-excavation analysis of last year’s finds is proceeding apace and we’re able to share a few of the results.

Kevin Rielly over at PCA has assessed our small assemblage of animal bones and in common with many Romano-British sites the inhabitants were exploiting sheep, cattle and pigs. They also had access to mallard (ducks), doves, and chickens. Less welcome visitors to the villa were mice, voles and crows. There’s a little bit of fish bone too. All of this is really interesting as its the kind of evidence that Hayward and his team weren’t able to collect.


Sheep bones under excavation (above)

We’ve also had Dr Jessica Winder look at the marine mollusc shells. It’s a small assemblage but she thinks the oysters, some shells showing of parasitic infestations, may have come from the Poole Harbour region. One or two of our oysters who notches where they were opened by hungry Romano-Britons. Other marine shells include mussels and winkles. This is fascinating as Lufton is quite a long way from the sea!.


An oyster showing signs of infestation by Polydora ciliata (above)

opened oyster

Oysters opened by hungry Romans!

Finally, James Langthorne (also of PCA) has identified some neonatal infant bones. This was a bit of a shock to James and Andy but they are probably from a disturbed baby burial. Infants were often buried in the floors of Roman houses and we think that the burial had been disturbed either by the previous excavators or in antiquity by stone robbers. Further work might shed some light on this issue.





A guest post from Naomi

Third year student Naomi has been busy sorting our soil samples as part of a Careers Service work experience bursary. She’s kindly written a few words on the work she’s been doing and we hope to post a few pictures in the coming days too!

‘Over the last few weeks the soil samples have almost all been sorted and, although a slow process, are turning up large quantities of interesting finds. In particular two small glass beads from the 4th-5th century which were found in the soil sample from the context over the tessellated pavement. Another small glass bead also turned up in the last sample sieved. There has also been large quantities of CBM, ceramics, including Black-burnished ware, shell and bone. The bones range from chicken neck bones and fish bones to rodent bones. The sieving has also brought up a number of iron objects, mostly nails, as well as a number of the samples including eggshell. The samples should all be done in the next week or so and will hopefully include even more interesting finds that will add to the understanding of the site.’  Naomi, BA Archaeology Stage 3




Chicken necks and fishbones

The large number of environmental samples from last season have all been wet sieved and the residues (essentially bags of gravel with tiny bits of bone, shell, seeds and artefacts in) are back in Newcastle.

Naomi, who is working for the project at the moment, is currently tasked with sorting the interesting stuff from the gravel. She started yesterday and in the very first sample we identified fishbones and also tiny bones from a chicken’s neck.

We’ll post some more updates as work progresses.


Roman floors over at Castles & Coprolites

Back in the summer we took lots of samples through some of the deposits that Hayley and here team were excavating in the corridor opposite Room 2.

One of these samples was a small box of sediment contained in a kubiena tin. Essentially this allows us to take a block of deposit from which we can produce a thin-section. This can then be studied scientifically as a micromorphology sample.

Newcastle’s very own expert in archaeological soils – Dr Lisa-Marie Shillito – has kindly been examining our micromorphology sample. Her preliminary observations are available over on her blog Castle and Coprolites.


Post-ex: the never ending process

There’s quite a lot going on at the moment.

First of all Andy and James are working hard to put a project design together for this season’s work, We’re asking Historic England for permission to reinvestigate the villa’s bath block. We’d hoped to do this in the 2016 season, but resources didn’t permit. Watch this space for further developments.

In other news various bits of post-excavation analysis are progressing. GeoFlo are just about finished processing last season’s soil samples (greatly helped by James’s production of a stratigraphic matrix for the site). Once the samples have been processed they’ll be heading up to Newcastle for sorting.

Naomi (a third year undergraduate) is working for the project and part of her role will be to sort the sample residues. Until then she’s been busy doing some data entry, quantifying tesserae and doing other bits and pieces.

Mark Hoyle, a fantastic archaeological illustrator, has also been busy drawing some of our finds. Many of these are from our 2014 excavations of the deserted medieval settlement of Barrow (in Odcombe). We’re especially pleased with his drawing of the seal matrix. We hope to submit our report on these excavations for publication in the near future.

Medeival Seal Matrix from Barrow

Medeival Seal Matrix from Barrow

He’s also drawn a few finds from the villa. These include the hairpin James found on the tessellated pavement.

Late Roman  hairpin from the villa

Late Roman hairpin from the villa




New signage down at the Villa!

We’re pleased to announce that the vandalised sign about the villa has now been replaced! Many visitors to site last year commented on the fact that the sign had been knocked over and there was a lot of will from the council and the landowners to see a new sign put up.

This has happened and James was asked to refresh the text, The new sign includes some words on the recent excavations and even a link to this blog!


