Tag Archives: Verulamium

February fun

Partly as a training exercise for UCL students, and partly just to extend our surveys at Verulamium, members of CAGG were out in Verulamium Park and Abbey Orchard last Thursday and Friday.

The magnetometer was out in Abbey Orchard on Thursday in the hopes of completing that small area.  Unfortunately, I think it is jinxed.  On Thursday we had battery problems, and on Friday the odometer refused to work properly.  The sum total of a day and a half’s work?  Two partial grid squares…  Oh well, just chalk that one up to experience.  Here is the image of the slightly extended area, such as it is.

The Abbey Orchard survey.

The Abbey Orchard survey.

Having given-up in the mag, Jim West, Pauline Hey and I decided to use the Earth Resistance meter on Friday afternoon.  I had singled out an area where there is a clear building in the mag data, but some ferrous noise masked the western end of the building.  The weather was glorious for a mid-February day.

The Earth Resistance survey underway.

The Earth Resistance survey underway.

We managed four grid squares at the usual 0.5m spacing, not too bad for one afternoon’s work. As you can see in the next image, the mag survey shows a lovely building as white lines representing low magnetism.

The mag results in the area of the Earth Resistance survey.

The mag results in the area of the Earth Resistance survey.

The wide dark line coming from the SW corner is the ‘1955 ditch’, the first century boundary of the town first excavated by Frere in 1955.  The two parallel lighter lines which run just to the north of the building are part of a road.

Unfortunately, the Earth Resistance survey showed nothing of the building at all.

The Earth Resistance survey results.

The Earth Resistance survey results.

It shows the edge of the road beautifully, and a high-resistance feature parallel to the 1955 ditch.  Even the ditch itself shows as a wide band of low resistance.  Of the building, however, nothing!  It may be simply that the soil is so wet at the moment there is no contrast between the building and the surrounding soil matrix.  Alternatively, the building may have been robbed out.  We will have to run the GPR over it one day.

Unlike last November, the GPR suffered no glitches, and Mike Smith, John Dent and Graeme Spurway completed an area 160m by 40.  Added to the same sized area completed in November, we now have a nice block of GPR data 160m by 80m to look at.

The data were sliced using Larry Conyer’s system in 3ns slices.  I’ll go through these from the top down.  There are three areas of GPR survey shown.  The top half of the large block is the latest survey, the bottom half that undertaken last November.  The detached block to the west was undertaken by Ralph Potter in 2014.  Remember that this is a rather crude “mash-up” in Google Earth so the edges do not match very well.  As always the GPR data are deserving of a much more detailed analysis.

GPR slice 3, 10.5 to 13.5ns.

GPR slice 3, 10.5 to 13.5ns.

Slice 3 (above) mainly shows modern features surviving in the topsoil, especially broad cultivation marks running NNW–SSE across this field.  There are some hints of the archaeology just starting to show through.

GPR slice 4, 13.5 to 16.5ns.

GPR slice 4, 13.5 to 16.5ns.

Slice 4 clearly shows the upper levels of the archaeology.  Watling Street, which is running roughly north-south in the eastern half of the main area, has a big hole in it.  It has been severely robbed for building stone.  There is a minor road running SW-NE with a square building alongside it to the north with a small room on the western wall and what looks like a courtyard on the eastern side.

GPR slice 5, 16.5 to 19.5ns.

GPR slice 5, 16.5 to 19.5ns.

The main addition in slice 5 is the complex of buildings in the NW corner of the main area. These are probably associated with the pottery kiln which we have just clipped (the feature that looks like Mickey Mouse’s ears in the underlying mag data).

GPR slice 6, 19.5 to 22.5ns.

GPR slice 6, 19.5 to 22.5ns.

In slice 6, the spur road is clearer, especially near to Watling Street.  It looks as though there is a shallow valley running parallel to Watling Street which is now filled with a greater depth of topsoil which means that the archaeology does not show until the deeper slices.  It is also noticeable that the centre of Watling Street has fewer reflections than in the upper slices.  I guess that we are getting below the surface of the road, and the reflections either side of the road may be the ditches that Wheeler found filled with rubble.  The building complex just to the north of the spur road has hints of two more small buildings.

GPR slice 7, 22.5 to 25.5ns.

