fr hlffr hypocaustfr 3

27th August 2014:

The Romans of Fane Road project includes heritage walks and talks, a community excavation, and popular publication. A lot has happened since the project was launched last November.

The heritage learning sessions have so far proved very popular. The basic format includes a talk by a range of specialist speakers followed by a ‘hands on’ session. The talks have included a range of subjects focused on the Peterborough area or the community excavation. The heritage walks have also proved popular with over 60 people attending the walk around Durobrivae in May led by Dr Stephen Upex and David Kenny (English Heritage), and over 30 people being guided around the multi-period site at Flag Fen.

Since the start of the year, David Crawford-White and colleagues have spoken to eight groups, among the Young Archaeologists’ Club, a youth club, and local history societies, and three schools leading up to the community excavation.

With the first enrolments for the community excavation being received soon after the launch event, it has been a busy few months preparing and then running the community excavation. In the end, over 120 volunteers took part in the 20-day excavation in May and June. The volunteers on site were supported by a small dedicated team of OA East staff (James Fairbairn, Toby Knight, Steve Morgan and Rhiannon Philp). The excavation period covered the summer school half-term, thereby allowing families to get involved.

David relied heavily on volunteers in the administration and preparation of the community excavation, with support from Nick Carr, Paul Clarkson, Rick Kelly, Terry Mortlock, Brian Parsley, Catherine Potter and Gill Willis. Volunteers dealt with enquiries from schools and groups, produced lists, sourced equipment, helped to pack the van, assisted in the setting up and taking down of the compound, as well as taking general photographs, organising the finds processing with schools, talking to visitors on site, etc. While some volunteers made the tea and coffee (donated by Morrisons), cakes were brought in for the break times as well as eggs for the early morning egg sandwiches for OA East staff! The allotment has a large number of resident hens.

A range of different activities took place during the excavation. These included four open days (two with re-enactors), one open evening, numerous site tours for local schools, as well as several day and evening site tours for local groups. One of the highlights of the community excavation was the successful construction and firing of a Roman-type kiln. Jon Cane (freelance illustrator/potter), with support from Wendy Gamble (potter/allotment holder), constructed the kiln in the main compound. Some 150 pre-made pots, all decorated with a slip by visitors, were fired overnight. The results were impressive, with just five pots not surviving the wood fired kiln.

Apart from excavations, there were plenty of finds for the volunteers to process. Also during lunch breaks, OA East staff and volunteers gave a range of tool-box talks on such diverse subjects as aerial photography, drawing a section, and Ely Cathedral.

The once suggested southern wing of the villa was not established, although close to the southern baulk of this trench there was a large area of demolition and robbed foundations. The villa certainly did not extend south into Trench Two where a terrace wall was found running west east, below which and abutting the wall was another cobbled surface. Two small test pits were excavated close by, and again in both a cobbled surface, probably related to that abutting the stone wall, was found. This potentially extensive cobbled surface was considerably lower than anything found in Trench One, suggesting a lower terrace south of the villa.

A typical range of finds associated with a Roman villa were found, including bone, pottery, nails, painted wall plaster, a large amount of mortar, window glass, CBM and tessarae. Other finds included several coins, two bow brooches, worked bone and six loomweights associated with Iron Age features. From this material, much of which was found in the topsoil and demolition layer, a set of teaching resources will be developed for use in local schools.

Throughout the community excavation the site attracted a range of casual visitors, including owners of the new properties built on the Itter Crescent site. Others included allotment holders and local people who followed the signs from the adjacent Itter Park. We also had a visit from Debra Milligan (HLF Award Officer) and the local MP, Stewart Jackson.

This very successful community excavation could not have taken place without support from the city archaeologist (Dr Rebecca Casa-Hatton), permission from the land owners (Peterborough City Council) and the Fane Road Allotment Association (Liz Law). The organiser would also like to thank in particular two allotment holders, Wendy Gamble and Steve Bettany (and family) for their involvement. Two other volunteers that also need a special mention are Terry Mortlock and Katie Green. Terry volunteered on the Itter Crescent excavation and this time returned to support OA East staff in the finds processing area. Katie, who worked for OA East in the past, and was more recently a community archaeologist in Lincolnshire, supported David, who had up to 90 pupils a day coming to the site to take part in a range of different activities.

Now that the community excavation is over, David, with support from volunteers, is working through the post-excavation phase and planning the community excavation exhibition on Saturday 25th October at a local community centre.

David Crawford-White, Outreach and Learning Officer, OAE