Silchester, England

Two students are working at the Poulton Research Project, a multi-period site near Chester, England. Poulton has evidence for pre-historic, Roman, and Medieval occupation. Morgan W. will work there in June, and Morgan S-F. in August!

Morgan W. - Entry 1

I've returned to the Poulton Research Project for a second year in the hopes of further contributing to my experience as a field archaeologist. In my first year I was a student, and this year I'm supervising Trench 50 (which is filled with Iron Age roundhouses, Roman ditch systems and an incredible amount of material culture from both periods). Contrary to typical Iron Age sites, the material culture is in abundance and provides a very unique glimpse into a possible type of communal space in lowland sites in the North West of England. Myself and two other supervisors were placed in charge of certain areas to investigate at the beginning of the season prior to student's arrival. A system of postholes and roman ditch, the intersection of two Roman ditches, and for me the intersection of two Iron Age roundhouse gullies.

For 5 days I excavated with the help of a community volunteer in the hopes of sorting out the chronology of these two gullies. The gullies at Poulton typically yield loads of charcoal, bone, and a very important type of ceramic specific to the area 'VCP" (very course pottery). This pottery is a type of briquetage that is used to collect and store salt, a major commodity in the Iron Age. The director suggested I continue excavating a part of the roundhouse gully until I found the intersectio and relationship and to do a "finds retrieval." This meant mattocking material until diagnostic material was discovered. Myself and the other supervisors suggested we simply put a slot through the possible area where intersection was so we might see the stratigraphic relationships in both section edges. I also wished to take environmental samples but was not permitted to do so because there was a likelihood that the area had already been excavated by previous management. The problem with this was that if it was not already excavated then any fine materials in the gully deposits would be lost as well as any insights they would have provided into the use of the roundhouses themselves. I was successful in convincing the director of a slot and began excavating with a volunteer with whom I was instructing. By day 5 we hit pieces of plywood and grass and realized that the gully had been excavated and not recorded by previous management. We took out the rest of the material with a mattock in the hopes that maybe it had not have been fully excavated (which was the norm for previous management). What we found was a plank of wood at the bottom indicating the bottom of excavation. The director told us to abandon the area to move onto other 'untouched areas'. 

This was my first experience excavating a botched area that was left unrecorded and poorly done (the gully material was left along the sides of the gully cuts and some material was found under the wooden plank that indicated authentic gully fill). That being said, the method of excavation required by the Project was also problematic as environmental sampling was denied before we knew the state of the gully intersection. Context (or Stratigraphic Unit) numbers weren't allowed to be taken out for recording purposes and authentic finds that had been previously missed in the backfill of the gully were frequently thrown away by the director or eaten as a means to test their authenticity. It made honest and methodical excavation quite difficult. 

That being said I have now been moved to another area of Trench 50, where there were another series of features; 6 post holes, a gully and a potential hearth. All indicators of a roundhouse. For the foreseeable future it looks like I might have some untarnished archaeology on my hands! And maybe some students too! 

Morgan W. - Entry 2

So here I am at the end of my 8 weeks at the Poulton Research Project! A lot has happened in terms of the archaeology. 

When I was moved to the other area of Trench 50 I quickly came to realize that all of the features were cut into a clay that didn't appear to be natural. When I looked around the rest of the huge trench I noticed that the other supervisor working on a series of postholes across from me had the same thing. The director as well as previous management had always written this odd bright orange clay as 'redeposited natural.' The issue with this statement was that it brought up a series of questions; why was it redeposited; how was it redeposited; why was it flecked with charcoal? 

I discussed with the the three students that one supervisor had been given as well as the supervisors themselves. We started to think it was significant. 

I planned the area and brought it to the director with my supervisors and pointed out that the orange clay that the postholes cut into appeared to be circular, with some mettling... and kind of looked like roundhouses. I had done work on upland roundhouses at Penycloddiau Hillfort in 2015 and they had some similar characteristics. What I knew in general about roundhouses was that Iron Age peoples liked to lay floors, or platforms for practical reasons, or 'caps' to signify the end of one generations use of the area. What Hans (the other supervisor with the postholes) and I started to think was that there were a roundhouse occupation after the huge gullies roundhouses I'd been investigated a few weeks prior. 

The director finally came around to the idea and allowed us to investigate it. What I found was a load of bone and charcoal out of the possible hearth as well as roman pottery. Hans found roman nails and preserved wood in some of his postholes. And I found some small fragments of what appeared to be VCP or ceramic.We started to think that we had stumbled onto some Romano British roundhouses. What was problematic was that we were given permission to take samples from the posthole that had wood inside the fill but nothing else. I noticed tremendous amounts of charred grain and seed in the hearth deposit as well as in the clay floor/platform but their authenticity was rarely accepted. 

