As last year Dan Garner and Tony Wilmott, the two site co-ordinators of the amphitheatre project will be supplying the Chester Chronicle with their fortnightly diary of events. Here is the first edition of this years excavations:
The second season of excavations at Chester’s Roman amphitheatre began in earnest on Tuesday, June 14. Riding on the success of BBC2’s Timewatch programme ‘Britain’s lost Colosseum’ (aired on Friday, May 17 – and again the following Monday, thanks to industrial action by the BBC’s Newsnight team!), hopes are high for another summer of astounding revelations that will help to re-write Chester’s history.
The winter protection has now been removed and the team have been showing off their gardening skills with some industrious weeding and a bit of grass verge trimming. As the white sheeting and sandbags were removed, the site emerged, and we began to remind ourselves of just where it was left last year – and just how much work remains to be done! Not only have we exposed the areas excavated last year, but enlarged the areas near the middle of the site.
A question we are already being asked by visitors is “What do you hope to find this year?” There are several answers. In the area near the middle of the site we are down to 17th century levels associated with the Civil War siege of Chester 360 years ago. We will discover what the landscape was like at this time, whether gun batteries were built, and how this may have influenced the strategy of the besiegers. Moving back in time, we hope to find out whether there are any monastic buildings relating to St Johns in our area, and how early these are. The discovery of early Christian burials nearby in 2000 suggests St Johns was an early foundation; can we confirm this? If so, is it related to the idea of the amphitheatre as a place of Christian martyrdom?
As for the amphitheatre structure, we still have no clear idea of how it was used in the early post-Roman period – the so-called Dark Ages. Was it a separate fortification? Was it inhabited as a refuge, or as a centre of power? Was it the location of the Synod of bishops at Chester in the early 7th century?
We have a great deal of evidence for the Roman phases of the amphitheatre, but there are still questions to ask about the architecture and engineering of the building and the way in which it was used. The most crucial question, though, is what date were the two amphitheatres built?
We will be writing fortnightly updates for the Chronicle during the excavation. The latest news can be found on the amphitheatre web-site at www.chesteramphitheatre.co.uk, or just come down for a look!
Dan Garner (Chester City Council) and Tony Wilmott (English Heritage)