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Chester Amphitheatre Project Blog

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Monday, August 2

Excavation Chronicle Vol. Two

As promised, here's the next part of the diary from the Chester Chronicle. This was published just last Friday (30/07):

We ended last week’s diary with the comment that a JCB was not the right tool to remove tree stumps due to the disturbance of buried archaeology this would cause. Readers who passed the site last Friday might have been confused, therefore, to see another drastic piece of 21st century kit being used – a jackhammer. This was the ideal tool to remove the last piece of the 20th century archaeology of the site – a brick garage, complete with concrete floor and an inspection pit with brick-lined sides and a tile floor!

The archaeology of the 20th century has been a large part of the work to date. The amphitheatre was criss-crossed by sewer pipe trenches. The salt-glazed sewer pipes were stamped with makers’ names, including firms as far afield as North Wales and Liverpool. Fragments of brick floor have been removed, and visitors passing over the viewing platform have been entertained by the sight of bricks and rubble travelling up the conveyor belts. Everyone on site was relieved when the last bricks from the garage clanged into the skip.

One of the biggest jobs so far has been to identify and remove the backfill of excavations which took place in the 1930s and 1960s. This was difficult because the spoil (including rubble and bricks) was put back into the excavations, and we had problems separating the fill and the intact archaeology. Often we were helped by finds which you might not associate with archaeology. 1960s fill, for instance, contained crisp packets with pre-decimal prices printed on them, and a wrapper of the once-familiar Tiger Bread priced at 1/1d (now about 5.4p); truly today’s rubbish is tomorrow’s archaeology. Just like today, our archaeological predecessors broke or lost equipment – a 1960s shovel and a 1930s pocket knife have been found.

All of these modern disturbances of the site have, of course damaged the earlier archaeology, but they also give us a sneak preview of what lies deeper. In Trench A, nearest the road, we can now be sure that the site was levelled in the Victorian period for building. This operation reduced the level of the ground to such an extent that the 20th century garage lay directly upon the Roman stone walls of the amphitheatre.

Area B, near St John’s church, is a different matter. There is no sign of levelling here, and the garden soil which has been removed in the last week contained a mass of 18th century finds. These include exotic and expensive items such as Chinese porcelain, suggesting that the households in this area at the time were not poor. Perhaps the most common type of find from these soils are fragments of clay tobacco pipes – the 18th century equivalent of cigarette ends

So this week has seen us move deeper into the more recent past of the city, with a real variety of finds from all periods coming up. Ahead lie the prospects of good medieval and Roman archaeology. We will write more next week. In the meantime keep in touch with the work, and watch it via the website and webcam.

Dan Garner (Chester City Council)
Tony Wilmott (English Heritage)

posted by Archaeologists at 14:10

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