Diggers' Diaries: Ribchester Roman fort
Our Dig It! excavation competition winners Katie Greenwood, Connor Stretch and Dan Kirby joined the archaeological team from the University of Central Lancashire on Sunday 4th July for a fun-filled and action-packed day exploring the remains of Ribchester Roman fort in Lancashire.
Roaming round Roman Ribchester!
The day started with a great introduction to Roman Ribchester. We saw the layout of the granary buildings which were exposed in an earlier excavation, and learnt about the fort's layout. The ditch and rampart of the fort is still visible in some places as an earthwork, which was pretty impressive! We also wandered along the River Ribble and discovered the Roman bath-house which would have been used by the soldiers stationed at the fort.
It was then time to get into the trench and for our winners (and their parents!) to get digging. Katie, Connor and Dan were all working with their brand-new trowels, kindly supplied by YAC's friends at Past Horizons.
The winners were working in an area alongside a Roman road in the fort, and it proved to be rich with finds. There were pieces of pottery and lots of Roman nails ... but our star finds were both made by Katie: a piece of Roman glass and a Roman coin!
Nathan from the dig team was able to identify the glass as being Roman because it had lots of tiny bubbles in it. It was a small fragment with a raised ridge running across it. The archaeologists think that it was part of a decorative vessel. The Roman coin was dated to around AD 330 by the finds experts.
Planning, finds and a thoroughly mucky job...
After lunch we had a quick tour of the Ribchester Roman Museum where we saw the replica of the amazing Ribchester helmet. Our winners' next task was to plan one of the features in the trench. A plan is a birds'-eye view. First a grid is carefully placed over the feature; this needs to be positioned with reference to a known point so that the plan will fit in with other plans of the site to help build up a complete picture. Then it's a case of drawing the feature accurately at scale; we used transparent paper with a grid printed on it.
We learnt about how finds are cared for after they are excavated. This included taking photographs with a scale bar; each of our winners chose a find to photograph. Katie actually photographed the coin that she discovered! Connor picked a Roman brooch pin that was found whilst we were on site; it is slightly tapered and also has two decorative balls on one end. And Dan's choice was another, earlier, Roman coin.
The process of taking and examining soil samples was explained to our winners too. We learnt about how to use a flotation tank to wash through soil samples to try and find tiny pieces of environmental evidence, such as burnt seeds. It was a thoroughly mucky job, and only Alison (Dan's mum) was willing to get her hands in amongst the mud!
Back in the trench, our winners were shown how to take levels by archaeologist Bess; these are height readings using a theodolite that enable archaeologists to plot where important finds and features are on a site. We used the theodolite to take a height reading of the place where Katie found the coin.
Before the end of the day there was just enough time to get back into the trench for a bit more digging... before rounding off our packed day with some well-earned cake!
Our winners said...
The best thing about the day was digging up a nail. I'd describe my day as interesting, amazingly fun and educational! Connor (12)
The most interesting thing that I learnt was the difference between bulk and small finds. My best find of the day was definitely the coin. Katie (14)
My favourite thing about the day was digging in the trench, and learning how to filter the soil for seeds. My best find was a really big nail! Dan (13)
And Katie's dad, Barrie, said:
It's crazy to think that the coin Katie unearthed has laid in the ground for such a long time: all through the Civil War and Oliver Cromwell, Henry the VIII came and went, the Great Fire of London, Battle of Hastings, First and Second World Wars, the Industrial Revolution ... the list goes on! And all that time it was laying under the ground. It really is something to think about and really fires the imagination.
Katie was made up and was buzzing about the day. It was a once in a lifetime chance to do something that is normally out of reach of the general public. To go and dig on a real archeological site and find real Roman artefacts is a pretty amazing opportunity, so thank you for it and please continue to have the competitions and give other young kids a chance to experience a day like this!
The archaeological team said...
Our young archaeologists were looked after by archaeology students Nathan and Bess:
It was great to show the young archaeologists around and to introduce them to all aspects of work on an excavation. Thank you to YAC for providing the opportunity to educate young people about Ribchester, archaeology and potential careers. Bess
The progression of the young archaeologists has been impressive and they have shown great enthusiasm. I thoroughly enjoyed myself; I very much hope the young archaeologists have had just as good a time! Nathan
And Site Director, Jim Morris, who invited us to take part has already said we're welcome again next year... keep visiting the YAC website, because you could be one of our lucky winners in 2017!!