Unlocking the Past at East Park
Our lead story this month is written by new team member Paul Savage, who took part in the dig.
I can’t say I was looking forward with much enthusiasm to digging up a field on a hot sunny day in the middle of June, but the day I spent with DigVentures proved to be both fascinating and more enjoyable than I could have imagined.
In 2003, the TV programme, Time Team (Season 10, Episode 12) visited Sedgefield and unearthed the tantalising remains of a Roman settlement at the northern end of East Park. This was followed by four more excavations by Durham County Council and Durham University in a concerted effort to reveal new details, but many questions still remained.
Discover Brightwater, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, is working hard to restore, reveal and celebrate life around the River Skerne, which passes between Sedgefield and Fishburn before heading towards Darlington. They asked DigVentures to assemble a team of volunteers to excavate the remains of the Roman town. My wife spotted it on social media and immediately signed us up. My knowledge of archaeology was limited to the films of Indiana Jones, so I gave little thought to the significance of the dig and prepared by deciding what to wear. Deciding a bullwhip was a little excessive, I settled on a very cool hat and sensible boots.
The volunteers had a wide range of experience, from beginners, like me, to two young girls who planned to study archaeology at university and had even brought their own trowels! So, with some trepidation, I waited for the briefing at the edge of a very large hole.
I needn’t have worried as the wonderful archaeologists made us feel welcome and answered any questions. They were keen to ensure everyone had a great experience, from working in the trench to recording and cleaning finds.
After the briefing, we were set to work. We started by ‘cleaning’ the mud, which involved scraping the ground with a tiny trowel. My skills were accurately assessed, and I was moved away from the delicate work, given a large mattock and asked to dig a big hole. It was hard work, but I was rewarded with my first, and only, discovery of the day - a small piece of an amphora, probably used to store wine - I really was Indiana Jones!
Over 3 weeks, the team uncovered lots of pottery, including Samian ware, Roman Grey ware, amphorae handles, and even parts of a Nene Valley Hunting Cup depicting a hound chasing a hare. (top left)
One of most interesting discoveries was an iron key (below), but sadly, all signs of the lock had been lost beneath the ploughed fields.
The Roman soldier in full marching gear, sweated under the warm sun. The road from York to Chester-le-Street was wide and flat but he was looking forward to a rest at Sedgefield.
I leant into the trench and peered in, a flash of terracotta catching my eye. ‘Is this something?’ I asked hopefully.