Encouraged by the spell of warm and dry weather, a small group of TCA members embarked on the first session of the 2018 season at Little Millhams on the May Day Bank Holiday weekend. Readers of this blog will perhaps recall that we have had several skirmishes with the bees which patrol and defend vigorously the area in the vicinity of the beehives in the Millhams garden. It now appears that the bees are on holiday while their hives are in the process of being transported to another area of the garden, so this seemed an ideal opportunity to investigate an East-West line of the garden in an area just North of the previously occupied by the beehives.
In order to clarify and perhaps bring some order to the confusing results of the various layers in adjacent pits, it was decided to investigate systematically the layers along the East-West line selected by first removing the topsoil and then auguring downwards from the topsoil interface. Steve Fox reports that out of 13 points laid out across the site, the first 5 were studied in this first session and while too soon to claim any success, there are definite differences in the profile of each pit that will hopefully combine to make a cross-section of the whole site. (Photograph and report courtesy of member Steve Fox)
We have published the latest issue of our occasional newsletter, dated March 2018. We apologise for it being so long overdue and we hope you will find something of interest in it, to make it worth the wait. Copies are being posted or delivered to all our registered members and should arrive within the next week or so. If you haven’t received your copy after say two weeks please contact the Secretary.
Those of us who regretted the closure of Christchurch’s Electricity Museum will welcome SSE’s initiative in providing a Doors Open Day on 21 February 2018. Entry was free but required prior booking which was arranged for a small group of us by our chairman, Mike Tizzard.
Previous visitors to the Museum will notice the absence from the Main Hall of the ‘jewel in the crown’ exhibit, the tram, which has been returned to its owner, the Science Museum. We were told that every remaining item in the museum has been catalogued and much of the collection of portable items now stands on shelves without any display or explanation. Thus in some ways the building is a store, with items possibly available for loan to other museums for temporary display. However the main items of heavy machinery are still in place in their previous positions.
It is to be hoped that further Open Days can be arranged so that visitors can enjoy this excellent collection housed in Christchurch’s original Edwardian electricity generating station, now a Grade II listed building.
On Sunday 24 September 2017, we set up our usual stall at the biennial History Day organised by the Friends of St. Catherine’s Hill and this year benefiting from the Lottery funding to celebrate the role of the Hill as a training ground for ANZAC troops in World War I. Luckily the weather was kind to us and we experienced only a single shower, albeit rather heavy, which occurred in the morning.
We were pleased to welcome many interested visitors to our display in the archaeology shelter which we shared with representatives from the Portable Antiquities Scheme, Bournemouth University and a display of photographs from early archaeological aerial surveys of the Hill which happened to show the First World War trenching exercises. The photo above shows the shelter and our stall to the right, unusually quiet just before the opening of the event. Altogether it was a very enjoyable day and the organisers are to be congratulated on the smooth running of the event.
TCA members will probably be aware that we will be setting up a TCA information stall at the biennial History Day on St. Catherine’s Hill which takes place this year on Sunday 24 September. This year there is a First World War theme to illustrate the service of the ANZAC engineers who practised their trenching techniques on the Hill. With the help of HLF funding a cinema has also been arranged showing the programme advertised on the Facebook page copied below. Robin Harley, Countryside Warden of the Christchurch and East Dorset Countryside Service, will no doubt also be presenting his mock-up of a First World War tank which was such a hit two years ago. Our own chairman will be taking part in leading walks around the historical features of the Hill. See you there!
tcablogmaster has long wondered if more information could be gained from the intriguing sequence of layers revealed by our excavations at Millhams. These layers represent the deposition of silt and sand following regular inundation of this marshy site by the adjacent river Avon, as revealed by the inclusion of tiny water-living mollusc shells in the layers. One analysis technique used to determine the presence of human occupation is phosphate analysis, since phosphate levels are high in human and animal waste, the inevitable accompaniment to human settlement. Since we are looking for a suspected house or dwelling on the site, this seemed an appropriate technique to try in order to see if variations in phosphate concentration as a function of layer depth or location could be deduced.
The first experiment involved a garden soil test kit, using a makeshift colorimeter app in a mobile phone to try to determine the comparative concentration of phosphate in a sample of water used to extract phosphate from 10ml sample of soil. Unfortunately the colour changes produced seemed to be very difficult to compare with the supplied colour chart and this method was discarded.
A second attempt at a qualitative test was an implementation of the so-called Eidt Ring Test using instructions on the SASSA website (Soil Analysis Support System for Archaeology) at http://www.sassa.org.uk/index.php/Analytical_Methods:Phosphate_Qualitative . All the chemicals required – hydrochloric acid, ammonium molybdate and ascorbic acid – were available on ebay and using the recipe, tcablogmaster concocted Reagent A (ammonium molybdate dissolved in dilute hydrochloric acid) and Reagent B (a solution of ascorbic acid in water). Deionized water readily available from motorists centres was used to make up the solutions.
Application of the test requires a tiny sample of soil (about 50mg) to be placed in the centre of a 90cm filter paper and 2 drops of Reagent A added. After 30 seconds, 1 drop of Reagent B is added. The development of the blue colour is then observed and the resulting pattern scored according to various, rather imprecise criteria, such as length of time for the colour to appear, its intensity and the radius of the ring. A number of tests were conducted on the 4 layers identified in Pit 52 – the topsoil plus 3 layers of silt or silty-sand – and the results are shown opposite. The topmost sequence shows the result of an onsite test – unreliable in many ways because it seemed that probably too much soil was used in the samples and also the filter papers kept blowing away! Subsequent test were done at home in the greenhouse with the bottom row probably the most representative since care was taken to measure the weight of the soil sample.
From these few results and in the absence of experience with the technique it is difficult to form any opinion of the relative phosphate levels. It looks as though the topsoil is the richest in phosphate it is difficult to say whether the difference is significant. Clearly the test is comparative but there is great difficulty of judging and recording the intensity of the reaction for the purposes of comparison – tcablogmaster would very interested in comments from anyone with greater experience of the technique!.
While preparing a report for our Annual General Meeting held in June 2017, tcablogmaster was intrigued by the statistics of our excavations at Millhams. During the period June 2016 to June 2017 the number of test pits completed exceeded fifty – actually up to 52 at the time of the AGM. At a conservative estimate that the dimensions of the each test pit are 1m x 1m x 1.5m, tcablogmaster reckons that’s in excess of 75 cubic metres of earth removed and then replaced. With consolidated topsoil generally reckoned to weigh about 1.7 metric tonnes /cu. m. so that’s over 130 tonnes of soil which we have moved twice, out and back.