Jeff is excavating a Roman villa in the south of England with the Kent Archaeological Field School.
Digging on Abbey Road ...
Abbey Road/Abbey Fields Site at Faversham, Kent, England. Photo by Jeff Marschmeyer, 2017.
There are plenty of excavating opportunities each dig season. Language barriers and travel/accommodation expenses made me decide on digging in England – specifically on a Roman site. I already had dig experience in Ontario which mostly involved pre-AD 1900 and indigenous or native cultures. I ended up choosing the Kent Archaeological Field School (KAFS) in Faversham, Kent – headed by Dr. Paul Wilkinson, and the ongoing excavations at the Abbey Road/Abbey Fields site. The Dig site was dated from the first century AD. I stayed in Canterbury, Kent where there are more food and accommodation choices (although arriving in the pouring rain and having to drag a suitcase across town wasn’t fun). I took the train (only a 15 minute journey) followed by a 25 minute walk to the site each day.
Map showing Canterbury, Kent, England. Faversham is located a few miles northeast of Canterbury. Google Maps, 2017.
For the first week, a small team of six experienced diggers (including myself) concentrated within an area approximately 5x50m (as seen in the photo from the foreground of the first photo to the left side of the excavator) and exposed wall foundations along with a later extension. The older wall had been found on a previous excavation and was exposed again to help orientate the site, while the extension was a new discovery. Finds included were pottery shards, nails, a very deteriorated Roman coin, and a hypocaust tile with a paw print. A hypocaust tile is a special tile invented by the Romans to help circulate air in their heated floors and walls. A few animal bones and teeth were also found during the dig. The site was enlarged later in the week.
Wall with later extension. Photo by Jeff Marschmeyer, 2017.
Some pottery shards. Photo by Jeff Marschmeyer, 2017.
During the second week of the dig, I was joined by over twenty people for the Field School which took place in the mornings (at KAFS Headquarters) and then after lunch, we returned to the site to dig in the afternoons. Topics discussed included excavation techniques, site survey, recording, and small finds and pottery identification. The small finds class was given by Andy – one of KAFS’ metal detectorists. The excavation crew now numbered around thirty and ages varied from early 20s to mid-70s.
Andy scrambles on top of a spoil-heap nearly two metres high. Photo by Jeff Marschmeyer, 2017.
Another partial view of the growing spoil-heap. Photo by Jeff Marschmeyer, 2017.
We also found square stone pads which were believed to the bases for a row of arches, a row of post-holes, and a stylus and pin, but the most unusual find was is believed to be the remnants of an early Christian cross or pendant. One of the post holes and some of the floor surfaces had been covered with a layer of clay. Dr. Wilkinson surmised that this was likely used as a water proofing barrier as the area has been known to flood.
Example of a possible arch base or support pad. Photo by Jeff Marschmeyer, 2017.
One of the post-holes. Photo by Jeff Marschmeyer, 2017.
Roman stylus and pin. Photo by Jeff Marschmeyer, 2017.
During the final week, the crew varied from around ten to fifteen people. We concentrated on identifying features at the base of the ginormous spoil-heap and cleaned up the site for drawing and photography. I was reminded that it’s common practice to protect any post-holes by covering them. In my case, I used a bucket which also prevented any spoil from filling the hole again. Some of the more experienced diggers had “specialized” tools for post-holes: ladles or very large spoons. The photo shows a bucket covering a post-hole at the end of the robbed-out wall I excavated. Mid-way along the wall, I also uncovered a section of a sloped cobbled floor.
Robbed out wall remains & bucket protecting a post-hole. Photo by Jeff Marschmeyer, 2017.
View of the site from the spoil-heap. Photo by Jeff Marschmeyer, 2017.
Site being cleaned up for drawings and photos. Photo by Jeff Marschmeyer, 2017.
Once the drawings and photos were done, I was left in charge of supervising the back-filling of the site (one of archaeology’s most glamorous jobs). I was just glad that I didn’t have to use a shovel this time! Even with the excavator, it took most of the day to complete. The white blobs to the right of the excavator in the photo are actually ponies that were quite curious as to what we were doing. Before the electric fencing was erected they would investigate our progress and would often leave “gifts of appreciation” that we would have to remove before digging recommenced. I was also under orders to recover any flint stones. These were going to be recycled and used to repair a wall at a local historical site. I didn’t collect all the flint – I just added to the pile! I was also invited to participate with KAFS in the continuing excavations at Oplontis (near Pompeii), Italy in 2018. I’ll have to see how the piggy bank is in the Spring.
The excavator back-fills the site. Photo by Jeff Marschmeyer, 2017.
Reclaimed flint for the wall restoration. Note the electric fence used to keep the archaeologists from straying. Photo by Jeff Marschmeyer, 2017.
The dig also created local media interest both on television and in print.
A short local news/special interest report by Louisa Britton for KMTV, August 16, 2017.
Louisa Britton, “How a Kent dig could re-write the history books,” Video, KMTV, UK, 2017.
In a newspaper article, the site was interpreted as a possible emporium or trade centre, but over its lifetime, it is believed that it started as barn and eventually was turned into a bath-house for visiting sailors (there is a small harbour nearby). If you wish to read the full article, it can be found here:
Joe Wright, “Archaeologists dig in to reveal Roman emporium,” Faversham News, KM Group, 2017.
More information about the Kent Archaeological Field School (KAFS) can be found here:
The KAFS team really made this dig an enjoyable and knowledgeable experience. The team was all mostly easy going, funny (at times) and happy to share any knowledge – all while following standard excavation guidelines. Their attitude just reflected that of the digs’ director Dr. Paul Wilkinson, who also encouraged this easy going attitude.
Both the Dig and Field School validated what was I learned in the classroom and excavating in Ontario. They also reminded me that in modern archaeology, specialization/specialized knowledge in an area like pottery or small finds (especially of a specific time period) makes an excavator more valuable to a team and an excavation.