GPR slice 7, 22.5 to 25.5ns.

In this final slice we can see the two small buildings north of the spur road in more detail. There is also a long linear feature running N-S between Watling Street and the modern path.  It looks like a modern utility to me, but there isn’t one indicated on the map I have been given.

The GPR results are excellent, and it will be worth continuing to expand this area.

I’ve had a busy time speaking to various groups about CAGG’s work recently.  One of the lectures was as part of the Society of Antiquaries public engagement lecture series held on a Tuesday lunchtime once a month.  They video the talks and put them online, so if you would like to hear me talking about Verulamium once more, here is the link.

As always, many thanks to Ruth Halliwell, Peter Alley, Jim West, Mike Smith, Pauline Hey, John Dent,  and Graeme Spurway, as well as my students from UCL, for turning out in mid-February, although we were extremely lucky with the weather,

 

Four days in the Park (part 1)

A combination of members of CAGG and students from the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, undertook four days of survey in Verulamium Park a couple of weeks ago.  It was supposed to be five days, but the Saturday was called off because of rain.  We aimed to:

  • extend the magnetometry survey into Abbey Orchard, the field between the Park and the Cathedral;
  • undertake some more GPR survey in the Park;
  • try the six-probe six-depth method of Earth Resistance survey over one of the buildings we have previously surveyed;
  • try a resistivity psuedo-section across the line of the town wall near St Germain’s Block.

It was definitely one of “those” survey periods.  Every single technique had some problem or other of varying degrees of seriousness.  We managed to sort most of them out in the end, but that and the Archaeology in Hertfordshire: Recent Research conference which was held on Saturday 26th have delayed this posting.

I am going to post the results in two parts, starting with the mag and GPR data.

The mag survey

The area being surveyed is not very large, but is quite awkward.  It lies on a steep slope, has many trees and a great number of people walking by.  It should, however, have evidence of the abbey, and possibly a late Roman cemetery.  It also may have an Iron Age enclosure which was seen on an aerial photograph, and maybe the early Saxon town.

Fig. 1: The survey team in Abbey Orchard.

Fig. 1: The survey team in Abbey Orchard.

Between teaching, equipment issues and rain, we didn’t get as much done as we hoped, but we have at least started on this, our first extramural area at Verulamium.

Fig. 2: the mag survey results.

Fig. 2: the mag survey results.

Very little can be seen in this plot.  It is very “noisy”.  There is one potential thin feature, and the vague hint of a larger, wider feature (marked with red arrows in Fig. 2).  Given where we are working, this is all very disappointing so far.  We do need to complete this area if we can, however, so we’ll be back at some point.

The GPR survey

We did have some problems with the GPR as well, but eventually we managed to resolve those and completed an area 160m by 40m on the southern side of the town near the London Gate.  The weather and obstacles could prove challenging (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3: GPR survey in the Park, November 2016.

Fig. 3: GPR survey in the Park, November 2016.

As usual, I used Larry Conyers and Jeff Lucius’ free software to “time slice” the GPR data.  I created 3ns thick slices which seem to work well at Verulamium.  The third slice (10.5–13.5ns; Fig. 4) shows features close to the ground surface.  The dark smear running NS is the topmost layers of Watling Street.  The diagonal lines, which also show in the magnetometry data, must be some sort of drainage.

GPR time slice 3 (10.5--13.5ns).

Fig 4: GPR time slice 3 (10.5–13.5ns).

The next slice (13.5–16.5ns, Fig. 5) shows the archaeology much more clearly.  Watling Street is the black north-south feature to the east of the plot.  There is, however, a hole in it!  I guess this is another example of the extensive robbing of the town for building materials.  Slightly to the west, a narrower minor road is running SW–NE across the plot.  This road lines up with the light linear feature in the mag data.  On the north side of this smaller road is a building with at least two rooms and what appears to be a paved area to the NE.

GPR time slice 4 (13.5--16.5ns).

Fig 5: GPR time slice 4 (13.5–16.5ns).

Slice 5 (16.5–19.5ns; Fig 6) still shows Watling Street and the building.  There is a hint of some linear features that are on the same alignment as the rectangular enclosure which shows in the mag data to the south, and a wall in the SE corner.

GPR time slice 5 (16.5--19.5ns).

