Thursday, 7 November 2013

It's the pits, man.

Yes, we all have to face the fact that archaeology is about preservation in situ or by record and that means paperwork.
Angela enjoying doing paperwork!?
So we are digging in the vicar's garden in Maiden Newton to understand stratigraphy and how it builds up, then we can draw the sections and fill in the context sheets.
Peter, Ben, Richard and Angela hitting the pits
That also means getting to grips with clayey silt, silty clay, sandy silt, silty sand and all the other variations that describe, basically, dirt. Not to mention all different types of stones!

Although we are left with a hole in the ground this is a vital learning experience in basic digging and the understanding of how layers form. Blessed be the hole diggers.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Cash in the Bank Barrow

Members walking along the BB to hear Vaughan's theory

A storm was a'comin' but the Dorset Diggers are never put off by a bit of wind! So we went to the Bank Barrow of Martinsdown. Identified by O.G.S. Crawford in 1938 this is a long bank of 195m x 20m with parallel ditches 4.5m wide x 0.7m deep. Dating is difficult, but generally they are considered to be middle Neolithic. There are no primary burials, unlike the Long Barrows of similar, but smaller design. 65m from the north eastern end is a V-shaped depression appearing to divide the mound into two unequal parts and may or may not be contemporary. There are only a handful recognised in the UK and we have most of them, including ones at Pentridge, Broadmayne and Maiden Castle. Nearby are other mounds, a long barrow and the Poor Lot round barrow cemetery. They are a mystery, but our member Vaughan has a very good mathmatical theory to do with using the mound to line up on various points in the landscape so as to predict the appearance of celestial bodies on the horizon.

Members on the BB with a round barrow to right
Our next visit will be to Maiden Castle 24th November.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Another day, another tray

Our first site has produced quite a lot of finds. Mostly 19th/20th century. They have to be washed, catalogued, bagged and boxed up ready for storing. Some of the flint will have to be checked out by an expert and the best examples will be drawn and used in the report. It is possible that some of it will be prehistoric, perhaps Neolithic and Bronze Age, and thus a very important part of Maiden Newton's past.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Parish Pits

Started digging the vicar's garden today. Pics to follow. A good chance to train members in stratigraphy and recording techniques; and we may find something too!

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Post Ex Drift

Started on the finds processing today. We have already finished the glass and pottery and the next job is tile and flint plus sorting out the metal artefacts. Pictures to be put up as soon as they dry off and sorted. All to be put into the report to be published here and on our website.


Successful meeting with a Dorset landowner relating to the site we wish to investigate next year. All to be revealed!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Ham Hill - heads you lose

Further to our Ham Hill visit (see below) the excavation by Cambridge and Cardiff universities has come to a close. One of the more unusual finds has been a row of human heads and other remains showing cutmarks indicating defleshing.

First indications are showing that the hill was already settled in the early Neolithic, with pits dating from 4000-3000BC and a network of fields from the the middle Bronze Age of c.1500BC. This must mean that the hill was seen as a good place to live and grow crops well before the hillfort was constructed.

By the Late Bronze Age or very Early Iron Age (c.800BC) massive earth ramparts were being thrown up 3-4m high which were encased by stone c.300BC. The area of the excavation was focused on a large enclosure nearly 100m long, but with little evidence of activity within it. It did surround a hollow and in the north-east corner six human heads were found laid in a line in the ditch about 1m apart. The remains of neck bones indicate that they were buried as complete heads and not defleshed skulls. With other human remains being found here it is likely that this was not a settlement but a ritual space. This further underlines the theory that hillforts were sacred spaces and not just for defense.

It is sure that more insights into this largest of hillforts will be published in the near future.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Drifting off...

The end has come to the Drift Road excavation and we have reinstated the site leaving the tops of the walls showing for all the tourists that will flock to see the next best thing to Pompeii!

Ben, Dave, Vaughan and Richard wack into the spoil heap

Alison & Angela tipping and tapping

The Flint Knapping & Soil Tapping Social Club outing!

