Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The community departs, but the dig goes on

The community dig is over, Open day, post-dig party and all. It's been good. We've been very lucky, mostly. Some awful weather, some very good, but my hat keeps off rain and sun. A good team of amateurs, trained and led by excellent professionals. A wonderful site, with the Roman features two feet down so that the digger did the hard work to get there.

I couldn't spend so much time there as I have at previous digs, but I have tried to get there on a Friday morning at 11.00 for the weekly update, mostly conducted by the magnificent Hal Dalwood, telling the background history as well as interpreting the mysterious shapes in the earth colours for us. Last week he told us the latest interpretation of our Roman buildings: a street running close to the railway viaduct, with a large house / factory, tall enough for two storeys, walls of earth or stone, or possibly bricks topped by wood. Then at least three smaller houses towards the river. This is the end of the trench so far. We have ovens inside the houses, one an earthenware bread oven which we have most of, and one on a beaten clay floor, with indications that it was used at high temperatures so was used for metal alloys or glass. There are stone features elsewhere on the site, which cannot be interpreted yet.

Although the amateurs have left the site, it's not all over. Now the professionals, trained to work safely at speed and in less favourable weather, can get down to the lower, older layers of Roman history. You can still visit the site as long as it is safe to do so, and the exhibition is continuing, but there will only be an archaeologist free to talk to you on Friday at 11.00. I'll continue to go when I can, and report back.

Hope to see you there!

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Heat and the Dirt and the Noise of the Trains over our Heads is Part of the Fun

Found, cleaned, marked, displayed

I was back in the trench today after some time washing pots. I'm afraid Angus had to put some back in the water, the way my family do when I wash up at home. I don't thing I washed any of the important pieces we saw at the Friday update today, but they would have been just bits of pot at that time. They have now been transformed by brilliant reassembly, which Angus describes as a jigsaw puzzle with no picture, and most of the pieces missing.

The first was thought to be a jug with an impractical spout and the base broken off. But inspired by something seen in Greece, it was turned upside down and was revealed as a beehive. The bees travel up through the spot and the 'base' has now become a lid for hooking out the honey.

The next is even better. Archaeologists, everywhere I think, have been finding almost flat pieces of pottery which actually have a curve with a large radius. When they can find enough to put one partially together, there is a rim on the top and also on the bottom instead of a base. A space in the side is perhaps for putting things in and out. Since ours was found in the remains of a charcoal fire, it seems likely that it was an oven. Rumours that the remains of an apple crumble were found inside are greatly exaggerated. If this is a major archaeological advance, as it may well be, will I be credited with first publication of results? Even before the Worcester News has a picture of Paul Harding dressed as a Roman chef cooking in it? The oven picture is taken through a display case, so it has a reflection, but I will try to get a better one.

The next big discovery is the Roman house , only the second ever found in Worcester. We haven't much detail yet, just the line of the walls and supports. It may have been a wooden house, but it is large. You can't see the scale here, but we're not talking two-up two-down terrace here. The oven was inside, marked here with a polythene bag. With the recent weather, everything is in polythene bags, although today was sunny up to sun-screen standard.

But you didn't come here to look at pictures of empty trenches, did you? They are usually busy with volunteers and the archaeologists who show us how to do it, patiently (as least while we are within earshot).

Friday, September 12, 2008

More pictures!

A brief dry interlude

After some time away, I returned to the dig to see it had been expanded into an area nearer the river. The machines have cut most of it to the top of the Roman layer, leaving only the foundations of almshouses from the Victorian period. They will be taken away soon, so that we have an expanse of Roman archaeology to work with.
Hal gave the Friday update (it's every Friday at 11.00 and all are welcome) sketching in the entire history of the site, which has changed since I last heard. That's why we are digging: to gather more evidence, so that our view of Worcester's history becomes fuller and more accurate. That evidence (as measurements, descriptions of soils, pottery, bones and a lovely bracelet, modelled in the picture by Angus) is assessed and reassessed by archaeologists, who can compare it with evidence from other sites, in Worcester and far beyond.

