Monthly Archives: March 2018

There and back again… a subterranean adventure

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Today the sun has been shining. The daffodils are finally daring to show their yellow faces, and celendines line the paths of the museum. It’s a contrast to the snow and cold that faced us in the first weeks, turning the ridge and furrow into a winters sea. Back then the field waited. We had planned, scanned and planned again, but we didn’t know what the trench would bring. And today, nearly a month later, we filled in our trench again. The Roman building has returned to its quiet subterranean life, but the slowly hollowed space is traced in our memories, captured in photos and on plans.

The next stage of work will deepen our understanding of the building and its environs, and the Roman town itself. The material will be sent to specialists, our 3D model is already being created by our collaborator Prof Dominic Powlesland (you can check out previous years models at, and we will begin to draw it all in with the picture we have from the geophysical surveys. This is the exciting part: the tweaking of theories, the umming and ahhing of dates and stratigraphies, the slow emerging image of a time gone by, and our own place in it.

This sort of work makes you think a lot about legacy: the knowledge created, finds discovered, stories told. We’ve spent a long time investigating the original 1924 dig here in the north of the town. There are small black and white pictures of hazy hedgerows, darkened trenches and figures with shovels. But what is hard to grasp is the subtler side of excavation: the conversations had, the characters and laughs, the things that went wrong – in other words, the human side. Will someone look at our own excavation in 100 years time? Will they know that our tent blew away? That the lambs got stuck in the bottom of the building? What will they know about each of the team and all the volunteers involved? Because really it is the people that come to characterise a piece of archaeological work.

We feel very lucky indeed to have such a great bunch of people working on site here at Aldborough. We were joined again in our core digging team by Gigi and Donna Signorelli (LS Archaeology) and their dog Arwen, whose hard work really made getting through the weeks in a cold, windy field possible in all sorts of different ways. Our other digger was Hanneke Reijnierse-Salisbury, who came along from Cambridge University again, having first worked on the project in different seasons of geophysical survey. Days spent in the trench all together were a pleasure: the contented quiet of trowelling, the chat of planning and joy of finding a particularly good find.

Now the trench is backfilled, we all part, returning to our different lives…. until the next dig……



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March digging (or dodging the rain), and why we love every minute of it

We’re back in Aldborough digging part of the 1924 trench in the NE of the Roman town. Digging, that is, when it is not raining, snowing or blowing a hooly. The trench is the result of 5 years careful thinking about this area of the town: magnetometry survey, interpretation of results, analysing the 1924 work and thinking about the town as a whole. We are REALLY excited to be excavating it at long last!

So far, we’ve removed the 1924 backfill. It’s amazing to see the form of a trench, pieces of stone and shadows of a sondage that were so clear on the 1920s photographs. What a different world they were part of then: 6 years after the First World War, forging forward with comprehending the past. The odd photo shows a man in a shirt and flat cap, leaning on a shovel. The field looks much the same, perhaps with a few less trees (the hollows of their presence still visible).

When not on site, we are getting on top of the finds processing. Piles of animal bone stack up on the kitchen table ready to be washed and laid out to dry. We’ve been working with our amazing volunteers from FORA (Friends of Roman Aldborough). Today they’ve been busy marking finds ready for the specialists. It’s nice to sit around the table, mulling the archaeology, talking about the finds. This is why we do archaeology: it’s not just about the past. It’s about people and community. We each come in with a different background, skills and experience, to spend the afternoon writing tiny letters on pieces of old, butchered bone and enjoying every minute of it.

You can get involved with volunteering or join events and talks by going to the Friends of Roman Aldborough website

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We’ll be giving a talk on this years work on the 21st September in St Andrews Church, Aldborough.


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