Artefact Conservation

On Tuesday six of us attended a briefing session at the Shirehall hosted by Debbie Harris from the Conservation Unit. The overall conclusion from the morning session was that our post excavation handling of the various materials that we encounter is generally in line with current best practice. The main problem area is Fe objects and since we cannot afford to x-ray every item, the most we can hope to achieve is to ensure that the items are as dry as possible before being packed away, and are stored with the proprietary silica gel packs.

Debbie was kind enough to make up a small conservation materials kit box for us. This contains small samples of all of the materials that we are likely to need when packing artefacts away, both immediately after excavation, and following completion of post excavation work. To that end Chrissy and I will be compiling a shopping list in the coming weeks so that we can be fully prepared for the next big dig.

Post Excavation Update No.6

Work has been progressing well on the identification of the coins from this Summer’s dig in Wymer Field so I thought I would share a few of the more interesting findings with you. After four hours spent in the company of Andy I am optimistic that the task is nearing completion, as I got him to check all of my preliminary IDs. As a newcomer to the subject I am very grateful to have this sort of assistance.

In total 27 objects provisionally identified as coins were recovered from the three trenches; 24 from Trench 1, 2 from Trench 2 and 1 from Trench 3. The reason for using this particular terminology will become clearer later in this posting.

The overall condition of these items ranged from the very fine example of the quinarius from the reign of Allectus, that could be read with the naked eye, or in my case with the aid of reading glasses, through to a number that were so badly encrusted or worn as to be attributed with a  degree of guesswork, based on size and what little could be discerned in the way of legends or Obverse and Reverse images.

I would like to highlight three particular items that in terms of our regular coin finds are a bit more unusual:

SF1040: This coin was quite challenging as it was somewhat different to anything I’d seen before. I could just about make out from the Obverse image that it was a radiate  but the Reverse image proved to be more challenging. I eventually figured out that what I was looking at was an animal of some sorts and this was the key to the eventual identification. This coin turned out to be an unusual one for us in that it comes from the reign of Gallienus and dates to AD 260 -268. The image on the Reverse is a striped tigress.

SF1041: This is a very nice large coin known as a Dupondius. It is similar in size to the Dupondius of the Emperor Vespasian that we recovered from a Test Pit a couple of years ago. I was pretty certain that this one wasn’t Vespasian when I first looked at it simply because his image is so distinctive. Again as with SF1040 the key to unlocking this one was on the Reverse where I could read the first part of the Legend. The image was of a seated female figure and I could make out the letters INDULG. The only figure that this can be is a Personification called Indulgentia. This together with what I could make out on the Obverse led me, following research, to the Emperor Antoninus Pius with this particular coin dating to AD 153 – 154. To the best of my knowledge the Caistor Roman Project has not previously had a coin from the period so it is an exciting find.

CRP16/1007/SF1041(1) – Version 3


SF3000: This was the solitary “coin” retrieved from Trench 3 (metal detected from the spoilheap) . Owing to it’s size it gave every impression of being a minim and indeed the finds bag was marked up as such. On examination under magnification I realised that I could make out the word “PRINCESS” so it was obviously not a minim. On the Reverse I thought I could read a date of “1848” which again gave me a clue as to where to look. With Andy’s help this object was identified as a Princess Helena miniature birth token, actually dated to 1846 and struck to commemorate the birth of Queen Victoria And Prince Albert’s third daughter and fifth child.

So there you have it, some really interesting finds in amongst the usual mid 4th Century stuff we are getting used to seeing at Caistor and I haven’t even mentioned the other non-coin, the rather lovely medieval Jetton.







Test Pitting- Old Hall

We were back at Old Hall for three days of Test Pitting between 28th and 30th October courtesy of the Jarrolds. This was our final Test Pitting for 2016.

Over the course of the three days, and blessed with very amenable weather for the time of year, we dug Test Pits 36, 43, 44 and completed TP45 that had initially been worked on by the Young Archaeologists Club on Saturday.

TP43 and TP44 were located on the lawn of Old Hall whilst TP’s 36 and 45 were in the paddock where a number of Test Pits had previously been dug.

TP36 and TP43 each produced a single coin, and whilst both were in poor condition, the one from TP43 was just identifiable as a Gloria Exercitus two soldiers and one standard i.e typical of the mid 4th Century coins that we encounter when digging at Caistor. The TP36 coin will require further investigation.

Perhaps the nicest find from the three days was a copper alloy ear scoop although there was no sign of the other usual components of a Roman cosmetic set. This came out of TP36 following diligent sieving by Mick Collins.

Grateful  thanks to all the CRP Members who worked so hard to complete the work within the three days. Additional thanks to Jenny for taking charge of tea and coffee making.



Make up your own captions!


More Exciting News

Some time ago I put together a document attempting to list all of the known archaeological activity in and around Caistor St. Edmund. Whilst doing this Will mentioned that a Michael Brely had dug a kiln outside the north wall of Venta but that it had never been written up. I had never heard of this gentleman so not unnaturally my  curiosity was piqued. I discovered that the Brely archive had been accessioned by the Museum so there was a good chance that the material was in store somewhere within the Museum service.

Enquiries led us to Nat who had diligently recorded the whereabouts of various boxes of Brely related material whilst working at the Shirehall. As she was due to be there again last week, and aware that access might otherwise be difficult owing to staffing levels, I took the opportunity to join her for a root around the basement.

