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Chester Amphitheatre Project Blog

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Friday, August 12

Latest Amphitheatre Diary

The last few weeks have seen great advancements in our knowledge on all fronts. To those readers unfamiliar with the amphitheatre site this year we have three excavation trenches open: Trench ‘A’ opposite the ‘off the wall’ pub; trench ‘B’ opposite St. John’s church; and trench ‘C’ located roughly equidistantly between trenches ‘A’ and ‘B’.

Trench ‘A’ is now focused solely on the Roman archaeology of the site, and specifically, at unravelling the construction sequence of Chester’s amphitheatre. Recently, we have uncovered several of the bases to what were thought to be buttresses on the outer wall of the second amphitheatre. These bases have mortar patches and stress fractures that suggest that they formed pads for engaged half columns, which would have served as decorative details of the amphitheatres architectural design. This lends further support to the idea that the second amphitheatre at Chester was built on a monumental scale with an outer façade designed to impress. Beyond this outer wall we are now in the process of excavating a series of overlying Roman roads that represent the repeated re-surfacing of the road that would have run around the outer circumference of the amphitheatre. The uppermost of these road surfaces is producing numerous iron hob nails, which must have worked their way loose from the soles of sandals worn by the crowds of spectators visiting the amphitheatre.

Trench ‘B’ is currently answering many questions about the transition of the site from part of the medieval monastic precinct of St. John’s church to its later secular use. A series of large pits had been excavated in to the area during the early 17th century probably to extract the underlying sand of the amphitheatre seating bank. Prior to this the site appears to have enjoyed a brief spell as a formal garden with intricately designed borders, which may have defined a decorative maze. This garden was laid out on top of demolition rubble and the stone foundations to an earlier complex of buildings, which may represent part of the Dean’s house that is known to have stood in this part of the medieval monastic precinct. Amongst the building debris we have found glazed medieval floor tiles, decorated medieval window glass and moulded plaster coving that must be derived from a high status building. We have also uncovered a massive stone wall foundation some 5 feet thick and an associated cobbled surface that would have been constructed on top of the earlier fills of the amphitheatres arena. The most likely explanation for this wholesale demolition and shift towards a formal garden would be as a result of the dissolution of the monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII.

The same spread of building debris has been encountered in trench ‘C’ though no underlying building foundations have yet been identified. What has come to light, however, is a large pit probably dating to the 16th century that contained many fragments to a pottery costrel (water bottle) made on the Surrey/Hampshire borders. The pit also contained a large quantity of animal bone probably indicating the debris from a large feast, and we have contemporary documents that illustrate the level of decadence to which such feasts could reach. It is too early in the analysis to list what was consumed during this feast but we have taken over 500 litres of soil samples to ensure that nothing is missed!

Dan Garner & Tony Wilmott

posted by Anthony at 10:47

Comments?

10 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you think the 'intricately designed borders' in Trench B are a continuation of those found in Trench C in 2003? If I recall correctly, those were also on top of a distinctive grey layer of demolition rubble.

9:47 PM, August 13, 2005  
Blogger InfoArch said...

Borders...
The 2003 cultivation trenches, etc. were in an orange layer of soil that was cluttered with building material for drainage purposes, whereas the ones we are excavating now show intricate borders that are situated on a demolition layer.
We think that the 2003 trenches were possibly for potatoes with box-hedges at different intervals. These trenches actually date to the 18th century (and backfilled in the early 19th century), whereas the ones we're excavating at the moment (in Area B) are from the 16th or early 17th century.

3:46 PM, August 16, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I worked on the excavation of the 2003 borders - the orange soil layer was clearly a different context from the building material, not mixed or 'cluttered' with it. If they were potato beds between the box hedges they were rather small ones!

9:35 PM, August 16, 2005  
Blogger InfoArch said...

'Orange Soil'...

We're sorry this doesn't match up! The information posted came directly from the area supervisor (who was right next to us at the time). Either way, the intricate borders being excavated now in Area B are in no way connected to those you helped excavate in 2003. The other facts will certainly be double-checked, as perhaps there has been a misinterpretation on this end. Any new findings will be posted as soon as possible!

10:15 AM, August 17, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks! The first reply answered my original question very well - I just wanted to clear up the point about about the stratigraphy.

I would have been surprised if the two lots of features had been connected, as they looked completely different. The linear slots between the 'beds' in Trench B look much larger than the bands of darker soil that were interpreted as dwarf box hedges enclosing little rectangular beds in Trench C. But it's difficult to visualise the levels now that Trench C is much deeper, especially when looking down from the walkway.

2:06 PM, August 17, 2005  
Blogger InfoArch said...

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9:19 AM, September 08, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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5:24 AM, November 03, 2005  
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