Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Roaming with the Romans

A column from the loggia of the Town House, Dorchester

Bank Holiday weekend and off we went to spend some time with invaders and occupiers - the Romans that is. Looking around at the surviving evidence of Roman occupation (surprisingly, a great deal of it) I was thinking how it contrasts to the next great invasion and occupation, by the Normans. After the Roman administration and army left around AD410 life in Britain went on quite normally, with Romanised Britons in towns governing themselves and country dwellers living, in many ways, the same as they had done for centuries. If the Anglo-Saxons had not made their impact the Celtic communities may have evolved a distinct island culture over the next few centuries. The impact of the A-S 'invasion' is now under review in academic circles and is being downgraded in terms of its being seen as a dramatic change to the culture and population of this country. What cannot be argued is that the Normans did change the lives of all the peoples here after 1066, with fire and sword and language. Many tens of thousands were to die in the twenty odd years between invasion and Domesday. We still live with this today, with the same elites and hierarchies in positions of governance, nearly a thousand years later. Never let it be said that history is irrelevant to today.     

Sunday saw myself and 7 Heritage Hunters discovering the story of Roman Dorchester, including the Town House, aquaduct, Maumbury Rings and the town wall. It is little known that outside of London Dorchester is one of the very few towns extant in Roman Britain to have had a stone wall built around it. But I think that Maumbury is the most remarkable space in the town, in that it has been used for several thousand years. Firstly a Neolithic henge, then a Roman ludus, or training ground, a Civil War fort, a place of execution and finally, on Sunday, the location of the Dorchester Gay Pride festival! What other space in a town can boast such a history?!

Monday, and 7 more Heritage Hunters met me in Thorncombe Woods to tread in the footsteps of the legions. Apart from being the location of Thomas Hardy's birthplace there is a surviving section of Roman road running through the wood connecting Salisbury (or Old Sarum) to Exeter. We walked on the road and admired the views before arriving at the Rainbarrow group of Bronze Age barrows. Being rather overgrown it was easy to take the group through the undergrowth without them even knowing that they were standing on top of one of the largest burial mounds in the county! Back to my car and I took them through the signs one must look for when finding a possible flint tool (very common if you know what you are looking at) and some other artefacts of interest.

All in all a very enjoyable weekend and the weather was not half bad too.    

Saturday, 20 August 2011


I visited two sites yesterday and had two very different experiences. Badbury Rings is under the National Trust and is easy to find due to the proliferation of brown signs on major and minor roads around the site. And it is very big! Thus it is marked on road maps too. Knowlton Henge and church was not on my road map, being much smaller than BR and surrounded by fields and a couple of farms accessable only by lanes. The internet was useful in finding the general location and I assumed, being under the supervision of English Heritage, that signs would also be situated at a useful junction(s). This is, after all, a major heritage landscape and the best surviving henge in the south west after Stonehenge and Avebury, plus it is the location of the biggest roundbarrow in Dorset. No such luck. After two stops to ask for directions I came across one, small, white sign nowhere near a useful junction from a main road. Much time and petrol was used to get to this point. If EH wish people to value their heritage at least they could help us to find the sites under their protection. The visit was ruined by the frustration of finding the place as a first time visitor.

Knowlton henge - entrance and church

Giant's Barrow - the biggest bowl barrow in Dorset

Badbury Rings - entrance through 3 ditches and banks

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Past Meets Present weekend

I am linking up with Claire Whiles for a weekend of guided archaeology and history walks and talks on the weekend starting the 21st October. The details can be found on Claires website (now or very soon), so go to http://www.thelightandenergychannel.tv/ or give her a ring on 01305 839394 to book. Spaces are limited so it's first come first served. If you are from outside Dorset we look forward to meeting you to explore and share this beautiful and facinating part of the world.  

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Love Learning Day

To all who may be interested in doing an evening or day adult education course this September. The Love Learning Tutors will be in Bridport on Saturday morning the 10th September and you will also have a chance to meet them at the Olive Tree on Barrack Street/East Street between 11am and 1pm. We will be the people in the LL T-shirts. Take a chance to learn something new and meet new people over the 10 week term. And of course sign up for my course on Dorset Archaeology! We have been promised a larger room this term and all students have the added bonus of coffee/tea/chocolate drinks and food during breaks in teaching, made by Stef himself.  

Roman weekend

The Roman Town House, Dorchester

If you are free over the bank holiday weekend come along to Dorchester and Puddletown Forest (Thomas Hardy's birthplace) and let me show you where the Romano-British lived and legionarries trained and marched, with the added bonus of the Bronze Age Rainsbarrows plus lovely trees and views.

Meet at Dorchester library on Sunday the 28th August at 10.30am. On Monday the 29th meet at the same time at the carpark, for Thomas Hardy's cottage, in the forest (Landranger map 194 grid ref. SY 725 922).

See you there.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Eggardon Hill mass turn-out!

The little lad is yawning because its early; nothing to do with my talking!  

Well, what a turn-out for the Eggardon Hill walk yesterday. The weather report of just two days ago, which predicted storms, did not appear and we had a windy but bright day. The views were stunning with the added bonus of the grass being cut in the field where the Bronze Age disc barrow is situated. Also, one very local couple (they live at the bottom of Eggardon) brought with them a very good example of a worked flint core, from which many blade tools can be produced. Nice to see it, as it was found in one of the fields at the foot of the hillfort. It's still weird to think that this piece had been sitting in that field for thousands of years waiting to be picked up by a human hand once more. Although smaller than Maiden Castle, Eggardon is my favourite Iron Age hillfort in Dorset, with a wonderful panoramic view of the landscape and the sea to the south, including Golden Cap. It's always difficult to see the human element when walking around our many ancient monuments. These places would have been bustling places, with people doing business, playing music, flirting, children running around and animals making a noise (and a smell). But we are blessed with an imagination and it is possible to see this scene in our minds-eye. For we are walking the space these people lived in and touching the objects they made and valued. When they built the burial mounds they wanted to remember their ancestors, and they are still there today for us to be reminded that we are but the existing generation of many that has made up the human story.   

Hey, guy in the green, I said look to your left!

Friday, 5 August 2011

News News News

Parts of a Heinkel bomber, shot down in 1940, have been found in Puriton, Somerset. Engine parts were found by archaeologists buried 5ft (1.5m) deep in a backgarden. An original photograph was used to pinpoint the location. A example of how archaeologists use existing documentation when dealing with WWII sites.

The backgarden in 1940

Archaeologist Gareth Jones knew that a plane had come down in the general area but it was the photo that helped to zoom in on the exact location. Local opinion had the remains in another location, under a post-war bungalow. The plane was shot down by Spitfires from Pembrey airfield, Carmarthenshire followng a raid on Cardiff docks.

Even with such contemporary archaeology it is easy for the community to forget the details and the location of this plane was lost very quickly, until archaeology was used to find it again.  

The Festival of British Archaeology 2011 was a great success. Over 200,000 people took part in 774 events including walks, talks, hands-on activities, excavations abd fun re-enactments.

Director of the CBA (Council for British Archaeology) Dr Mike Heyworth said: "We have been very impressed with the number of people coming along to events... Such an enthusiastic response from people shows that there is a lot of interest in archaeology and many people believe we should be doing more, not less, to preserve our heritage for future generations". Quite so. ARCHAEOLOGISTS NEED YOU!