CAER 2017 Begins... Thursday 4th May!

CAER 2017 Begins... Thursday 4th May!
What will be uncovered this year?
We're back for our 11th season during which examination of trench IV will be continued. Our work will examine the interior of the masonry building (the possible chapel) with its drain discharging into the ditch, the western part of the ditch feature where it is overlain by the medieval building and the underlying deposits. This year trench IV will also be extended to the south in order to locate and examine a stone structure identified during the excavation of a service trench in 2013.
Keep up to date with all the discoveries, brought to you by our daily bloggers.

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Friday, 18 May 2012

Archaeology Equals Destruction

Emma gets us up to speed at the end of week 2:
Not many members of the public seem to realise that when an excavation happens, it does result in destruction of the site. We, the archaeologists and archaeology students, come in and disturb the site. In the process of looking for finds and context layers, this destroys the site. Once we have done our job of retrieving the site’s hidden secrets, the archaeology that was once there is now gone. Lost forever but surviving in records, documents, storage buildings, pictures and publications. The best example of this has been the work I have been doing for most of the past week.

For the past week I was given a slightly different task from the rest of my peers (although Jonathan took over on my study leave). I was assigned to help our local finds expert, Julie, to take apart the hearth that was discovered last year, brick by brick. Not as easy a task as it may sound! Due to the conditions the individual bricks had gone through, both during its life and during its burial, the bricks were not stable. Most of the bricks had become crumbly (particularly around the top part) and so removing them was a tricky task. For all the individual bricks that broke in half, I had to bag them in order to keep them together (as they needed to be measured for post-excavation analysis).

The dismantling of the hearth took longer than expected due to the heavy rain on Thursday. So for the morning we ended up having to wash the excavated bricks. Yes, you read that right. Groups A & D had to wash the bricks before being stored for post-excavation. I never thought I would have to perform such task in my life! By Friday the hearth was gone. Excavated, recorded and soon to be stored into the archaeological record.

Emma says goodbye to the hearth - by carefully washing each brick.

Wednesday's Updates: Bones, Rain and Lottery Wins

Lauren and Sydney excavate animal bone:
After the last couple of days of beautiful sunshine, this morning started off with drizzling rain and thus excavation on site was called off and the morning was spent washing bricks in the dry mess room. Although messy work, it is quite therapeutically calming. Other groups were weighing and cleaning the musket balls found in the spoil heap by the metal detectorist we work with. Today also coincided with the Queen’s Jubilee visit to Chester Zoo and a frantic effort was made using Twitter to ask her to visit our site. We were disappointed, but then it was quite short notice!
Work started again in the afternoon as Group A finally saw some hard work (our avoidance of it has not been by choice - though you won’t catch any of us complaining) and began mattocking another section of the trench. This led to a massive amount of animal bones being discovered, and I really do mean massive, in both size and numbers. Myself and Dan M. were on ‘trowel duty’ -  as the boys peeled back the layer with their mattocks we were called upon to excavate the bones. Many of which were impressively intact and obviously from a large animal. With the last few days of the second week and the half-way point drawing near I am becoming rather attached to my trowel, affectionately known as ‘Sydney’.  A note is to be added in credit to Jonathan the ‘Diceman’, after finding three bone dice in the last three days, celebration was needed and subsequently he is now £90 richer after winning the lottery. He is now the luckiest, but most envied man on site. And yet is still complaining he “never finds anything!”
Lauren (in purple) and others in her group wash bricks from the hearth structure.

Matt B. finds Continental pottery... and more animal bone:
Wednesday ended well for me, I found a large piece of Rhenish stoneware dating to between 1650 - early 1700's AD. I thought Thursday was going to carry on being good, but that wasn't too be. Today started with rain, lots of rain. Working on the dig site was put on hold for the time being due to the rain; instead we had indoor activities. We were split into two groups, one group cleaned bricks from the hearth and the other weighed all the lead shot that has been found from the site over the past few years. I was involved with weighing the lead shot. A simple process that involved scales and a recording sheet. Well, simple for the first hundred lead balls anyway. Monotony soon kicked in and the mind began to wander!

Just before dinner, the rain had stopped so it was decided we would take all the equipment to the site in preparation for continuing work. The afternoon for me started with creating drawings of a single context in plan view, something close to what we did on last year's fieldwork (on Halkyn Mountain). Mike and I had a grid set up and we had to measure points of significance then plot them onto a draughting sheet and join them up to make the plan. We both just wanted to dig! We got our wish for the last half hour of the working day, but with very little of anything interesting coming up. Hopefully tomorrow will be full of treasure, not bone, please no more bone!

Lead shot number 101.....

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Man down!

Joe and his group tackle post-med debris:

This afternoon our group had the job of removing a layer of post-medieval debris with mattocks and hand shovels. Unfortunately, our group was forced to toil away at this sun-baked layer a man down due to Oliver going AWOL on us. After deciding that this betrayal could not go unanswered, we concocted the story that we had found a gold Roman Sestertius (which don't even really exist - normally they are silver or copper alloy) on site in his absence. Needless to say he believed every word....