The Drift has been an excellent first project for us and a great success for the village of Maiden Newton. We have had a village hall exhibition and now we have a small exhibition in the village cafe coming up, with photos and text. 

Our next project is the training dig in the vicarage garden and then the BIG ONE in the Spring of 2014. Keep looking in for more Dorset archaeological news.  

Wednesday, 2 October 2013


DDCAG now has a functioning website where you can see all our activities and pictures as well as being able to leave comments and questions. See the latest news of our visit to Eggardon Hill Iron Age hillfort. Just put Dorset Diggers into a search engine and you will find us.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Caught Knapping

Here is a report from our member Dave:

"A dozen Dorset Diggers gathered together last Saturday in a secret corner of Bridport - the walled garden of the WI's hall - to find out how flint tools were manufactured in prehistory. Our tutor, Anthony, proved to be excellent value for money, being both very knowledgeable about his subject as well as an expert knapper in his own right.

Working chronologically from the very earliest tools - largish pebbles struck in order to produce a sharp edge, through bifacial hand-axes typical of the palaeolithic, to barbed and tanged arrow heads of the bronze age, he explained the principles of knapping - what sort of stone to use to strike the flint, where to strike it, at what angle and how hard.  

He passed around many examples of his own work, which were all beautiful crafted.  He explained that the techniques he used were deduced through experiment, as no description of how it was originally done has survived in any form.  

On the way he discussed many things that I, for one, had not considered before, such as what sort of glue was used to secure arrow-heads in their shafts -  a common one was birch bark tar - and how often an arrow head could be used before it broke - the answer being that probably they were usually just used once.  Think of all the wasted effort if you missed your target.

Best of all, and this was something I hadn't expected when I signed up for the afternoon, we ended with a practical session.  We all selected a piece of leather to drape over our thigh, our own hammer stone, our own piece of virgin flint and, not to forget: some safety goggles.  I was just getting the hang of it when I had to rush off, as my ticket was about to run out in the car park.  

I am now the proud owner of a mis-shapen piece of flint, but it does show some good bulbs of percussion and conchoidal fractures, so I'm happy.

So a big thank you to Anthony for his enthusiasm, expertise and willingness to lug a ton and a half of flints, stones and antlers through the streets of Bridport in order to give us a thoroughly informative and enjoyable afternoon."

And a letter from another member:

"It was absolutely brilliant today, I cannot thank you enough for organizing it.  How lucky are we to be able to do that.  Anthony was very good and explained it so well.  I would love to do it again if you are thinking of arranging another session in the future."

Saturday, 14 September 2013

An arrowing day.

Here's a nice little artefact not seen very often by archaeologists. Yep, a £2 coin. Not much less than our hourly rate. The other is a Late Neolithic leaf-shaped arrowhead found on a site I am working on at the moment. This came up under the digging machines bucket! One needs sharp eyes in this job.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Ham Hill visit

Sunday 11th August was the visit to the Ham Hill excavation being carried out by Cardiff and Cambridge Universities and Cambridge Archaeology Unit.

The hillfort at Ham Hill is the largest in the UK, with almost 3 miles of ramparts enclosing 88 hectares. 'Hillfort' is a bit of a misnomer, in that although on hills they are not forts in the wild west tradition and not really for purely of a defensive function. They were probably for status, foci for the community or ritual and market complexes. Ham Hill is protected by English Heritage, who gave consent for the quarry extension to enable the supply of ham stone required for the conservation of the regions historic buildings.
Ham Hill & excavation area
Topographic and geophysical surveys show that 40% of the hillfort's interior has been quarried, but has revealed a multi-period occupation which includes roundhouses, roadways and substantial enclosures. This year excavators have concentrated on one of the enclosures and trenches positioned over the ramparts.
Main excavation area with main enclosure
During the Neolithic and Bronze Ages finds of pottery and flint artefacts show that people used this area for short and long term settlement. By the Middle Bronze Age, c.1500BC, large field systems were set out and long term settlement was the norm, with quern stones to process cereal from the fields.
In the Early Iron Age, c.800-350BC, the hillfort was constructed and densely populated, with the earliest evidence being a circular building under the rear of the rampart. They used a low ham stone wall for the building, to support the wooden and thatch roof, and it contained an intact hearth. The rest of the features in the main areas of excavation are much later, c.350-43AD. They consisted of two circular ditches, which would have surrounded the dwellings, and several clusters of pits, some of which are 2m deep. From these pits were found decorated pottery, quern stones, clay objects used in weaving, bone tools and animal remains, sometimes with human bones too. Remains of mustard seeds are normally associated with Roman period remains, but some were found here at this early date. Iron objects are rare, with a 'currency bar' being one of them. These were used as money, or so the theory goes, and cut into pieces according to value.

