I’ve been on a delightful cat sit in Colchester, the oldest town in England, for two weeks. Aside from pulling a muscle in my back, and a few days of “January” weather, it has been a delight. I have put in miles of walking, looked at 16th – 19th century buildings in all states of disrepair, delighted in sneak peeks of Spring, marveled at the ruins of a 12th century abbey with snowdrops blooming at the feet of the walls, and felt the weight of two thousand years of history. However, it was not until today, my last day here, that anyone spoke to me or reacted with anything other than surprise when I said “Please” and “Thank you”. I’m not complaining, because the conversation today was exactly why one travels.
This area was a settled tribal center when the Romans showed up. The Romans went about their Roman busy-ness, road building, town building, commerce building, etc., etc., until the locals had had enough of Latin high-handedness and burned the place down in an event known at Boudicca’s Revolt. The Romans fought back, won, and rebuilt Colchester, and by the way, London.
The ruins are not so deeply buried here as they are in London, and there’s an active dig just inside the Roman Wall, where the Colchester Archeological Trust has found the red tessellated floors of a domestic building, and a few yards away, the painted interior walls of another domestic building.
I saw an article on the dig (thanks, BBC!) and wandered over a few days ago. There was the floor, a 2,000 year old floor, right out there in the open, seeing the light of day for the first time since the surrounding structure was burned. I could not go up and pat it (damn!), but I could stare and slobber, so I did. I went back today, and the site was being back-filled with sand. That part of the dig is finished.
Next week, work moves about 10 yards away to another domestic building, where one of the archeologists expects to find still standing painted walls. For southeast England, that is something. Think about it. Decorated walls from the 1st Century CE that survived use, a civil uprising, burning, razing, and the looting of the good stone for other structures, and then burial under the rebuilt town of Colchester. And it will be uncovered next week, after I am gone.
So how do I know all this? Because the archeologists walked over to me and we chatted. They were all excited to talk about their work with an interested bystander, eager to tell someone what they’d found! I learned a bunch of stuff about Roman buildings in England, about the difference between this site and the work being done on Hadrian’s Wall (domestic vs military), about how the surrounding walls were constructed, etc., etc., because the site was not surrounded by plywood fences and the guys were in a chatty mood.
Many years ago, I wanted to be an archeologist. Mary Leaky was all in the news, and I was certain that if I looked hard enough, I could find the first intact proto-human skeleton in North America in the hillside washes behind my Los Angeles home.
You laugh. Go right ahead.
Well, what with one thing and another, that fantasy didn’t play out, but I am still fascinated with urban, and especially salvage, archeology. No whips or fedoras needed, a metal detector is the weapon of choice these days.
All this on my last day in Colchester. Maybe I’ll come back, maybe I’ll get to see that painted wall. Maybe I’ll stumble upon another dig a few blocks from a future cat sit. Who knows?
Oh, and I’ll be in Copenhagen in two weeks, and Paris in March, in case you wanted to know. I’ll be thinking of you.