Thanks go to Nigel, who braved Storm Doris today to take a picture of the sign.

In other news post-ex work continues apace. Andy is busying digitising plans, James has got the matrix sorted and samples are being processed!





All I want is pottery for Christmas

For the second year running James has spent the run up to Christmas quantifying pottery from a Roman villa excavation. At least this year it’s been pottery from his own excavation!

We found 521 sherds of pottery last summer. Over 80% of this assemblage came from the Black Burnished kilns around Poole Harbour in Dorset. This is a bit higher than Hayward’s statistics (he reckoned that 61% of his assemblage was BB1). James is still excited about the burnt sherd from a Type 18 bowl.

Most of the rest of the pottery came from the New Forest (producer of some very nice purple drinking vessels) and Oxfordshire (red-slipped tablewares). There were a few local grey ware sherds, perhaps from kilns around Ilchester and, in keeping with the late Roman date of the site, virtually no inter-provincial imports. A single sherd of samian of Hadrianic to Antonine date must be residual and a single fragment of Baetican amphora might be from one of the late forms current in the third century. This suggests that the inhabitants of the villa might have had some access to olive oil.

In many respects the assemblage is typical of late Roman groups from sites in the West Country. Bradley Hill, Catsgore, Ilchester and the like all produce similar patterns. This suggest that Lufton was connected into the exchange networks that were current during the fourth century and was participating in the local economy.

Of course, what we really need is more pottery from securely stratified groups. Most of our finds come from the robbing and demolition of the building and this doesn’t help us as much as the finds from a nice Roman rubbish dump would!

Some of the pottery will be drawn in the New Year and we’ll try and post some pictures when we have them.

Until then, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, We hope you have more than a parcel of broken pottery under your tree on the 25th!



Roman Seminar

We haven’t posted for a while, but things are busy in Newcastle.

Top of our to do list is what we’re going to dig next year. Substantial funds are needed to continue our excavation of Trench A and at the moment it looks like these won’t be forthcoming… anyone willing to contribute to the project is, of course, more than welcome to get in touch with Dr James Gerrard). We might run a small excavation next year and build up to returning to Trench A in 2018…

We’re also busy thinking about the building and getting the post-ex underway. Progress is slow but steady. More on this to follow!

If any of our readers  are in Newcastle on Teusday (6th Dec) James and Andy will be talking about the project in the Armstrong Building at 6pm.




The coins strike back!

We sent some of the coins found this season off for conservation by Karen Barker. These recently returned and James took a quick look and the results were really interesting! Of the corroded coins we sent off to Karen most were identifiable when they returned. Three of these were coins of the House of Valentinian (Reece Period 19). Keen readers of this blog may remember that we were puzzled by the absence of these coins, Well, it turns out they weren’t absent at all but simply corroded!


The new coin diagram. Now we have some in Period 19!

In other news we’ve arranged for some of our finds to be drawn by archaeological illustrator Mark Hoyle. It’s great to have Mark working with us and we hope to post some of his illustrations in due course.

Finally, congratulations to Andy. Our long-suffering and hard-working custard-cream eating co-director has landed himself a part-time role working as a Finds Liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme.  Who said there was no future in the past?

Of oysters and charcoal

When Hayward and his team dug the villa in the 1940s and 1960s archaeological science was in its infancy. Today we have a whole array of scientific techniques that can be used to shed new light on the villa and its inhabitants.


Above: Hayward’s excavations

The starting point was taking all of our samples over to local archaeological firm GeoFlo. GeoFlo are specialists in wet sieving archaeological soil samples. Over the next few weeks Nigel and Liz will run wet sieve all of our samples – burnt seeds and the like will float (known as the ‘flot‘) and these will be sent to various specialists for analysis. Shells of molluscs and other tiny fragments of fish bone and the like will be caught in sieves with tiny meshes. These tiny fragments will also need to be sent to various archaeological scientists.

Lufton is a long way from the coast and one of the things that we’re quite interested in is determining where all the oysters came from. There are tow logical options: the Dorset coast or the Bristol Channel. Ancient oyster specialist Dr Jessica Winder will look at our oysters and we hope that she’ll be able to shed light on this element of our villa’s inhabitants.


Above: Oyster shells on the tessellated pavement – a late Roman snack?

Finally, we took a soil micromorphology sample from the burnt deposits that Hayley and Co. excavated. This sample, in a kubiena tin, is going to Cambridge University to be prepared and thin sectioned. Newcastle’s Dr Lisa-Marie Shillito will then undertake the analysis of this sample and hopefully tell us how these deposits accumulated.

DSC_0250 - Copy

Above: Burnt deposits in Room 1