We have a result: the Roman Road is not a Roman road!
By day 3 of the dig (Wednesday) we had reached levels in the trench which indicated that there had been no disturbance of the soil for road building, and no layers which looked like road surfaces. Even where the trench cut into the surface of the Roman Road (which in its present form is probably 18th century) there was no sign of the surface, which we thought might be gravel. This is puzzling, as we know that the road was part of the Wareham to Poole road in the 18th century. It was then abandoned until it became a footpath about 50 years ago, and in that time there was a build up of organic material.
Throughout the trench there was a consistent heathland soil profile, known as podsol. The top layer was pale sand with gravel mixed in, then a dark organic layer, then a hard yellowy layer known as hardpan. The only disturbance to the soil profile resulted from cutting ditches, and creating low banks between them, parallel to the road on the north side, which are visible on the surface. We think these were cut in the early 19th century by landowner Henry Digby, who created a plantation of trees along the road here. The high bank immediately adjacent to the road was probably built at the same time. The ditch and bank on the other (south) side of the road were probably also constructed long after the road was abandoned. Explaining these features was another result of the dig.
We found another piece of worked flint from which flakes had been struck.
On day 3 Purbeck School history students Kyle and Calum came to have a go at digging and get a different perspective on history!
So, although it would have been nice to have found a Roman road, establishing that there is no Roman road along the line is a useful contribution to knowledge of the Roman period in this area. The dig casts doubt on the interpretation of an excavation in 2001 further west along the line of the road, near Camp Farm. The excavators believed they had reached a Roman road surface, but the surface described in the report sounds similar to the natural sand layer we encountered.
The dig finished on day 5 (Friday) and next week we are going to excavate a medieval house site in the grounds of Holton Lee. This was found and partially excavated in 2000 by Bournemouth University.
photos by Ben Buxton
We would like to thank the following for assistance with the Roman Road dig:
Morden Estates and Natural England for permission to dig
Natural England for the use of portaloos
Dave Watkins-Jones Of Anvil Grounds Maintenance for preparing the trench and back-filling