The much-anticipated excavation at the Essex County Hospital site began last month and, despite the very wet start, it has already produced a rich volume of Roman finds most notable of which are the remains of some of Roman pottery kilns. These are being uncovered so the exact number is uncertain but it looks like there were five of them, perhaps even more. In 1819 a pottery kiln was discovered in the grounds of the hospital not long after its construction. This example is unusual in that it contained pots in position from its last firing. Apparently there was up to thirty or so of them. There doesn’t seem to be any vessels in situ this time round – at least so far!
We were hoping that, at some point during the current phase of the investigation, to locate more Roman burials but it turns out that the ground level, at least where we are currently working, was reduced many years ago to make the car par and this appears to have resulted in the loss of the shallowest archaeological remains in the area. However, the level of preservation is likely to prove better when we move southwards further up the slope.
As for the longer-term future, we are likely to be working very close to the find-spot of the famous Colchester Sphinx. This extraordinary discovery was made in 1821 during ground works which followed the construction of the hospital. The Sphinx was a mythical creature with the head and torso of a woman, the haunches of a lion and the wings of a bird. In her role as guardian of the Underworld, her image is sometimes found incorporated in Roman funerary monuments. A large number of broken marble fragments were found along with the Sphinx thus strongly suggesting that a large and elaborate tomb once stood in this vicinity. Fingers crossed we find some remains of the tomb in situ which will provide some indications of its size and layout.
We are delighted to be able to involve members of the public in our work courtesy of funding from the Essex Housing, the Essex County Council’s housing development team. Opportunities were advertised for inexperience people each to work for a week or two alongside the archaeologists on site and to help with the initial processing of the site finds. Interest proved intense although, for practical reasons numbers, had to be limited. Three public open days are also scheduled (the first this Saturday 10.00 am to 3.00 pm) so that visitors can view the site close up and examine some of the finds. Archaeologists will be present to explain what is on view and answer questions.
The excavation was commissioned and is funded by Essex Housing – Essex County Council’s housing development team – as part of preparatory work for the proposed redevelopment of the hospital site. The investigation is also supported by the East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust (ESNEFT), the owners of the site.