Going backwards, it was
- a place for keeping the dustbin lorries;
- Joseph Wood the builder's sawmill and timber yard (1820-1970 ish);
- agricultural land for around 1400 years before that, perhaps with some defensive role in the Civil War or before
- a Roman industrial site.

Because of the amount of slag, which is a waste product of iron making, we* thought it might be an iron works, but there is no other evidence for this, though there are indications of iron working. There is a road running from the railway to the Butts, not a well-made military road, but an industrial way. We thought a ditch at right angles to this might be a ditch by the side of a later road, which we expect to find, but the road isn't there as far as we can see. In the new section there are several obvious features represented by different coloured earth, one of which Hal thinks is a hearth (the polythene bag in the picture marks the spot, and protects the marker from the torrential rain which struck two hours later).
I've been washing finds, because I'm suffering from a week's walking in the North York Moors, and need to sit down. The finds tray in the picture is my share for this morning. There's some Samian, not the best quality, from Southern Gaul, some Severn Valley ware, maybe from Malvern, other pottery and some bits of bone, which crumbled into splinters mostly. After it's dry, someone will write the context number, which indicates where in the site it was found, on each piece.

*We is used to mean the people who know what they are talking about. Not me as it might suggest.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Some more links for the Butts Dig is a photo by 'juggzy malone' who had a good day in Worcester to judge from her excellent photos on Flickr. is the Official Site on the County Council Web Site.

If you are searching Google, you are advised to put something in the search box in addition to the word 'Butts'. Or prepare to be surprised.

The Butts Dig Open Day

You can come and see the dig anytime you like. It's open between 10am and 4pm seven days a week until 12 Oct. But be sure to come to our special Open Day on 20 September 2008, where you can
  • Meet Roman soldiers
  • Dig for buried treasure
  • Get hands-on with history by washing ancient pots
  • Meet an archaeological artist
  • Find out more about the fascinating archaeology of Worcester

Friday Job

Friday jobs done by enthusiastic volunteers are as good as weekday jobs. Weekend jobs are pretty effective too.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Library and History Centre Site has dig pics

We're spreading all over the web! The official site of the new Library and History Centre (that's what comes next after we have dug the hole for the basement with our trowels) has pictures and a webcam on
Try the pan and tilt webcam, which enables you to control a live camera on the top of Russell and Dorrell. Oh the power!

BBC Web Site Digs In is a long way of saying get to the BBC Web Site and see photos of the Butts Dig and some of the Castle Street site, called here the Castle Road Dig.

The picture here (not on the BBC feature) is of the state of the dig before the volunteers arrived, with a water main burst providing a foretaste of the rainy conditions to come in the first weeks!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Team Time

There was a presentation to the whole team, and everyone else who wanted to come, on Friday, after almost two weeks of work on the site. Darren gave us a rundown on what we have found so far, what we think it is, and what to look for as a result. The problem is that we are working backwards: we have to dig away the Council refuse lorry base, the Victorian builder's yard, the (possibly) 17th century defensive ditch (possibly one of those), the undatable stretching racks for fine Worcester Cloth (which almost certainly aren't) and some agricultural land to get to the Roman remains we know are there. At one end of the site this is so. At the other, we are straight into digging out nice though common Roman pots, all the later stuff having been in the three feet that was cut away by the JCB, or possibly by the people building the builders' yard. We have plenty of time, because this dig is going on until October, but it seems to move quite slowly. The information we get from carefully drawing, measuring, photographing and recording is what we are achieving, but digging things up is what we like doing best.

Saturday, August 09, 2008


The Butts Dig, uncovering thousands of years beneath the site of the new Worcester Library and History Centre, is under way. I had two days of kneeling and scraping the surface free of debris, and a day of kneeling to read off measurements, then woke on the fourth day with a very stiff back. Once all the finds were washed, there was nothing left but photography. Not the archaeological sort of photography, recording information about cuts - the holes, and fills - the stuff that was put into them or fell into them. It was blog photography, trying to get pictures of the volunteers and the work they were doing. I took about a hundred, including a video that you have to watch lying sideways because I held the camera sideways - sorry, Ann. There are four pics below, with more to come when I've Gimped them. Julian, our poet, is going to write some poetry of the trenches for me to publish - in return for a link to his book.