The trenches cut through the ramparts show that at least four phases of construction can be seen. Each phase was constructed differently, using either dumps of soil or large revetment walls of ham stone. Domestic waste was dumped against the ramparts. The final rampart was at least 4m high. Roman pottery and a projectile point mark the final use of the rampart.

This years work is to find out if the southern rampart is of similar construction to the north and to extend investigations into the northwest where a possible unknown entrance may be found, as the rampart here was sealed by up to 1m of quarry rubble.    

Pictures of the main excavation:
Senior Archaeologist Hayley introducing the site to DD members
Hayley showing members a grain pit
Digger showing a very nice section across the enclosure ditch
A very rare find of an I/A articulated skeleton

Find process hut
Pictures of the rampart excavation:
Cutting through the rampart
DD members being shown the dig at the rampart
The slope of the rampart beyond the dig

Thanks to Hayley for showing us around, DD members found it very interesting. This is last phase of digging on Ham Hill and it was an insight into a very rare event - a dig on a hillfort.

Drift Road event

Thanks to all the members and non-members who helped out at the event on the 25th. People turned up to see the exhibition and to visit the site and the tea and cake was a great success too. Thanks to Cyn for the watercolour painting of the mill in Maiden Newton, which was sold by raffle and made quite a bit of cash, along with the bric-a-brac.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Thursday 25th July Event

DDCAG are having an exhibition at Maiden Newton village hall from noon until 5pm. Come and see pictures, videos and artefacts as well as visits to site.  

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Romans at Druce Farm

The Swastika mosaic is an ancient symbol from the Indian sub-continent and the Nazis stole it. As usual the Romans used many other cultural symbols for themselves, tacking other religions onto their own. At Druce Farm villa the symbol was the main decorative element. Mistakes have been found and that makes it even more interesting. One can see the human side to it much more than a perfect example.

Thursday 30th June saw some of us arrive at Druce Farm, east of Dorchester, where Lillian Ladle is working with the East Dorset Antiquarian Society excavating a substantial Romano-British villa complex. It was a  trek to site in the heat but it was worth it. A large section of mosaic has been excavated and although quite plain as mosaics go, it is non-the-less impressive as a design for the room of a wealthy Romano-Britain, as it is quite probable that this was inhabited by a Romanised native of Britain.

Not much in the way of dating evidence has turned up, but some quite nice wall plaster has been found:

We were very impressed by the base of a stone column:

The ditch surrounding the villa is interesting, in that it seems to be a bringing together of Roman and British features:

A possibly unique feature of this villa is its use of slate. This is so unusual that the experts who came to see the site thought that they must be much later. But it seems they were sandwiched between two layers of Roman stone roof tile, so must be contemporary, or the overlying material is residual, i.e. deposited from elsewhere:
Not being an expert on the Roman period I could not say if this is a unique find or not, but if anyone out there can help please let me know.

Well done all the volunteers that have been working here.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Clean Cobbles

This is a shot of the cobbles in the north room. Only half the room is surfaced with these, the eastern half has compact stones. The slightly raised area to the south is a puzzle; although the slot makes it difficult. It is definitely different to the main slab of stones though.