Fig 6: GPR time slice 5 (16.5–19.5ns).

The next slice (Fig. 7; 19.5–22.5ns) as there are hints of robbed walls showing in the south side of the plot next to Watling Street.  These are showing as white lines of reflection free data and do seem to form structures of some sort.  These align with the strange enclosure seen in the mag data.

GPR time slice 6 (19.5--22.5ns).

Fig. 7: GPR time slice 6 (19.5–22.5ns).

The last slice (Fig. 8, 22.5–25.5ns) is interesting in that the main line of Watling Street is still visible, but does not have such strong reflections as before.  There are, however, two bands of strong reflections either side of the road.  Perhaps these are the roadside ditches known from excavation filled with rubble from the road surfaces and construction?  The signal at this depth has started to attenuate and I will not show the deeper slices.

GPR time slice 7 (22.5--25.5ns).

Fig. 8: GPR time slice 7 (22.5–25.5ns).

In Part 2 I will show the results of the two electrical techniques.

Ellen has designed a logo for CAGG.  What do you all think?

cagg-logo-3

T-shirts anyone?

A picture is worth a 1000 words

The Verulamium magnetometry survey.

The Verulamium magnetometry survey.

I suppose I cannot really get away with that simple a post.

First of all, CONGRATULATIONS to everyone, it is a fantastic achievement and I am so proud of all of you.  Secondly, a big thanks to everyone who turned out for an extra day on Bank Holiday Monday to complete the Macellum field.

How about some numbers?  Well, Verulamium is the third biggest Roman town in Britain, after London and Cirencester.  It is, however, the largest Roman town in Britain which doesn’t have a modern settlement built over most of it.  We have surveyed 64.5ha of the total area of 81ha.  It has taken us 83 working days starting in the summer of 2013, but we didn’t do much at Verulamium in 2014.  It took 12,900,400 readings to cover those 64.5 ha.   That, of course, doesn’t include the grids we did twice because of frozen sensors or other problems. People pushing the cart walked about 322km, not including having to go back to the start for partials, getting to the squares in the first place, or laying in the tapes and strings.

Let us look in more detail at the last bit surveyed in the Macellum Field.

The area surveyed during day 37) high contrast).

The area surveyed during day 37) high contrast).

Several things come to mind.  Firstly, there is very little there!  Towards the NE and along the western side there may be a ditch feature, although it is quite faint.  Other than that, the main (and annoying) thing are the strong magnetic anomalies along the edge of the field.  Some of you may remember the 12″ gas main which runs across the Park… well here it is again.  What I do not entirely understand why there are differences between the negative and positive readings along our grid lines.  Jim and I spent some time making sure I put the composite together correctly, and we are sure it isn’t a survey error.

This end of the field is know to contain two Romano-Celtic temples.  These are known from aerial photographs taken in the hot summer of 1976.  I wonder if this area of the town was kept clear of encroaching buildings, pits, ditches and the like deliberately?  If we turn the contrast down (i.e., clip the image at +/- 40nT instead of +/- 7.5nT, we can see one of the temples close to the hedge as a faint white line.

Low contrast version of the area surveyed on day 37.

Low contrast version of the area surveyed on day 37.

Yet another target for the GPR next year!

Some of the team (many thanks Ellen, Mike and Jim!) helped re-do a number of areas of the res survey, plus one extra bonus square.  The biblical deluge of Sunday night (Lamer Lane was flooded once more) was not ideal.  This is the final area completed in 2016:

The 2016 resistance survey.

The 2016 resistance survey.

It is a pretty good result.  There is almost no use of the “edge match” feature of the software to get the various grids to join neatly.  It could be improved.  The very high contrast of the temple rather makes the buildings faint, but either the creation of selective composites (i.e., processing bit of the survey separately), or use of a high pass filter, would improve that.  The survey is quite big for a res survey: 2.5739ha according to TS (or 2.6ha to sane people who round numbers), which equals about 103,000 resistance readings.  That, of course, doesn’t include the large numbers of squares we re-did due to the dry conditions.

There is a great deal more to do in terms of data processing and interpretation, but I think we all deserve a well-earned rest.  Well, at least until Thursday…!

