Archaeological Excavation in Ewell July 2013 - Site Diary
Last updated 22nd July 2013
An independent project responsible for rescue excavations in Church Meadow, Ewell. The site is towards the north-east extent of the known Roman roadside settlement.
After months of planning, the 2nd season of excavation in Church Meadow is underway. This season we have re-opened last year's trench partly to complete excavation of two pits we did not have time to finish. One appears to be a large rubbish pit with a complicated series of fills; the other is cut into a ditch, which ran diagonally across much of the trench, and contained part of an amphora, a large Roman pottery vessel for transporting wine, olive oil and suchlike. Whilst much of the features above Roman ground level were destroyed by deep ploughing in the 19th or early 20th century we are left with ditches, gullies and pits to give us tantalising clues as to life in this roadside settlement. We have evidence for probable property boundaries and for trading taking place. Personal ornaments give us a glimpse of the people who lived in Ewell almost two thousand years ago, and the pottery sherds they threw away show us how they cooked and what they put on their tables as well as giving us dating evidence for the features we find.
Deja Vu - haven't we been here before?
At the end of last season the 30 x 10m trench was covered with terram , a geotextile, and backfilled. Most of the backfill was removed by machine before the 2013 excavation commenced but this photos shows diggers clearing the last of the soil from the terram.
We have two metal detectorists, Bill and Mairi, who work with us on site. They ensure that any metal objects that make their way onto the spoil heaps are retrieved. They have found coins that are smaller than 2-3mm, which are virtually impossible for diggers to see. A third metal detectorist, Dave, joined them initially to go over the trenches after they had been machined. Finds are surveyed in so we can accurately plot their postition in the trench and see if there are any patterns emerging.
Metal detectorists are an important part of the team, adding to the evidence for life in the settlement.
This is a picture of Bill detecting over one of the large spoil heaps.
As well as re-opening last season's trench we have also opened another 30 x 10m extension. We hope that this will pick up Stane Street, the Roman road between London and Chichester on which the Roman settlement of Ewell was situated. Past excavations in Church Meadow and the adjacent graveyard have shown evidence for the road but if we find it in our sizeable trench this will hopefully allow the alignment to be accurately plotted.
Although Roman roads are famous for being straight Stane Street deviates in Ewell towards the springs, which are the source of the Hogsmill river. Springs have always been seen as places of ritual significance and finds from the springs show that votive offerings have been deposited here from prehistory.
Is this Stane Street?
Although it is early days an area of heavily compacted flints has been found in the new part of the trench. Much more work will have to be carried out before we can be sure whether this is the metalled road or an area of hardstanding (as was found further south in the trench last year).
As the excavation progresses updates will be posted so you can see what we find.
A sherd of well worn samian pottery found this year.
This is part of a bowl and would have been imported. It is a high status table.ware and last year over 2.5kgs of samian sherds were recovered in the Church Meadow trench.
Initial 'amateur' identification suggests this is a depiction of a lion killing a gladiator.
One of our early finds this season
Saturday 6th July 2013
28 degrees and no shade in the trenches. As well as the sun beating down the ground has set hard and made trowelling near impossible. Despite this everyone kept working and took their well-earned breaks under the gazebos. Features from last year's trench are being clarified and further recorded and new features are beginning to emerge (more on these as we begin to understand them better). Unfortunately the deep ploughing that was found to have destroyed most of the archaeology above the Roman ground surface continues into this season's trench.
An environmental course was run on site by Becky Lambert for Surrey Archaeological Society. Participants learnt how to use a floatation tank to retrieve samples of seeds, charcoal, bone, mollusc shells, charred plant remains - working with water on a day like today was a bonus!
They will continue to use the tank over the next two weeks to process soil samples from pit and ditch fills.
Click on the images above to see a larger version
5th July 2013
Sunday 7th July
Can't believe the end of the first week of the dig has come around so quickly. Whilst everyone on the team has worked extremely hard, the high temperatures have meant that progress has been slow. Areas of flint have had to be doused with water to soften up the earth and even then the going is tough. Thanks go to the neighbours Jane and Rob who have given us access to water, not just for the archaeology and finds washing, but also ice cold drinking water to keep our temperatures down. Ice lollies were a welcome Sunday treat.
Wednesday 10th July
The second week of the excavation and we welcomed our new volunteers, several of whom are in a trench for the first time. Work continues on the flint surface which may be Stane Street but it seems it has been badly damaged and turned over by deep ploughing. Further excavation of last year's ditch is taking place and the fill saved for environmental sampling. After taking part in the environmental course last Saturday our volunteers are now happily processing samples with the floatation tank ( water and hot weather go together perfectly!). Amongst the finds that were retrieved today was a coin of Trajan (98-117AD) down at the bottom of our pit in Area A. This gives us an earliest date for the lower fill which is good news. Another find is a lovely worked flint which Emma, the trench director, picked up as she walked over the trench.
Classics students from Ewelll Castle School visited the site this afternoon and looked at everything from the archaeology in the trench, to the work of the metal detectorists, the environmental sampling and processing in the finds tent. We are beginning to gear up for the Open Day on Saturday which will keep us all busy.