The site has slowed down somewhat, due to the more delicate nature of the layers and having to keep these floor layers in place for the 25th July event. But the dedication of all the diggers on site is undiminished, and we are still working on other parts of the structure, especially the south room and the double door entrance. Still puzzling us in some respects.  

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Not all hard work

It's not all hard work at the Drift Road site. Even when the winds a'blowing we can find time for a jest.

Friday, 14 June 2013

What a load of cobbles!

We seem to be nearing the end in relation to digging any deeper in the north room. Here we have come across a cobbled surface and we will stop there. The cobbles cover only half the room, with the other half comprising of packed small stones.

The south room is still causing a scratching of heads and there are lots of little jobs to be done still, including recording and drawing of horizontal sections of wall. But essentially this is what visitors will see when they come up on the 25th of July.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

'The pen[knife] is mightier than the sword'

I had one of these when I was a kid, as did many of you I expect.
I don't expect someone was very happy to have lost it.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Dorset Diggers Have Bottle

This glass bottle was unearthed this weekend which, as you can see, was situated next to the internal wall of the north face; a lovely little find:

Here it is cleaned up:

Here is some research carried out by Ben:

Vet’s bottle found close-by same day, intact, with glass stopper.  Embossed  “ELLIMAN’S    ROYAL    EMBROCATION    FOR HORSES    MANUFACTORY   SLOUGH”   Possibly late Victorian, but was still about in 1980.  See below.

Greetings from Finland! I have a bottle with the embossed text: "ELLIMAN´S ROYAL EMBROCATION FOR HORSES MANUFACTORY SLOUCH". The height is 19cm and it is a BIM style bottle with a crown top and a second lip under the crown. The colour is clear with perhaps a slight tint of green (seen esp. in the thick bottom). The base is smooth and has an embossed "4" in the center and "11338" at the edge of the bottom (not on the side). The bottle itself is in mint condition, although the label has suffered some minor damage. It is still 99% legible and almost fully clean & white. The label says it helps for rheumatism, sore throat, sore shoulders & backs, capped hocks and elbows, broken knees etc. At the bottom of the label there is a reference to "the E.F.A. Booklet enclosed with this bottle, and the Elliman First Aid Book, pages..., 5th edition". This reference is for horses, cattle, dogs and birds. 

Saturday, 1 June 2013


Having looked at the evidence so far it does suggest that we are working on the remains of a workshop, perhaps a blacksmith, although what they are doing outside the village seems to mitigate against that theory.

The structure does have some similarities with other buildings which are blacksmiths:

A Bit of Luck

Funny how some things just come together at the same time. There we were today, digging up more metal stuff, when this made an appearance:
A horse bit. Took a few in situ photos then back to work. A few minutes later I heard a voice and saw a horse with its head over the gate apparently saying "what are you looking for then?" Luckily for my sanity I then saw the rider. So we asked them in and I saw that the bit in the horses mouth was just like the one we had just dug up!
This style of bit makes the horses head turn better. The twist in the old bit is no longer used, as it hurts the horses mouth more. Synchronicity.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Mystery Object

We need some help with this. What is it? It seems to be some sort of tool for scrapping. Perhaps ashes or charcoal from a fire. If anyone knows leave a message.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Two rooms, all mod cons, yours for 250k

It is typical of archaeology that you think you know what is going on with a site and then it throws up something else. Here, just behind and following the line of the tape, is a new wall dividing the structure in half, with a small 'door' just to the left of the bucket. I spent the weekend worrying about this area, as the stratigraphy just did not look right, and this is why. A few scrapes of the trusty trowel and it came clean. Cyn had an idea that the north wall was open to the Drift Lane (Old Sydling Road), as with most workshops, and that is why the bricks here are not mortared; perhaps added much later. A good idea. The hedge looks quite new, with very little variation in species.

 Meanwhile the sheep are getting used to us and come at us mob-handed! It is a task to keep them from walking over our nice clean areas.