Living on a Prayer?

Woah, we’re halfway there! Week 2 is done, and it’s been estimated that the amount of work we’ve done in these two weeks equals that done in three last year! With the clock ticking towards the end of the project, the pace is picking up. Now for a rundown…

One of our fearless leaders, Dr. Morris, having a brainstorming session. On the left, Mjolnir the Legendary Mattock is pictured in the foreground.

In the north of the trench we are targeting specific areas to answer our questions about the phasing of the fort. One of these areas is the north eastern stone guard house and specifically its relationship to a structure to its immediate south and the clay rampart it is cut into on its eastern side. Once thought to be from different phases of the fort their foundations now look to be set into the same clay layer, indicating that they may be contemporary with one another. The southern building may be a timber annex resting against the stone guard house. Our understanding and interpretation of the archaeology in our trench is constantly evolving as we uncover more. In the last two weeks of the project we will continue to examine their relationship with each other and the surrounding areas.

On the right is the guardhouse with its exposed threshold stone. On the left is the possible annex building. Down the middle runs the foundations of the wall to the guard tower.

In the stone guard house and on the stone wall we are working down to reveal their foundations, which will allow us to examine the initial construction process of the stone fort and the stages of wall building. If we are lucky, we may also see features from the earlier timber fort. Beneath the wall and clay rampart we are hoping to see wooden “corduroy” foundations similar to those found in previous excavations in and around Ribchester. As we work our way through these layers, we are always on the lookout for concrete dating evidence like coins or stamped pottery to help us assemble an accurate timeline of the fort’s construction.

In the middle of the trench, running west to east, is the intervallum road. This pathway would have run parallel to the walls inside the fort. A slot was cut into the road surface at the end of last year’s dig, and extending it this year has revealed the earliest phase of the road, with its well-ordered, neat cobbles, and its sandy foundations. But as we began to see the core of the road, we realized that there may be postholes, beam slots, and other structural features running through it, showing evidence that there were buildings there at one time. As we extend the slot through the road further, we hope to uncover more that will help us further understand these structures and their placement within the fort and in relation to the road.

The slot cut into the intervallum road, showing its sandy foundation and how layers of road surface built up over time as it was paved over.

In the south half of the trench, evidence of longstanding occupation and industry is beginning to be better understood. Currently, the most prominent feature is the kiln, a large clay oven thought to have been used to dry grain, given its proximity to the granaries to the west. But cut through the kiln complex are several large postholes, which indicate the presence of a very large structure. This is also supported by geophysical analysis conducted in the area east of the trench. Evidence points to the presence of an imposing building there. And cut through those postholes are later beam slots, signifying another structure in place of the first two. The archaeology here is intricate, given that multiple phases of fort through several centuries of time are present. Our hope is to examine this changing use of space further and discover more discrete dating evidence.

Three of the large postholes, as well as the later beam slot cutting through them.

The overarching message at this point is that when thinking about the fort, we need to do it in terms of relationships: how do these features relate to one another? Not only from a single point in time, but through multiple phases as the life histories of these structures change within the fort. With only two weeks left, we’re working hard to answer every question we can.

Ribchester Revisited 2019: What is Outreach?

Once you have overcome the perception of the archaeologist as a bushy moustached Victorian explorer, equipped with monocle and tomb exploring buddies, as well as the all too exciting portrayal in Spielberg’s Indiana Jones, it can be hard to see archaeology as anything more than an academic pursuit. Though the discoveries made during excavation will no doubt rewrite or support historical narratives, it would be inaccurate to see archaeology as simply support for the writings of Historians. If the purpose of archaeology was solely to provide footnotes for academic sources, this would only benefit a small portion of the community, but by giving tours and getting the locals involved, archaeology can help strengthen interest as well as pride in local heritage, and history in general.

Aside from excavating at Ribchester, there are three activities us students can participate in – finds, environmental, and outreach. Of the three, outreach is the most overlooked in our blog post recaps, and as we, the authors, are currently on outreach, we thought we’d tell you all about it.

Cleo, one of the authors, planning this blog post

While on outreach, we have three major jobs. The first of these is giving tours of the site to the public – both locals, who come in to check up on the progress of the excavation, and those from further afield. We also give tours to visiting school groups, and visitors to our neighbour, the Ribchester Roman Museum. In addition, we contribute to the digital and social media presence of the dig, in the form of blog posts like this one, and video diaries to document the dig and it’s progress.

Our guestbook includes visitors from New York, Washington state, and Hong Kong!

Tours give us the opportunity to interact with both the local community and other visitors on a personal level, and to pass on what we’ve uncovered and learned about the site to people the information might not otherwise reach. We’ve got a table full of artefacts for visitors to interact with, along with site maps and historical pictures, and there is always a tour guide ready to answer questions and show visitors around.