Rain didn’t stop play

… but may be it should have done!  Last year, on the last day of the survey, it poured and we cancelled.  Today, we thought “it is only a little drizzle!”  On occasions, drizzle was more of a deluge.  At one point I was about as far from the cars as it is possible to get when on site, and I got soaked.  Thankfully, Ellen went and fetched a dry tee-shirt and my waterproof coat.  Thank you Ellen, you’re a star!

Peter, one of our volunteers from SWHAS and WAS, has bought himself a UAV fitted with a camera.  He has been having some practice flights over the workers and the site.  When I have worked out how to edit the video down to a sane size, I’ll post one of those, but meanwhile here is one of the stills.  The UAV will prove a very useful tool.

Verulamium Theatre.

Verulamium Theatre.

One of the main reasons we persisted in the rain was the fact that we are so very close to completing the mag survey of the Macellum field.

The magnetometer survey of the Macellum field.

The magnetometer survey of the Macellum field.

Here is a closer detail of today’s survey.

The mag survey after day 36.

The mag survey after day 36.

As can be seen, Watling Street has rejoined the drive.  There appear to be many buildings opposite the theatre which isn’t a surprise in the heart of the town.  Street 24, which runs NNE from the theatre, has the macellum on the east side of it.  This building has been partially excavated and has a complex building history of five phases going from the mid-first century to the early fourth.  It has an almost equally complex excavation history: it has been examined by Grove Lowe (1847), John Harris (1869), Kathleen Kenyon (1934) and finally by Miss K. M. Richardson in 1938.

The resistance survey continued.  The wet surface was both a boon and a problem.  The first two grid squares went very smoothly.  Then we moved all the probes and so forth and the machine started to play-up.  After lunch, Peter came to the rescue and worked out that there was water where it oughtn’t to be, cleaned and dried connections and so forth, and all was well again.  We managed another three grids including one in 35 minutes.  Here is the survey.

The res survey after day 36.

The res survey after day 36.

The same area as the previous image showing the mag data.

The same area as the previous image showing the mag data.

In the first of the two images, I have not “edge matched” the grids so that you can see the ones which are a problem.  Three of the grids we did today fixed existing problems.  Although we had not planned to work tomorrow, I am hoping we might manage five more squares to fix the problems and give us a nice tidy survey.  Archaeological geophysicists are obsessed by “nice tidy surveys.”

Comparing the mag and the resistance surveys, the end of the “sinuous ditch”, seen snaking in from the top of the mag survey, can be seen in the resistance survey but it seems to continue further to the east.  The clear building on the northern edge of the resistance plot also shows pretty well in the mag survey.

Lastly, we learnt one lesson today.  The GPR doesn’t work well in the rain!  We surveyed a block near the rectangular enclosure I thought might be a temple.  Here is the mag:

Rectangular enclosure, near the southern side of the town, seen in the mag data.

Rectangular enclosure, near the southern side of the town, seen in the mag data.

Speculation has been rife as to what this may be, so we tried using the GPR.

Day 36 GPR data.

Day 36 GPR data.

The terrible striping is caused by the rain.  We will have to re-do this block another year.  We can see, however, a square in the centre of the block, and almost another square around it. Before we get too excited, however, comparison of the two surveys shows that the squares in the GPR data lie outside the NNE edge of the enclosure, and in fact, partly show as light white lines in the mag data.  Yet another question to be investigated more fully next year.

Many thanks to everyone who suffered the rain today.  You are all stars.

Tomorrow will be our last day.  I won’t post the results until Tuesday, however, as we are going for a celebration meal in a local pub.

Three day catch-up

I haven’t managed a Verulamium post for a few days so here is a quick catch-up.

Firstly, the mag has been slowly working its way eastwards along the Macellum Field.  They are getting pretty close to the end of it.

The mag survey in the Macellum field after day 35.

The mag survey in the Macellum field after day 35.

As can be seen, Watling Street stands out very clearly running from near the theatre to the Chester Gate.  There are lots of buildings along the road as would be expected.  Some are less clear than one would hope because they have been partially excavated.  The spec-ally look to the data, almost certainly because of the gravel subsoil, does make it harder to see what is going on here.  The carrot at the end of the stick — apart from just finishing the field of course — is that there are two Romano-Celtic temples known from aerial photographs near the modern road.

