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Day 15 - Last dig day. What have we achieved?

The last fortnight seems to have gone very quickly and sadly today was the last day of the Alton Big Dig - for this year anyway. Tomorrow we finish recording our test pits and finds, take lots more photographs and then fill in and re-turf those test pits not already backfilled.


Our numbers today were smaller than expected because some of our volunteers failed to show up again without telling us, but we had a good team of regulars. Juliet wanted to finish off the test pits in the Gardens whilst getting me to do some of the trench photography, David Pink and helpers to process the finds and then Carl and me to survey the corner co-ordinates of all the test pits and the 'levels' (heights) of the Roman wall and floor features in two of the test pits.


It was lovely having the chance to catch up with Kayleigh, one of our long-time members who is now qualified as an osteo-archaeologist (bones) and came in with a budding junior archaeologist despite nowadays working in Essex.

The two of them spent nearly the whole day either digging in the children's test pit or playing with the other activities such as making mosaics.

Keith found himself on visitor escort duties again most of the day, sometimes taking groups as big as 10 people.

Keith chatting to visitors to site.

Keith trapping anyone who strayed inside our perimeter fence.

Keith explaining the holes in the ground that now abound in the Gardens.

Another very welcome visitor today was Arthur, who does so much of the work on our 3D illustrations, drawings and display boards. He took away some of our choicest finds from this dig to keep himself in practice by illustrating them.

Arthur discussing finds with Juliet, our boss.

Andy is seen below beavering away in his test pit, into which he barely fits because he is so tall. Andy has greatly proved his worth on this dig because he is the only person tall enough to put the cover on our biggest pop-up gazebo.

Andy squeezing into his test pit.

He found some very interesting items that I noticed when browsing his finds tray, including some pieces of bowl and stem from clay pipes, some Romano-British pottery and some glass that is turning iridescent and de-laminating with age.

Andy's finds tray.

Davy was still working in his test pit, trying to work out whether the feature was just a path made of bits of stone and rubble or perhaps a wall. I still think it is a path but could be wrong.

In the adjoining test pit, Felix and Jake were hard at work extending it and removing the turf.

Meanwhile two of us helped Carl set up his EDM (electronic distance measuring) machine which uses a laser and a reflector to measure the distances of survey points extremely accurately.

Carl's personal EDM machine with its laser reflector.

We set up his machine at three separate points and then measured the distance from these points of each of the test pit corners, so that we can plot them very accurately in our GIS (geographical information software) overlaid on the drone photography.

Carl about to set up his EDM over one end of our baseline - the corner of a statue plinth.

Carl explaining the process for measuring the corner co-ordinates of each test pit.

Carl and I then used a dumpy (sort of theodolite) to measure the levels of the Roman wall and foundation features in two of our test pits, seen below.

Roman wall foundation in Test Pit 5.

Roman wall in one of our other test pits.

Once Felix and Jake had finished de-turfing their extended test pit, they quickly discovered more archaeology as seen here.

Felix and Jake exposing what looks like a continuation of the pathway in Davy's test pit.

A little while later it looked even better - they had now also found some more of the foundations of the 'British Restaurant'.

Felix and Jake uncover more of the British Restaurant wooden hut foundations.

Meanwhile in Jenny's test pit she too had found another corner of the foundations.

Here is David Pink working away with Rhys at the essential task of classifying and recording the finds.

David and Rhys working on the latest finds.

I also went across to Lenten Street to photograph our test pits in a garden over there and take some drone images. The test pits may not look much but the finds have been intriguing and we need to do some more research on what buildings are buried beneath this lawn.

Our two test pits are centre-left in this large garden. Finds have been puzzling.

I will try to add to this blog after the event when I have some more 3D views of the test pits but that is it for now. However, I do want to summarise what we think we have done during this Dig.


What have we achieved?

I need to get Juliet's official opinion on what we have achieved but from my viewpoint I have been delighted. For me the highlights have been:

  1. I think we really managed to raise the profile of the town's history and archaeology with a lot of people through social media and visits. We have had 400 people most days reading daily updates about our activities online and during the 2 weeks have escorted over 600 visitors around the site. Some travelled from as far away as Waterlooville and Newbury.

  2. We have been given media coverage via local press, radio and community TV interviews and articles.

  3. We have made visits to local primary schools - those that responded anyway - and held sessions about what it was like to live in Roman Britain.

  4. We have kept dozens of children entertained and educated about everything from making mosaics to digging up items by themselves and sorting flints from tile, bones and pottery.

  5. We have met lovely people who have given us recorded interviews on what it was like for them to live in Alton during the Second World War.

  6. We have made or strengthened really valuable links with individuals and other community organisations such as the Hampshire Cultural Trust, the Friends of the Curtis Museum, the U3A, David Graham (esteemed local archaeologist) and Jane Hurst (local historian).

  7. We have discovered archaeology in the Public Gardens dating from World War 2 through the Victorian era back to the Roman period.

  8. We have made finds of Romano-British items, mostly pottery, dating between about 100-350 AD but also other artefacts from the Middle Ages, Tudor and 17th to 20th centuries.

  9. We have attracted about 40 new members from the local area, including two today.

My only slight disappointment has been the almost total lack of response from most of the youth organisations and secondary schools that we contacted and tried to involve. Maybe next year.


I am really grateful to Keith Baker (project manager) and Juliet Smith (our archaeological director who ensures we act professionally) for the huge role they played in organising the Dig, to Leah (Town Clerk) and all the local councillors who gave their wholehearted support, and to local companies such as Sainsburys and Glanfield Holmlund for helping us with window displays and car parking for our volunteers. I for one would be keen to see another Alton Big Dig next year and we already have ideas for other places of interest around Alton.


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Alton Big Dig

East Hampshire's community archaeology group with 160 volunteer members working under professional archaeologist supervision, exploring sites at Alton, Colemore and Stroud near Petersfield.

Email: altonbigdig@gmail.com

East Hampshire Community Archaeology

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