PS. I don’t think he reads the blog, so if everyone can keep up this pretense it would be much appreciated!

Joe works on taking the trench down to Roman layers.

Mattock for hire

Calum describes Wednesday:

Today our group took part in our first finds session, where we had to wash the artefacts that were found and clean them all up. This was really enjoyable as it gave us a chance to get really close to the artefacts and see what has been found, as we have done a lot of mattocking in the last week and have not really been finding much! We also found out the different ways in which we can identify metals and also how to record the different contexts. This really opened my eyes to what goes on behind the scenes with archaeology; something most people will not think about.

In the afternoon we were back to using our trusty mattocks, trimming down a section close to the site of the Roman road. As we did this we found a veritable hoard of finds, from bone to pottery and glass. However the highlight of the day with regard to finds has to be another die found by group B, making the total up to three. I think by the end of these 4 weeks group C will be mattocking pros!

Calum planning the hearth feature.

A special brick?

Will Mo. recaps his last week and gives us an account of Tuesday:


The first week is over. After several days of labour - removing the backfill left by last year's diggers - we were left with a surface that, when trowelled, presented a series of abstract orange and white smudges that defied interpretation (at least to my eyes). This all seemed rather inconclusive and by Friday I was impatient to scrape it off and see what was beneath it. If progress seemed slow, it is only because my experience of excavation is limited to watching Time Team: I am therefore accustomed to think that three days should be ample time in which to complete an extensive programme of archaeological investigation.

This Friday I was tasked with excavating a small section presumed by Dan to be the traces of a wall (indicated by aforementioned white smudging). It did indeed look like a wall - lumps of stone and mortar were removed. Beneath all this lay tantalising clues as to what lies beneath the post-medieval layer currently exposed. A more substantial rock feature was visible. I was only able to view this through the 2x1 foot hole I was permitted to make, but I'm eager to expose more of it on Monday!

Will Mo. puts his back into it. No toothbrushes used here!

The morning was spent removing spoil from the eastern side of the trench – hard work but rewarding. I think we made good progress in a relatively short space of time. Whilst this was happening, several interesting finds were made by those who were peeling back the surface of the trench near-by, including Medieval and Roman pottery.

In the afternoon we had our first experience of post-excavation work. None of the finds recovered so far require particularly careful handling; most were washed in water with a toothbrush – a process fairly monotonous but important none-the-less. These finds were largely ceramic objects such as sherds of pottery, clay pipes and building materials (brick and slate). It is hoped that these objects will help in our interpretation of the contexts from which they came, and in this way even such commonplace objects as these will be of value. Whilst delicately toothbrushing a brick, however, I did wonder why this particular example had been selected for curation over the many others that had found there way onto the spoil heap...

Dice man strikes again

James spends the day on finds:
In the morning we had a finds session, which involved a lot of scrubbing as we cleaned up the finds from some of the contexts learning how to record the finds and what information was important to record. Afterwards we got to snoop around the chapel, which was packed with finds from prevous excavations. We were like "kids in a candy shop".

Over the afternoon we worked on finishing up our context when Dice man (Johnathan) found another die, which matched the die he had found previously. And he still has the nerve to say he doesn't find much!
All in all a good day for archaeology!

No dice! James excavates the wall trench.

It isn't really all about the finds....

Having listened to the thunder the night before followed by the hail, I walked to the dig pondering Dan’s request for the weather, rain at night and sun in the day. Perhaps I would be able to see my feature more clearly today but as I turned up early, surprising all things considered, I realised my feature would have to wait - it was finds time.

As we trundled to Albion Street with me unsurprisingly lumbered with the wheelbarrow full of finds, the bragging and banter started trying to claim the best find. I stayed quiet knowing full well my best find wouldn’t make it into most people's top ten, but for the time being it didn’t matter. I had all the finds, but I wasn’t going to make a quick exit - the wheelbarrow was too rusty and slow for that.

Dan doesn't realise walls are better than finds! Cheer up!

We had the quick introduction from Julie, but as she began to finish my eyes began wandering behind me to all the bags of finds knowing we were going to get one each and I wanted a good one. “Ok everybody get a bag” Julie perked up, but I didn’t wait for the end of the sentence. I had swivelled round and was hunting through the bags before she had finished but my impatience was infectious and before I knew it I was being jostled for position around the trolley of the finds. It got quite heated with plenty of argy bargee but I was standing my ground.

Jonathan was determined to have his die and quickly found it, but everyone else was just picking the biggest bags leaving me looking through an ever smaller pile before I realised I was the only one left and my face become forlorn. Undeterred, I realised I had started and I may as well finish - evaluating, deciding on a bag that seemed to have a broad selection of finds if none of them particularly good.

