Monthly Archives: June 2013

Excavation and Survey at Portus: the first week of the 2013 field school

It isn’t difficult to understand the draw of working in fascinating or beautiful places on archaeological sites which represent pivotal moments in European history, and the case of Portus is no exception. This is a site and landscape close to my heart and research interests, more in terms of the development of the broader Tiber delta, than the Roman port per se. However, the nature of the port, its relationship with the city of Rome and the town of Ostia Antica and the changing fortunes of the site are compelling. Between 21st June and 14th July a field school, run by the University of Southampton, and directed by Prof. Simon Keay and Dr Dragana Mladenovic, is continuing the excavation and survey of a section of the port complex which commenced in 2007. The focus this time is the integration of different methods of a nalysis, both non-intrusive and excavation-based, to train students from a number of different institutions in the UK, Italy and elsewhere. As part of the season I am involved in the capacity of a supervisor and safety officer, so am really getting an idea of a small, limited part of the overall project and operation of the site in some aspects. In spite of this it seemed a good opportunity to blog over the next few weeks looking at the work and some of the broader thoughts arising from the work on site.

Setting up the barrow ramp to the north of the Imperial Palace Building 8

Setting up the barrow ramp to the north of the Imperial Palace Building 8

Looking north across the excavation

Looking north across the excavation

The team consists of different archaeologists and other specialists from the University of Southampton and further afield. In addition to the excavation supervisors from Southampton, Parsifal and the British School at Rome, James Miles and Peter Wheeler are working on digital scanning of parts of the site, and Lizzie Richley is carrying out high resolution Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT) across the area of Building 5.

Photography of the site from a cherry picker prior to commecment of the excavation

Photography of the site from a cherry picker prior to commecment of the excavation

The first week of work has focused on cleaning of areas of the site, photography from a cherry picker and gigapan photography, and the start of excavation in Areas K and N, including training of students.

Peter Wheeler photographing the site

Peter Wheeler photographing the site

Camilla Panzieri putting the finishing touches to a plan

Camilla Panzieri putting the finishing touches to a plan

Training on site has taken the form of thirty minute lectures on different aspects of the work on and off site, and longer lunchtime lectures, so far conducts by Simon Keay. The students then work on site, reinforcing the issues and theoretical ideas established during the lectures. Much of the work so far has involved explanation of the different methods of excavation and recording, and use o everyday equipment such as dumpy levels. All of the students seem to be engaged with the work and the broader project. There is still a lot to cover in the next two weeks, however, as the season moves forwards and excavation of the different areas continues into the rubble and occupation layers of the Imperial Palace.

Some of the walls and fallen masonry in the north part of the Imperial Palace. Topsoil still to be removed!

Some of the walls and fallen masonry in the north part of the Imperial Palace. Topsoil still to be removed!

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Survey and Excavation at Cranborne Chase

After a few weeks of survey in the New Forest, teaching of practicals and writing up of some papers, it was good this week to get back out in the field with staff and students from the University of Southampton. This time we headed out to Dorset for excavation and survey at Down Farm on Cranborne Chase, with teams of students involved in excavation, finds processing and recording, together with some topographic survey and magnetometry. weather during the course of the week was beautiful, strong sunshine with a light breeze moving over the hay meadows, with skylarks singing in the sky, reminiscent of surveys and excavations in the past on moorland in the north of England.

Students excavating on the main trench.

Students excavating on the main trench

The group were divided into teams for excavating of 1m by 1m test pits  along a low lying ridge to the south of the farm, with others excavating a larger trench with pit and postthole features. Some studetns also commenced surveying, with magnetometry being conducted in the area around the main trench. The ground offered perfect conditions, although generations of plough damage and truncation of the ploughsoil suggest that remains in the area may be quite ephemeral.

Dr Alison Gascoigne moving strings during the magnetometer survey

Dr Alison Gascoigne moving strings during the magnetometer survey

Excavation of the test pits

Excavation of the test pits

The pla nover the next week or so with the magnetometry is to cover as much of the southern part of the field as possible, mainly as a training exercise, but also to locate any other posssible features that might make useful targets for excavation. The trenches, supervised by Tim Sly, Dom Barker, Cat Cooper and Sam Giffiths are revealing features broadly Iron Age in date, mainly pits and postholes, vut directly into the natural chalk. There is, however, real scope for much more extensive geophysical survey and topographic survey across the landscape at Down Farm. Given the nature of archaeological remains and the underlying geology, similar to that of Tidgrove Warren Farm in Hampshire, large-scale survey would provide some solid foundation data for analysis and targeted excavation.

One of the undergraduate students conducting magnetometry

One of the undergraduate students conducting magnetometry

The excavations and survey will continue next week together with magnetic susceptibility survey to broaden the survey coverage using a lower spatial resolution of survey. Topographic survey started on Wednesday using Smartnet GPS. The cellphone coverage for the area was, however, insufficient for operating Smartnet, and on Thursday standard RTK survey was coducted. The trenches and topography for the area will be surveyed in using this.

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