On Friday (26th July), the Trust had an exciting day – we made not one, but two, important discoveries! These were also on two different sites. Friday was the annual Day of Archaeology which, in the UK, is part of the two-week-long Festival of Archaeology, so it was very appropriate (and amazing) that we should make two big discoveries on the day.
Trust archaeologists Ben Holloway and Mark Baister are in the closing days of an excavation at Brightlingsea which we have been undertaking for several weeks. On Friday, Ben and Mark discovered evidence of two Anglo-Saxon huts. We don’t find many of these, so it was quite exciting for us. Our two Anglo-Saxon huts have typical floors which are set into the ground, defined by post-holes which once held structural wooden posts. We have also found evidence of occupation/domestic activity and a field system on the site.
Meanwhile, back at Roman Circus House, where we are conducting an excavation on part of the site of the Roman circus, our volunteer excavators uncovered part of the ground surface of the circus arena. This has fragments of structural stone scattered over it, where material fell off the walls of the seating-stand (cavea) and onto the arena after the circus went out of use, during its demolition. So far in this excavation of the remains of the circus, we have uncovered important remains – part of the stone foundation of a buttress to the outer wall; the top of the foundations of the inner and outer walls; and compacted soil which represents post-Roman robber-trenches. But to uncover the actual arena surface is extra special.
We have investigated the ground-surface of the circus arena before (at our site Area J1 East) a few years ago. The work is described in CAT Report 412: ‘… Two sections were cut through the arena specifically to examine the soil profile there and to consider the nature of the arena surface when the building had been in use. Typically the soil profile consisted of 0.2-0.3m of topsoil over 0.25-0.4m of less humic soil. The latter sealed natural sand and gravel. There was no evidence of any deliberately-introduced surfacing materials. The likely ground-level during the life of the circus was 34.1m AOD as indicated by the floor in the vomitorium and the gravel surface along the south side of the building. If the surface of the arena were at the same level, then the lower part of the soil profile (ie the lowest 10-20mm) is likely to represent what survives of the arena floor. A few fragments of greensand at 34.1m AOD … in section are consistent with this view if, as seems likely, they relate to the demolition of the circus. Thus the surface of the arena is likely to have been no more than the existing topsoil at the time. Conceivably it may have been dressed on occasions with sand, but the topsoil being sandy by nature makes it impossible to tell if this had been the case …’
The images show the excavated south-western quadrant of the first of the huts at Brightlingsea, in which Ben is excavating a structural post-hole, and volunteer Shirley working on the arena ground-surface on our circus site.