The week has been one of steady progress rather than spectacular discovery. This is the nature of most archaeological work, though the moments of revelation are the ones which we all remember. It will not be long now until we can say that all of the post-Roman archaeology has gone from Area A. In particular all of the later pits and stone robbing trenches will have been emptied. The advantage of these later disturbances on site is that we can see a good deal of what is to come, as the Roman archaeology appears in cross-section. As work continues, methodical and organised, so thoughts develop on what it might mean.
Some of this week’s thoughts in Area A relate to the years at the end of the Roman, and the immediate post-Roman periods – the times often known as the "Dark Ages". In one of the public entrances or "vomitoria", the massive stone threshold has been found. While the amphitheatre was in use the road around its circumference, (the forerunner of the modern road) was constantly re-surfaced and maintained. Over time these surfaces spilled over the threshold until the entrance and road combined, giving an even walking surface from the road into the amphitheatre. After many years of road build-up, a foundation trench was cut down to the threshold level and a wall was inserted which blocked and closed the entrance. The eastern main entrance was also blocked. Now, one of the models for the post-Roman development of the amphitheatre is that it may have become an independent stronghold. Blocking the entrances would be one way of securing such a place.
There are many amphitheatres along the frontiers of the Roman empire which became the fortifications of the petty kings who picked up the reins of power as the western empire fragmented. Was Chester one of these? The pattern of robbing might also indicate this. The walls of the internal structures were robbed for building material, but this robbing stopped short of the outer wall. Was this because the wall was still in use as a defence? The robbing of the outer wall took place from outside the amphitheatre, indicating that any reuse of the circuit had come to an end. The key to this will be any dating evidence which might be recovered from the robber trenches, but exciting possibilities exist.
In the area near St John’s Church work on the post-medieval deposits has continued, with hints emerging as to the existence of medieval buildings. Two good Roman finds have been made; a second century disc brooch of bronze decorated by silvering and coloured enamels and the bottom half of an elegant, slender, glass perfume bottle. Though these are excellent evidence of Roman activity, the presence of these finds in post-medieval deposits suggest that the Roman levels are disturbed.
The torrential rain which caused so much flooding and mayhem o the roads had its effect on site. We watched as the sand deposits virtually washed away. After the water subsided, we could see finds on the surface. One of these was a tiny flint blade dating to the Mesolithic period some 8-10,000 years ago. This is one of a small, but growing number of finds which indicate occupation, or at least human activity in Chester for a very long time indeed, opening up whole new potential stories of the past of the city.
Tony & Dan