Outreach projects – which also include lectures, presentations, and volunteer programs, both for adults and children – can also serve to get people more interested in archaeology and local history. From an excavation standpoint, developing a good relationship with the local community is important for our dig, and can help with the long-term preservation of both this site and the other Roman archaeology around Ribchester.

A Ribchester local volunteering to help us excavate.

Tours, blog posts, and videos can encourage people to interact with archaeology, both locally and on and international scale – and it can help to demystify what it is that we archaeologists do in a trench. And hopefully, we can inspire some of our visiting school children to be the next generation of archaeologists like us!

Ribchester week 2: looking to the future

As of this post, we’ve just finished Week 1 of the excavation for this year. Here’s an update of what we’re working on this week.

Declan Jamieson. Just look at this guy. Bet he eats weird soups.

In the South end of the trench, one of our teams found several postholes and beam slots of what looks to be 3 buildings. Declan, who is on this team, says he is hoping to investigate both the larger postholes and what is underneath the kiln, which is in the same area.

Niamh Shulmeister. Fastest trowel int’ North-West.

Further North is the transitional zone from industrial areas in the South to the military installations further along. There appears to be multiple temporary structures in this area due to the existence of poorly laid stone floors, beam slots and postholes in the same area.

Niamh, who is working in this area, is hoping to find out if the beam slots in this section align with those further South, which would indicate a continuation of the structure into the contexts bordering the road. It could also be indicative of another building in situ of it.

Edward Buxton. Actual sunshine incarnate.

Along the East-West Roman road, our team has found a hole of some sort which has been excavated. Ed is hoping to find out if this hole is related to any beam slots or postholes nearby, which would indicate a structure of some sort cutting into this road. We’ve also continued to excavate this road and have found that the quality of construction improves as we excavate, confirming that the road quality declined overtime.

Drake Marshall. Cool guy. No joke here.

As we move toward the Northern defences we enter the guard house areas. Last week our very own Drake with the help of his other teammates continued excavations of these structures and are edging ever closer to being able to accurately date them. With the road being situated underneath the earlier guardhouse it has been agreed that it cannot be the earliest such building. Hopefully the sharp minds working there can answer this question once and for all.

Kelsie Barett. She whom we endure.

And finally we reach the hardy Northerners working on the defensive wall and beyond, but unlike the final season of ‘Game of Thrones’ we’re confident we’ll reach a satisfying conclusion here. Team member Kelsie was kind enough to spare us a moment today and explain the plan for the wall/ramparts future. The archaeologists will be working down the layers in 5cm spits until they reach the organic layer, giving us an exact time frame for the forts construction. And I must say I can’t wait to find out. This fort has become somewhat of a crush of mine and I want to date it badly.

Return to Ribchester 2019

The Village Hall, our home for the month.

Excavation at Ribchester has begun for another year. This year we have quite a large cast of returning students from previous years, as well as a collection of students here for the very first time. For the two authors of this blog, this is our second year of excavating in Ribchester, with both of us coming from far flung Canberra, Australia. The trip here is quite a journey for us with 25 hour flights each way (which don’t come cheap), new time zones, strange weather (we’ve never seen so much rain) and so much green!

But it’s all worth it once we get here. The other archaeologists are fantastic (which is good considering we’re living, eating and digging together for the next month). The camping is something we didn’t miss so much, the field gets bitterly cold on clear nights, but it doesn’t take long for us to get used to it again. With wonderful Janis cooking us
dinner each night (and sometimes lunch at her sandwich shop when our homemade sandwiches start to grate), it doesn’t take long for this village to start feeling like home again either. Most importantly however, the trench is here and ready to be further excavated.

Hard at work in the trench.

The site here in Ribchester is fascinating: an urban style site with complicated layers, features and finds worth shipping ourselves to the other side of the globe for. Coming back and seeing all our work from last year ready and waiting for us to continue it felt a little like coming home.  Ribchester is a singular site, and our trench is a singular puzzle waiting for all of us to figure it out, how could we resist the opportunity to return to finish it?

A beginning

There comes a time in every project’s life when it gets its own website, Ribchester Revisited has now reached such a moment. This website will grow and change as the project does. Although in development for a number of years, Ribchester Revisited really started in 2015, with the first summer of month long excavations.

The first UCLan students and staff to dig at Ribchester in 2013
The first UCLan students and staff to dig at Ribchester in 2013

Previously UCLan students had been undertaking small scale digs and projects preparing the ground. This started in September 2013 when first year archaeology students excavated a small test trench. Further test trenches in 2014 led to the opening of our main trench in 2015. Those test trenches no longer exist, our excavations now cover the areas they once occupied, but they served a vital function, allowing us to gain an understanding of the depth and survival of the archaeology.

We will now use this website to update everyone on how the project progresses. Expect periods of activity, especially in the summer when students will be blogging about the excavations, with periods of calm as we return to teaching and the slow task of post-excavation and research.