Although cleaning isn’t my speciality, as the room will testify, I thought how hard can it be? So, I quickly got stuck in, realising perhaps I should do my room if it is this easy. Then I hit some fragile bone. My idyllic ideas about cleaning were shattered like the nineteenth century glass bottles I had just cleaned and my room was going to remain messy.

After a few hitches, I might have very nearly dropped my glass finds tray on the floor, I completed the bag and placed it to dry thinking: Why didn't I find any of this? I resolved to be more underhanded in getting finds, but as we returned from lunch I realised my new found plans would have to wait. I was still digging my feature in the middle of the trench by myself, but at least I had found what appeared to be a wall followed by a piece of black pottery bigger than my hand.

I was reasonably happy for a full minute before Jonathan found another die and I tried not to break the small glass pieces I was digging up, but I was better than that and I was going to find a coin. Well, I'm sure I’ve got a chance to find a coin, but it had to wait.  Context sheets needed filling out and other people’s finds need bagging, but tomorrow is another day and another chance to find something good, other than a wall.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Beyond the fence

Sam talks to the public and investigates some mortar:

As we entered into day six of the dig there was some apprehension within the group about the weather and whether or not we would get rained off, but we persevered through the showers and the sun broke out giving us a pleasant afternoon of digging.
Today I was mostly trowelling the surface of the eastern end of our trench looking for a line of white mortar that Dan "the troll hunting foreman" thinks may have been evidence for a medieval wall. I was also doing a spot of "public archaeology," which basically means going up to the boundary fence and explaining to any interested by-standers what we are doing, what we hope to find, and what we have found so far. It was an enjoyable task, and we all hope that the members of the public will continue to find interest in our work and continue to interact with us about it.

Sam enjoys the 'summer' weather.

Our 1st Archaeology Meme!

Matt W. is suspicious:
Today and yesterday yet more digging was carried out. Although this afternoon a welcome change of pace started with the delivery of the doughnuts by Meggen and finished with cleaning finds from the previous days.

Yet again the weather proved favourable to group A who always seems to get the indoors work when it is raining and always get out of the heavy digging and skip to the good stuff, how suspicious...   

The blog's 1st meme...Matt W might just have trench fever already.

It’s Finally Sunny!

Jonathan excavates a timber framed structure:

While last week’s weather conditions varied greatly, we were finally greeted with a whole day of sun today. However, this novelty quickly wore off when we discovered the effects on the soil.  It was rock solid. Despite this we continued to excavate our context, in this we were greatly assisted by Timothy the bee and his friends. We now believe the context is a fill from where a timber framed structure had originally been constructed and subsequently removed. Unlike Friday, when we excavated an array of finds including floor tile and a bone die, we were left disappointed today finding very little except animal bone and a vast quantity of degrading snail shells; however, we remain optimistic.

We also had a lecture on the importance of the public’s perception of archaeology, its branding and communication in relation to Chester Council’s current focus of renovating the city walls today, which showed us that as archaeologists it was important to inform the public about our work.

Jonathan (centre) excavating the beam slot of the timber framed structure.

Archaeology for all!

Jasmine outlines her first day of week 2:

Today we started our second week of the university dig and I was surprised to see that everyone was very upbeat considering that it was a Monday at 9 o'clock! This may have been to do with the glorious sunshine we were lucky enough to have. The day started with most people finishing off the work they had begun on Friday, but after mid-morning break we were given the opportunity to be split into groups (I would like to add that our groups were split into AD and BC, quite relevant to the periods we are digging on the site...) and take part in a public archaeology session with Jane from CWAC's Historic Environment Team.

I found this session really interesting and helpful towards our upcoming essay on public outreach, and its good to see how archaeology is keeping up with the times on Facebook and Twitter. After the initial talk our groups got to go and see how work was coming along in the Phoenix Tower on the walls, which is currently going through refurbishment.
Jasmine digging at the start of week 2.

I think what I am personally enjoying most about the dig is meeting the general public who are really interested in the site. There seemed to be an increased number of people aksing questions today (probably because we're more inviting when we aren't looking like drowned rats) and I think everyone is looking forward to the rest of the week and the finds sessions.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Wow, Dusty!

Daniel M kicks off week two on the dig:
Finally we had some nice weather. Alas, it made it impossible to dig the ruddy soil! I had cramps in my upper arm after an hour of digging the same section and for practically nothing. All I found were a few corroded nails and sherds of bone and moved hardly any of the rubbley-mess which needs to be completely removed. The dry conditions also caused dust to fill the air all day and was no help for my breathing along side this bloody cold we all seem to have.

We got a preview of the new interiors of the King Charles Phoenix Tower (in Chester), though. That looks like it's gonna be pretty good. This was followed by a short lesson on how to publicise archaeology, which is more complicated than first thought.

Ah well, back to digging tomorrow and tonight's thunder/hail storm will make it much easier AND messier tomorrow. YAY! ^_^

Daniel M powers through the fill of the beam slot.