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December 2017

Posted by admin on December 8, 2017

This month's blog is brought to us by Alyson. She writes about her excavation experience at Teffont, her involvement recording the project's small finds, and the perils of undertaking field survey around hungry sheep. 

In 2012, after 20 years as a lawyer and watching a lot of Time Team, I decided when I retired to study archaeology.  I started an undergraduate certificate course at Oxford University Continuing Education Department and after five years, I am still there and just starting an MSc degree in Applied Landscape Archaeology.

When I finished work, I also started volunteering with the Portable Antiquities Scheme at Salisbury Museum, identifying and recording objects brought in mainly by metal detectorists.  Richard Henry runs the PAS in Salisbury and is good friends with David Roberts.  As a result, David invited Richard’s volunteers to come along to Teffont and so started my involvement.

Previously, I had only spent a week or so on excavations but the York University team were fabulous, training me up to trowel and mattock.  In my first year, I was working in Hill Field.  Initially, the view was that there may be burials at the site but eventually, the remains were identified as a stone built, apsidal construction with the archaeology suggesting ritual activity connecting it to the complex in the Upper Holt wood.  I also had the chance to do some geophysics in Stream Field where some curious sheep unhelpfully ate through one of our tape measures. 

Although I visited the site during the next two seasons, I was excavating elsewhere and did not return to Teffont until 2017.  The team was mainly professional archaeologists on a busman’s holiday with a few extras like me joining in.  The idea was to answer some outstanding questions from previous excavations.  I was excavating in the Upper Holt wood with Richard Keatinge.  The peacefulness of the woods was wonderful and I remember thinking how lucky and privileged I was to be there even though there were no significant finds in our trenches and little interesting stratigraphy. This absence of archaeology in our trenches at least satisfied one of the project’s aim’s: to check that a trackway leading to the Roman shrine did not continue all the way around the shrine’s southern boundary, but instead entered the shrine enclosure where they thought it did!

My experience at Salisbury Museum meant that I was invited to prepare the small finds report for the 200 or so objects that have been found during the course of the project.  I like artefacts, especially Roman ones so this has been an exciting opportunity.  Although some of the objects have been unidentifiable metal fragments, there are quite a few nice artefacts from the Roman period including brooches, a latchlifter, a candle holder and a number of coins.

finds_3.jpgA selection of excavated finds identified by Alyson. Top: A Roman candle holder (with four stalks so you could keep turning it over to use it four times before the candle stubs needed cleaning out). Middle: A denarius of Septimius Severus, AD 194-5 (l); a nummus of Crispus as junior Emperor, AD 321 (r). Bottom: A post-medieval buckle, AD 1600-1800 (l); a roman dolphin bow brooch, AD 55-100 (middle); and a Roman plate brooch, AD 150-300, which would have been enamelled (r)

Archaeology in Wiltshire is dominated by Stonehenge and Avebury but the objects brought in to the Portable Antiquities Scheme are starting to show a pattern of significant activity in areas like Teffont suggesting the countryside was a busy place during the Roman period.  I have written a number of essays on the landscape to the west and south of Salisbury and can see that the project at Teffont has made a significant contribution to knowledge about the area.  One of the main reasons for this is the clarity of the research objectives, which also meant that I was able to understand what was going on.      

Archaeology is all about understanding the lives of people in the past through their material remains.  For me, it is also about the people I have met through projects like Teffont, and I have met some fascinating people.  The knowledge of people like David Roberts and Steve Roskams has illuminated my understanding of how to go about using the archaeology to interpret the past.  I have learnt so much and as a result of my involvement have been encouraged to join in with other excavations including a Roman temple and a Roman villa.  I also found that unexpectedly, I loved being outside all day, something I had not anticipated.  I am looking forward to David’s report on the site – I just have to get that small finds report finished first!     

Alyson_trench.jpg

Richard and me working in our rather cosy trench and excavating some stones we thought had some remarkable facets (the rock expert told us later that the ‘interesting features’ we had identified were in fact all natural)!