Friday 12th July
The last couple of days have continued to be hot and busy both in the trench and finds tent. The site has been gearing up to welcome visitors tomorrow (Saturday 13th) in conjunction with the Ewell Village Fair and the CBA Festival of Archaeology. Thursday saw a visit from Yr 6 children at Ewell Castle School and they were able to see replicas of Roman pots and other artefacts lent by Bourne Hall Museum. Excavation in the pit in Area A continues to uncover further layers and the extent of the 'amphora' pit in Area C has been identified and it appears to be lined with flint. Volunteers have been painstakingly uncovering flint and chalk areas which may be the only remnants of Roman above-ground structures. The flint area at the north end of the trench has proved to have been turned over by the plough with post-medieval pottery in ploughsoil beneath the flint. If it was orignially Stane Street that has been ploughed out over centuries we might expect to find foundation cuts into the natural. We shall keep looking!
Whilst looking for evidence of steam ploughing in Ewell we came across this Pathe news clip about a Ploughing Match which took place just after WWI. If anyone can recognise where it took place please contact email@example.com
Interim Report CME13
The interim report is now available through the following links:
Sunday 14th July
What a busy weekend in Church Meadow.
Over 300 visitors were welcomed on site yesterday (13th July) despite it being the hottest day of the year so far. The Open Day was held in conjunction with Ewell Village Fair and The Council for British Archaeology's 'Festival of Archaeology'. Visitors were given a tour of the trench and were able to watch finds team members processing finds and view this season's finds together with replica pots and a hands-on pot and tile display. For children there were mosaic tiles to experiment with and tunics to have their photos taken in. Bourne Hall Museum kindly provided posters on the subject of Roman food and drink.
Sunday saw 75+ children (and parents) from Bourne Hall Museum Club participating in activities on site. Children were given time trowelling in the trench and carried out some sieving on the spoil heap. There was much excitement when a Roman coin was retrieved. A popular activity on this very hot day was pot washing under a gazebo! The children were very enthusiastic and we hope they will retain their interest until they are old enough to volunteer for this or other projects. More than 40 volunteers worked in intense heat to continue uncovering the archaeology (albeit slowly), and we have just one more week to answer the many questions that have arisen. We do not yet have evidence for Stane Street which we had been expecting to find, but the two pits re-opened from last season are continuing to surprise us.
Thursday 18th July
Work has continued over the last couple of days to uncover the path of the ditch and recut ditch/ gully first discovered last year. To do this a number of chalk and flint surfaces have had to be painstakingly removed. The hot weather has set the ground hard and it is only due to the tenacity of our volunteers that we have achieved as much as we have. There are now signs that the large pit in 'A' may be a Roman well but more exploration is needed before this is confirmed. The flint/ pebble/ chalk spreads in Area 'J' are looking more like an occupation area rather than the Roman road we were expecting. One of the joys of archaeology is that the story may change from day to day as new evidence is uncovered. A Roman pit has been found close by, and environmental samples taken. Excitingly, a coin was found within the pit fill and if it can be identified will give us the earliest date for this feature. On Wednesday the site welcomed 180 pupils when a local infant school visited over the course of the day. Part of the remit of the project is to involve local people and introducing local children to their heritage is an important aspect of this. Thanks go to David Brooks of Bourne Hall Museum for organising these visits.
For those of you more interested in the site cat rather than the archaeology see a rather fetching picture below.
Final report from CME13 - Sunday 21st July
The last day on site commenced with the first drops of rain we'd had in three weeks. Whilst we'd often prayed for a precipitation to soften the ground we didn't need it on the last day when there was drawing to do and a compound of tents to take down. Luckily it hardly got going and soon dried as the temperature rose.
Archaeology-wise, the deep pit in A, which has been mentioned more than once, has indeed turned out to be a series of Roman wells. The first appears to have been a square plank-lined shaft, the wood seen as a shadow between the fill and the natural sand into which it was cut. Into one corner was set a wooden barrel, seen as a dark circular feature. It is thought that such an arrangement worked as a silt trap. A second square feature was seen cutting through the first well at an angle. Due to the depth of the features (2m below Roman ground surface) and the sand subsoil, further investigation could not take place. Augering showed that the current water table is about 1m below the lowest excavated surface. The area near the wells had several shallow Romano-British rubbish pits and a relatively modern pit cut into the ploughsoil revealed the articulated remains of what may have been a pet pony. This was left in situ.
At the top end of the trench, the pit in Area J has given up two late 4th century coins and late Roman pottery, and its fill points to it having possibly been a latrine pit. This suggests the road did not run along this alignment in the 4th century; could the original road have been robbed out before this as the route shifted over time? Currently we do not have any definitive evidence for the road and this area will be re-opened next year together with another 30m length to see if we can pick up any patterns, linear or otherwise.
We hope you have enjoyed this dig diary. However the 'editor' reserves the right to change her mind on the interpretation of what was found as necessary!
Nikki Cowlard,Site Director, Church Meadow Project