Unfortunately we had to leave after 6 weeks to dig at Penycloddiau Hillfort for 4 weeks before returning. When we did return our areas had been untouched and left for us to continue. We asked to take samples and were told not to. We did make the choice to take out context numbers prior to being finished with excavation so we could keep our recording sheets up to date and accurate. Excavation became very problematic again when seeds and charred grain were eaten to test if they were real and much of our evidence was discarded. 

At the end of the season, the supervisors and myself had felt we had sufficient evidence of a possible Romano British settlement. While the roundhouses were slightly cut off by the trench edges, we had noticed later on that other orange clay circles were truncated by excavation in Trench 50. This made us believe that these roundhouses were missed entirely by previous excavation and the current Project. 

I learned a great deal at Poulton this summer. I was able to bolster my skills and ability to work independently with confidence. I learned how to open my own areas and make methodical excavation decisions. I could even argue my method well enough to make it happen! But the bulk of what I learnt was how not to run a site. How important it is to respect the archaeology, to see what was in the ground. I learnt the importance of having research questions and excavation plans before proceeding with the excavation of a site. Otherwise the site would have no direction and materials would become overwhelming and impossible to maintain. Moreover, conclusions wouldn't be able to be made and material would be left unpublished. I learnt the utmost importance of being able to identify archaeobotanical and faunal material.  I learnt that if a site can't take environmental samples for funding purposes or otherwise, then there shouldn't be an excavation. I learnt the importance of taking all circumstances, evidence, and archaeological process into how I interpreted the archaeology. I learnt the importance of taking records and being honest about the archaeological excavation. 

In the end the quality of the archaeology is nothing without funding, staff, method, post-excavation analysis, publication and honesty. 

 

 

Morgan S-F - Poulton, a Cisterician Mystery

Having worked on site at Poulton for the past week I have heard much about it's uniqueness archaeologically. Namely, it is a multilayered prehistoric, roman and medieval site where no one thought one would be and also where one simply should not be found. Nestled just east of the Clywidian hills of Wales and south of thecity of Chester, called Deva by the Romans who planned to build it up into a capital and staging point for a scraped invasion of Ireland, Poulton is found in a region which lacking in non-structural archaeology. Wale's and North-Western England heavy and acidic clay makes both preservation and excavation difficult but unique finds appear preserved at Poulton in a staggering numbers. One solid example would be prehistoric iron age round houses, at Poulton current eleven have been uncovered and still more may be found as excavation push towards the river. If one turns there attention to other sites in the region the number of roundhouses shrinks to a meager five. This prehistoric archaeology is only a small piece of what Poulton has to offer however, as the site also features a series of later Roman buildings including long ditches, filled with discarded pottery, bone and other finds. The site is also home to a large medieval graveyard from which over eight hundred skeletons have been unearthed and processed by a nearby university. Berhaps most unique about the site of Poulton however is the still undiscovered Cistercian monastery thought to be located on the site. Build and the abandoned over the course of sixty years the abbey, if found, would provide a vital snapshot of the architetural methods used by the Cistericians without the later addons and rebuilds so common among churches which were used and reused over the centuries. Having two weeks still ahead of me, my mind turns to what possible discoveries lay in the future and what mysteries remain to be redisovered.

Poulton, A Retrospective

As I near the end of my stay at Poulton my mind turns back the various experience I've had at the site. Walking out along the Green Mile to get to the Dairy Farm which serves as a rudimentary HQ for the site, listening to long talks about the sites context and regional importance, and getting to meet the many volunteers, staff members and dogs on site. As work began and the days stretched out the originally stilted rhythm began to formalize and I became increasingly comfortable, often times feeling at home among the many friends I'd made. Though the first week was made up entirely of back breaking work hacking away at the heavy clay which makes up the natural soil of the site and many of the friends I've made have since left, their own terms shorter than my own, the old faces have been replaced with new ones and alongside them new discoveries and new stories. The great span of time the site reaches, from the early hunter-gathers of prehistory to medieval occupation which lasted into the 1300s has helped keep my attention over many projects and has also provided a wide range of unique archaeological experiences. All in all my time at Poulton has been a stellar experience which provided wonderful opportunities. The chance to work alongside and with human remains, especially given the support of experts in the field of osteology, has greatly broadened my view of archaeology as a field and helped me understand how multidimensional and complex the past can truely be. The difficulty of working in the clay rich soil at Poulton has, despite or perhaps because of its difficulties, also help give me great practice with new techniques for troweling and also improved my ability to notice subtle differences in the texture and colour of stratigraphic layers. Finally, the extracuricular events the site provides access to, in the form of a historic tour not only of the site but the nearby fort at Chester as well as providing lessons with replica english longbows alongside replica arrows many of which have been found within skeletons on site, help break up the day to day doldrum of work. Due to the excellent professionalism demonstrated by the many supervisors alongside the uniqueness of the Poulton's archaeology I cannot recomend the site enough, especially for those with an intrest in prehistoric Britian.