The next image is just to show how much of Verulamium we have now completed.  Poster, anyone?

The complete survey so far.

The complete survey so far.

The resistance survey has had a few problems.  The lack of rain has made the top-surface of the field very dry and hard.  It is very slow going, and the data is not as clean as one would like.  Despite the problems, however, some of the buildings along the road, especially at the north side of the plot, are very clear indeed.

The resistance survey after day 35.

The resistance survey after day 35.

Although it doesn’t jump out at one when just looking at the plot, the sinuous ditch does show in the resistance data when one knows where to look!

The GPR team completed some blocks along the hedgeline which I haven’t processed yet… sorry!  They also did one block up next to the Chester Gate to investigate the building here, and one over the sinuous ditch.  The latter did show the ditch but very little else.  Let’s look at the block near the Chester Gate.

The mag survey near the Chester Gate.

The mag survey near the Chester Gate.

This first image shows the mag data.  The building in the middle shows as white lines roughly parallel to the modern drive.  There are lots of other darker features, probably various pits and the sinuous ditch shows to the west.

Day 35 GPR, slice 2 (9.5 to 12.5ns).

Day 35 GPR, slice 2 (9.5 to 12.5ns).

This time slice shows the impact of splitting the survey over two days!  The left hand side was done yesterday afternoon, the right hand side this morning.  The pattern of the ploughing and the tractor’s turning circle in the corner of the field show clearly.  Luckily, the problem is much less acute at lower depths.

Day 35 GPR, slice 3 (12.5 to 15.5ns).

Day 35 GPR, slice 3 (12.5 to 15.5ns).

This time slice now shows the building beautifully.  What a wonky end wall on the north side! There is a long narrow range of rooms to the SW.

Day 35 GPR, slice 4 (15.5 to 18.5ns).

Day 35 GPR, slice 4 (15.5 to 18.5ns).

This time slice shows the SW line of rooms more clearly, although at the southern end they are been partly destroyed.  We can see, however, fainter traces of the walls on the NE, a corridor, perhaps?

Day 35 GPR, slice 5 (18.5 to 21.5ns).

Day 35 GPR, slice 5 (18.5 to 21.5ns).

This time slice does show the “corridor” to the NE much more clearly.  Perhaps it is more deeply buried in the plough bank?   For most of the plot, though, nothing much else is showing.

There has been a little rain this evening.  I have my fingers crossed for more.  Hopefully, tomorrow will be dry so that the mag can plough on eastwards!

As always, many thanks to everyone, especially those working with the res meter.  It is slow and boring at the best of times, but slow+annoying is a great deal to ask.

Record breaking

It was an odd day, weather wise. Largely dry with just one quick, light shower, windy at times, sunny spells… Luckily nothing interfered with the fieldwork!

The res team consisted of myself (when I wasn’t putting in grids for people), Ellen, Tim and Pauline.  They pulled out the stops and managed a record-breaking eight grid squares.  Area-wise, that is what the GPR covers in an average day, but for resistance survey at 0.5m intervals, that is very good going.  Well done everyone.

The resistance survey at the end of day 32.

The resistance survey at the end of day 32.

Today’s grids behaved themselves and make the four odd ones from yesterday stand-out even more.  I did make sure that some of the connectors were off the ground today.  How annoying. We may have to re-do those four grids.  The survey did, however, show the buildings along the road in the SE corner beautifully.  The big question… where now?  North to the sinuous ditch?  South for more shops?  West to cover the cross roads?  Only four days surveying left, and we have to assume that we won’t cover eight squares every day.

The mag team also had a very successful day in the Macellum field.

Detail of the mag survey showing the Macellum field.

Detail of the mag survey showing the Macellum field.

We can just see a hint of the cross-roads running NE-SW across Watling Street.  The ‘1955 ditch’ barely shows.  With the eye of faith one might see it in the high readings along the edge of the cross-road, but very much with the eye of faith.  Is the ditch just so built over we cannot see it?  Or was it never built here?

With just four survey days left to go, the team is getting close to finishing the field, but I think we are a day or two short of being able to do that.

The entire mag survey to date.

The entire mag survey to date.

Way down across the field, the GPR team tackled another fiddly staggered bit along the hedge line.  In the next three images I have made the previous days’ surveys partially transparent.

