right The bedding trenches of hedges from Fishbourne’s 2,000year-old formal garden.
enthusiasm, and it was the age of Flower Power. I remember how the volunteers, who we put up in a disused cinema and later in a school in Chichester, about a mile away, would all arrive in the morning decked out in flowers that they had pinched from front gardens during their walk to site.
Even so, this was a rigorous project from the start. I set up systems that I would use in all my later digs, and people were required to be on site at 8.30am for a firm fixed period of work with set hours and set breaks. They made a lot of jokes about this, but I think it provided structure for young people who weren’t very structured themselves – it made them feel safe.
Famous finds It was clear even during our first Easter trial excavation in 1961 that this was a significant structure, more than just a villa – it had major architectural elements like the eastern colonnaded courtyard and the black-and-white mosaics,
evidence of which emerged very early on. For me, these monochrome mosaics were more exciting than the later coloured ones. They were 1st century, earlier than any previously found in Britain.
The discovery of the Cupid on a Dolphin mosaic is a remarkable story, though. The site’s first polychrome mosaics had been uncovered towards the end of our first summer season, and we had been focusing on exploring more and more of the palace’s North Wing. Its remains just kept going. We had no idea how much further it extended, and on the very last afternoon I had a couple of spare diggers, so I got them to open a little trial trench running west, just 2ft wide, to help guide where to start next year. By a remarkable chance, it cut right across the centre of the Cupid mosaic – there he was, staring at us from the middle of that narrow trench, just below where the plough soil stopped. If the plough had gone a few centimetres deeper, we would have found only a mass of tesserae – it was a miraculous survival.
The most satisfying discovery, however, was excavating the Roman waterfront and finding the southern garden – being able to see how it was laid out, running down to the sea to create a vista across the harbour. It was a simple piece of topography, but it also preserved the vision of Fishbourne’s architect: this was real landscape gardening, and its remains gave us a tangible link to the thinking of the brilliant mind that designed it.
David Baker was the site photographer throughout the main 1960s excavations. He recalls: I met archaeological photography and Barry Cunliffe in the later 1950s, when we were Sixth-Form volunteers on Sheppard Frere’s excavations at Verulamium [Bluehouse Hill, St Albans]. His site photographer was ‘Cookie’ – M B Cookson, Sir Mortimer Wheeler’s photographer for his pre-war work at Maiden Castle. Cookie was a pioneer and of the old school: he used large monochrome plate cameras and was properly fanatical about cleaning sites for recording.*
I was of the rising 35mm generation with the emerging possibilities of colour film-stock. Despite his cogent disapproval of the small format for the detail he felt archaeology required, Cookie generously advised me on what I needed when Barry invited me to his major 1960s projects at Fishbourne and Portchester Castle. There was a trip to a now long-defunct camera shop in Holborn and the purchase of an ancient German 9x12cm sheet-film camera with a roll-film back. The deal in those heady volunteer days was that you provided the cameras and the slim site-budget paid for the film – not easy, even on the student grants then existing.
For Barry and me, this background meant that the importance of the photographic record had its proper place in the site culture. It was relatively easy to dragoon all the young people at Fishbourne into cleaning the site for photos, as a matter of pride rather than a chore. There were lots of lovely mosaics, so this wasn’t too difficult.
As each Fishbourne season got into its stride, I briefly supervised until the photography became full-time. It was all