In the 1930s Christopher Hawkes divided the British Iron Age into three parts (a bit like Caesar’s Gaul in Asterix): Iron Age A, B and C. Iron Age C ended with the Roman invasion. This is an event which still polarises archaeological opinion. For prehistorians it is the point where a load of literate spoilsports turn up from the Mediterranean, bringing with them degenerate products of civilization like the corner and the straight line. For Roman specialists, on the other hand, it marks the point in the archaeological record where things start to make sense. My PhD supervisor was of the former view and always referred to the Roman period as Iron Age D. A joke that only prehistorians would get, which probably makes it the definition of niche humour.
Quid pro quo time. Jim leant us Karl earlier on in the summer to help at Whitewell. So this week I have been helping them with the geophysics and survey for their project on and around the Roman fort at Ribchester. The main fieldwork at Ribchester will start when our new intake of students go there for their first week’s training excavation in September. To get everything ready for them (it’s always nice to have everything go smoothly in the first week of teaching) Karl has spent the summer researching archive and published material. Training in September will focus on the western part of the fort, near the museum and church for those who know the village.
This is the surviving fort rampart on the western side. We are inside the fort looking out here and the rampart then turns through the churchyard and under the modern village. ( A straight line and a corner – imperialists!) I spent part of Tuesday with the differential GPS marking out 30 x 30 m squares for geophysical survey in the field beyond the hedge. One important part of the project will be to look at the civilian settlement which we know existed outside the fort.
Obviously, as most of the fort is now a village then the archaeology often has more recent buildings over it. Here Justine and Karl are applying the gradiometer to the back garden of the Rectory (or the cobbled yard next to the Granaries if you were a Roman soldier). Some of these survey areas in back gardens are very small indeed, but by fitting all the results together we should be able to build up a good picture of what was where in the fort, especially when it is combined with the results from previous excavations.
The area outside the fort is a bit easier to deal with in large chunks. This large field outside the western rampart took Justine and Karl a day to survey with the gradiometer. The line of red splodges are a gas pipeline dating to the 1970s but Jim thinks that the pale linear features on the right hand side of the plot are probably the ditches along the edge of the Roman road, there are also traces of some other possible ditches or pits below the gas pipeline.
All in all Ribchester is looking very exciting, I will get to re-survey this field with the resisitivity meter in September which will give us another look at how the two techniques compare.