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




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?

Hungerford 2015 report now available

We’re pleased to announce that our post-excavation assessment of the 2015 excavations in Hungerford has just been completed and is available to download.

This report, authored by Dr James Gerrard and Andrew Agate with the assistance of Holly-Ann Carl includes contributions by Don O’Meara, Suzi Richer, David Heslop and Rob Young.

A copy has been submitted to the Somerset Historic Environment Record.

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

The post-excavation analysis begins

It’s been a week since we all returned from Somerset. Most of us (James and Andy included) have been taking it easy after a grueling four weeks in the field and in anticipation of the start of the academic year.

One of the bits of Lufton related work James has been up to is provisionally cataloging the uncleaned coins. Just for interest’s sake the barchart below shows all of the excavated and identifiable (so far!) coins excavated from Lufton (this year and by Hayward) as per mills values by Reece period. As a point of comparison Phillipa Walton‘s British Mean values are included too.

This is a VERY PROVISIONAL analysis but the strength of Lufton in the early to mid fourth century AD is very noticeable. One of the odd aspects of this year’s excavation was our failure to find any coins later than AD364. Late fourth century coins are quite common at villas in the West Country and we’re not sure why ours are missing (especially as Hayward found three coins of the House of Valentinian).

Lufton coins

James reckons about 15 coins will need to be cleaned and conserved. This will happen in October. It’ll be interesting to see if they change the above diagram…


Back in Newcastle

James is writing this from the comfort of his home on a rather damp bank holiday Sunday.

The hard work of the excavation ended on Friday when James and Elliot watched the machine backfill the trench and reseeded the area. With the students ferried back to the train station the supervisors and directors retired to the Masons Arms for a fine evening meal. On Saturday they left Somerset early and heading up the motorway at light speed (also known as 62mph) we made it back to Newcastle (dropping Hayley at Wetherby Services  on the way) in record time.

A hideous couple of hours followed and James, Andy and Elliot struggled to get all the finds and equipment properly stored at the University. By 7pm we were all home, back amidst our respective families and coming to grips with such innovations as walls and meals that involve rice.


It’s been our most successful season. We’ve achieved more than we imagined we could and revolutionized our understanding of the Lufton Roman villa. The long process of post-excavation analysis follows, so make sure you stay tuned to the blog for updates.

We’d like to thank the excavation team for all their hardwork in sometimes difficult and trying conditions. We’d also like to thank the local community for their interest, patience and generosity.

Particular thanks go to: Maggie and Colin Baker (our hosts), James and Carol Pullen (landowners), Liz Glaisher and Peter Seib (Brympton), Ski, SSARG, Historic England, YALHS, Roman Research Trust and the Somerset Archaeological Society. Ian Hodder, our digger driver from G. Crook, made the work possible, as did YHC and Wessex Water. We have undoubtedly missed someone off this list. If it’s you, then please accept our thanks and know that the omission is through forgetfulness rather than carelessness.

We do hope to return next year. Such a return largely depends on whether significant funding can be raised. Excavation is an expensive business and to run another season will cost somewhere in the region of £35K. If you, or your business / organisation are interested in supporting the project next year then please contact James G.

To end with a score card of the excavations:

Extra building phases found: 3

Roman coins  discovered by metal detector: 45

Roman coins discovered by eye: 5

Tessellated pavements found: 1

Roman hairpins: 1

Complete pots: 1

Visitors to site: 500+

TV appearances: 2

National Newspaper articles: 3

Rubbers / pencil erasers lost: 60

Custard creams consumed by Andy: 134,567

Trips to Asda: 34500

Meals ruined by Jeff: 1

Dig trousers worn by James G: 1

Trowels lost: 3

Pairs of steel toecapped boots ruined: 3

Times the hire company emptied the Portaloo: 2