The day 32 GPR, slice 3 (12.5 to 15.5ns).

The day 32 GPR, slice 3 (12.5 to 15.5ns).

The day 32 GPR, slice 4 (15.5 to 18.5ns).

The day 32 GPR, slice 4 (15.5 to 18.5ns).

The day 32 GPR, slice 35 (18.5 to 21.5ns).

The day 32 GPR, slice 5 (18.5 to 21.5ns).

The curious shallow valley to the west of the surveyed area (‘valley’ seems a strong word for it!) that runs down the hill towards the temple is just as devoid of buildings or other recognizable archaeological features as the mag data.  In all three time slices not a great deal shows.  Was this valley always empty?  Or has the archaeology been eroded away, or even buried?  Difficult to say,  There is, however, a long narrow building just to the right of the middle of the surveyed area almost parallel with the hedgerow.  It seems fairly ephemeral, but it definitely there and one corner was picked-up in last year’s grid to the south.

Although the GPR hasn’t covered as much as the mag, we have still collected a mass of data.

Montage showing the area surveyed with the GPR to date.

Montage showing the area surveyed with the GPR to date.

It certainly takes-up a large chunk of my hard disk.

Many thanks to everyone who came out today and worked so hard.  A very successful day all round.  Our next survey day is on Thursday.

I think we found a building…

Today we managed to run all three instruments despite the very blustery weather and the occasional shower. Many thanks to everyone who put up with the bad weather.

Firstly, the magnetometer survey went very well today with another nine grid squares completed, albeit there were many partials!  Here are the results:

The mag after day 31.

The mag after day 31.

As can be seen, the nice straight line of Watling Street continues running from the SE to the NW. Curiously, there appears to be something cutting across the street and running down either side (shown as white lines).  How strange.  The star find, however, is the very nice building parallel to Watling Street.  The wall foundations show as clear white lines against the mid-grey, i.e., non-magnetic wall foundations (or foundation trenches) cutting through the more magnetic background.  Just in case anyone is wondering where the building is:

Today's mag showing the building.

Today’s mag showing the building.

OK, I’m not being entirely serious.  It is perhaps one of the clearest buildings I have seen in our mag data despite the rather noisy background.

The GPR crew were working quite some distance away.  Here is a location plan:

Location of the three surveys.

Location of the three surveys.

It is 550m from the magnetometer survey to the GPR survey as the swallow flies, slightly further as the archaeologist trundles.

The GPR team were not to be outdone by the mag team.  Here are four time slices from the area they did today. Remember each slice is going a bit deeper into the ground.

Day 31, GPR slice 2 (9.5 to 12.5ns).

Day 31, GPR slice 2 (9.5 to 12.5ns).

Day 31, GPR slice 3 (12.5 to 15.5ns).

Day 31, GPR slice 3 (12.5 to 15.5ns).

Day 31, GPR slice 4 (15.5 to 18.5ns).

Day 31, GPR slice 4 (15.5 to 18.5ns).

Day 31, GPR slice 5 (18.5 to 21.5ns).

Day 31, GPR slice 5 (18.5 to 21.5ns).

The top image (time slice two) is just showing noise in the ploughsoil.  The second image is showing a nice Roman building very clearly.  There might be more than one phase, with the upper phase being somewhat damaged.  The third image shows the building very clearly.  In the last image some of the internal walls show a little more clearly suggesting that they may have been robbed or replaced at some point.  All in all, a rather nice building in a prime position on the road across the town.

The GPR team have now covered quite a large area of the town!  Remember that they have to walk four times the distance to cover the same area as the mag, but have the advantage of being able to create images at different depths.

The extent of the GPR survey after day 31.

The extent of the GPR survey after day 31.

The Earth Resistance survey managed four grid squares today after the rain made it possible to take readings at all!

The earth resistance survey after day 31.

The earth resistance survey after day 31.

The res has picked up some more details of the Insula XVI temple.  Unfortunately, the trick of spreading the remote probes widely apart to avoid problems with grid matching has finally failed.  We did not have enough rain to change the moisture levels at 50–75cm down, so I am not entirely sure why this is the case.  Perhaps some current leaks through the grass?  I’ll have to investigate.

The weather forecast is better for tomorrow and so we will be out again in force.