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  • David Quick

First day of the Big Dig

We arrived at the Gardens this morning just as everyone was tidying up after yesterday's 'Last Night of the Proms' and the first couple of hours were spent sorting out equipment, marking out the grid (from which everything is measured) and fencing off the area we are working on.

Putting up the mesh fencing around our dig area.

Once this was done the next task was to use the geophysics scans we did last summer to mark out on the ground some 'target areas' for our test pits, focusing on places where the scans had shown something unusual under the ground.

Measuring and marking out the areas for digging test pits.

Meanwhile some of our other volunteers were setting up our information displays and also the children's activities, which included colouring, making patterns out of mosaic tiles (tesserae) and sorting out some 'finds' which included flints, pottery, tile, bones and so on. The children always seem to be fascinated by the bones!

Sorting out the finds.

The test pits soon started to produce interesting results. Here Davy comes across foundations of a building just a few inches under the turf.

Davy finding building foundations.

And this is what they looked like when it was finished. Definitely not Roman and perhaps the footings of the 'British Restaurant' known to have been in the Gardens during World War 2?

Meanwhile in the centre of the lawn Carl and the ladies had also come across something solid which they started uncovering.

Something solid just under the turf.

And when this was cleaned up, this is how it looked.

The feature found in the centre of the lawn.

We suspect that this was the base for the pedestal of something like a sundial or statue in the lawn from the days, probably in the 19th or 20th Century, when the Public Gardens were still the private gardens of Westbrook House. We are extending the test pit to reveal the full extent of it. You can perhaps see that the base is surrounded by tightly compacted gravel, perhaps from a garden path.


In the afternoon the Mayor kindly came and did a ceremonial 'opening' of the Dig for us by turning the first turf of the test pit that children are invited to help us dig.

The Mayor lifting the first turf of the test pit for children to explore.

He then chatted with Juliet and me and looked at the display we have for visitors.

Me showing the Mayor and his lady wife some of the features we had uncovered.

Throughout the afternoon we had loads of visitors, probably helped by the fact that it was a Sunday and there has been a children's performance beforehand elsewhere in the Gardens.

Some of the afternoon visitors to the site.

Tired, we finished at 4.30pm after putting away all our displays and tools. However, we were delighted both with the progress made and with the interest the Dig has attracted so far. Well done Keith! Tomorrow we continue in the Public Gardens but also start work on test pits in some of the nearby private gardens along Lenten Street where the householders have given us permission to dig. Here is a slideshow of other photos taken by Arthur Mills and me during the day:



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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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