There was insufficient time during the course of one afternoon to examine all of the Brely material but it appears that there has been several accessions over a number of years. Suffice to say that there is a fair amount of it, including both documents and finds. There is paperwork relating to the above-mentioned excavation of the kiln but what particularly caught my eye was his detailed notes recording the steady destruction of the site under ploughing between 1961 and 1972. Doing that time he field walked the area within the walls recording the level of damage in different sectors, handily shown on a drawing in one of his notebooks. Seems as though Scheduling of this particular site wasn’t all that effective!

Of particular interest in addition to the above was the fact that Brely made a record of all of the coins that he picked up during his field walking so that I now have another 254 Roman coins to add to the growing data we have on coin loss in and around Caistor. More to follow on this subject.

TP 40 Stamped Rim Further Update

As I mentioned in the earlier update it appears that we have one of only four known examples of this particular stamp (referred to as a trade stamp by Kay Hartley) and they have all been found in Norfolk. Whilst pondering on this fact I took out the atlas of Norfolk and lo and behold it’s possible to lay a ruler and draw a straight line between Caistor and Denver running through Saham Toney and Upwell i.e all four finds sites for this particular stamp are on the line of the probable Roman road running between Caistor and Denver.  (see map on p.29 of “An Historical Atlas of Norfolk” edited by Trevor Ashwin and Alan Davison).

Although fairly flimsy evidence in support of the road theory I think it is a quite exciting find on out part. What’s also interesting is that to date we haven’t found anything similar in all of the previously excavated material, although hot off the press, Nat spotted a piece of stamped grey ware whilst rummaging through Atkinson’s small finds last week and this bears a similar stamp (see image below).

The challenge now is to find where pottery bearing this  particular stamp was made. Could there be evidence lurking amongst the Brampton assemblage for example?


Pictographs – British Columbia

Ever keen to broaden my horizons I have just returned from close encounters with Grizzly and Black bears in the remote north of British Columbia. The local First Nation people are called the Kitasoo Xai’xais and we were fortunate enough to be shown a number of pictographs whilst travelling by boat to and from various locations in the Great Bear Rainforest. This was an unexpected bonus so I thought I would share a couple of the images with you. Charlie our boat captain on a couple of days is the local hereditary chief and he explained that the pictographs usually indicate that the burial site of a chief is somewhere close by, typically in a cleft in the cliff face.


Post Excavation Update No. 5

I’ve been pressing on with work on identifying the coins from the recent Wymer field excavation over the past couple of weeks and thought I would give you a progress report. A total of twenty four coins were recovered from Trench One and these vary in condition from very fine, as in the case of the Allectus example, to “well it’s no doubt a coin but I can’t actually make out anything at all”. Not at all helpful when you are on as steep a learning curve as yours truly. However after much head scratching and poring over reference books and websites I have managed to make a preliminary identification of almost all of the coins. I stress that it is a preliminary identification and I would hope to get Andy to vet my findings when he is able to do so.  Once I have photographed the coins I will post one or two images of the nicer examples so you’ll be able to see some of the fruits of all your hard work. I will do the same for the other Small Finds as well, and I promise not to include any images of nails!

Anyway back to the coins. As stated above we recovered twenty four coins from Trench One, and not one of them had the decency to be sitting in the bottom of any of the ditches. What we can say with reasonable confidence is that they very much reflect the pattern of previous coin finds from Wymer field i.e a high proportion are from Reece Period 17 (AD 330 – 348). By way of a reminder a total of one hundred and twelve coins have been retrieved from the field by metal detectorists in the past. The detectorists concerned have been kind enough to provide us with the data relating to their finds so that I have been able to analyse the pattern of coin distribution from Wymer field and compare it with the other Caistor sites, i.e the town, Temple and Old Church Close, Dunston field and Park field. I will come back to this topic on another occasion.

What I would say, by way of conclusion today, is that one of the most striking features from analysing the pattern of coin distribution is the extent to which Wymer field and indeed Dunston field differ from what would be expected from a Roman site in Britain.   In both cases Reece Period 17 coin finds are at least twice the British Mean i.e when the data is adjusted to ensure that we are comparing like with like. What this all means is of course another matter entirely but do feel free to speculate.

Another question to consider is this. Is the coin loss in Wymer field unusually high and if so why?  Given that we hit water in the outermost ditch is it possible that there was a spring close to where we struck water and the sizeable coin loss represents a significant footfall of people making there way to and from the spring. I believe this has already been put forward as a possible explanation so I can’t lay claim to it myself.

TP40 – Stamped Moratorium Rim

Those of you who dug with me at 4 Markshall cottages earlier this year will recall that we came across a very interesting sherd from a mortarium. The sherd was from the rim and had a partial stamp on it. We recognised that the fabric was somewhat different to what we were used to seeing and given the presence of the stamp I guessed that we had a good chance of getting it identified.

Following consultation with Alice I sent the sherd off to Kay Hartley an expert in the field of mortaria. Kay has sent me a summary of her findings to date and I reproduce below some of the salient points:

“The broken stamp is composed of criss-cross motifs. It is from the same die as stamps from Denver, Saham Toney and Upwell. The complete stamps show a stamp composed of two lines of identical motifs with dots inside the ‘diamond’ shapes on each line. The fabric shows some variability in colour. The distribution and fabrics would best fit a source in Norfolk.

The rim profiles associated with all known mortarium stamps appear to be definitely second century and not necessarily early”.