Excavation of this site began in 1997 under the direction of Professor Michael Fulford of Reading University. The “Dig” is an internationally acclaimed Field Training School which lasts for six weeks with 160 students camped in tents along the edge of the site and 50 tutors.
From what we could see of the students hard at work scraping away the soil and carrying heavy buckets other qualities are also needed, but the rain of the previous day had done us a favour as we could easily see the different colours of the soil. This excavation is in the north west corner of the site and about 6ft below ground level One of their first finds was a Roman street running from the North gate to the South, but this was no backwater as the streets linked into the Roman road system.
However the whole site was once the “town in the woods of the Atrebates” dating back to 40BC,with wells, rubbish tips and from the finds of coriander, dill and wine goblets they obviously traded with the Continent. Even more fascinating was the site of the Iron Age street which kept to the old alignment of East/ West and the foundation of a huge hall, again aligned East/West measuring 30m long by 10m wide. Evidence of postholes has been found and the building would have been thatched. Apparently no other building of this size and age has been found. The skeleton of a small Chiahuahua type dog was found in a foundation trench and thought to have been imported. Another luxury item?
It was interesting to note that while the Romans stamped their authority on the site, the people remained the same and carried on their way of life so that the town became a mix of cultures.
After visiting another site probably a bath house and examining lots of very special finds, marbled glass, Iron age and Roman coins, a toilet set with a scoop for cleaning ears, tweezers etc and a tiny delicate piece of powder blue glass, [the only other example of this is in the Metropolitan Museum, New York] and even a Neolithic polished axe head, to name a few, we said our grateful good byes, and then set off for the Calleva Arms.
Later we visited the C12th St Marys Church and very kindly Mrs Rand the wife of the Church Warden was there to greet us and show us around, certainly without her help we would have missed many features of the history of this beautiful little church.
There is a fabulous Tudor screen showing the pomegranate of Katherine of Aragon, which was taken down during the Reformation and hidden in a barn for two hundred years, a very simple Restoration pulpit and a chair made from the wooden lining of a Roman water channel, wall paintings and lots of other historic architectural features.
The more energetic of the group set off to walk along the walls and visit the amphitheatre, but others returned home well satisfied that it had been a fascinating and happy day, good weather, not raining or too hot, in fact just right but above all good, happy company.
We did not have time to visit Stratfield Saye. Perhaps that might be a future “expedition”.
Thank you to all who came..