Mr. Joyce believes that this buried wall must have been built before the reign of Claudius II., who died 270 A.D. We see in the accompanying section, Fig. 15, that the tesselated pavement has subsided to a less degree over the buried wall than elsewhere; so that a slight convexity or protuberance here stretched in a straight line across the room. This led to a hole being dug, and the buried wall was thus discovered.

We see in these three sections, and in several others not given, that the old pavements have sunk or sagged considerably. Mr. Joyce formerly attributed this sinking solely to the slow settling of the ground. That there has been some settling is highly probable, and it may be seen in Fig. 15 that the pavement for a width of 5 feet over the southern enlargement of the room, which must have been built on fresh ground, has sunk a little more than on the old northern side. But this sinking may possibly have had no connection with the enlargement of the room; for in Fig. 13 one half of the pavement has subsided more than the other half without any assignable cause. In a bricked passage to Mr. Joyce's own house, laid down only about six years ago, the same kind of sinking has occurred as in the ancient buildings. Nevertheless it does not appear probable that the whole amount of sinking can be thus accounted for. The Roman builders excavated the ground to an unusual depth for the foundations of their walls, which were thick and solid; it is therefore hardly credible that they should have been careless about the solidity of the bed on which their tesselated and often ornamented pavements were laid. The sinking must, as it appears to me, be attributed in chief part to the pavement having been undermined by worms, which we know are still at work. Even Mr. Joyce at last admitted that this could not have failed to have produced a considerable effect. Thus also the large quantity of fine mould overlying the pavements can be accounted for, the presence of which would otherwise be inexplicable. My sons noticed that in one room in which the pavement had sagged very little, there was an unusually small amount of overlying mould.

As the foundations of the walls generally lie at a considerable depth, they will either have not subsided at all through the undermining action of worms, or they will have subsided much less than the floor. This latter result would follow from worms not often working deep down beneath the foundations; but more especially from the walls not yielding when penetrated by worms, whereas the successively formed burrows in a mass of earth, equal to one of the walls in depth and thickness, would have collapsed many times since the desertion of the ruins, and would consequently have shrunk or subsided. As the walls cannot have sunk much or at all, the immediately adjoining pavement from adhering to them will have been prevented from subsiding; and thus the present curvature of the pavement is intelligible.

The circumstance which has surprised me most with respect to Silchester is that during the many centuries which have elapsed since the old buildings were deserted, the vegetable mould has not accumulated over them to a greater thickness than that here observed. In most places it is only about 9 inches in thickness, but in some places 12 or even more inches. In Fig. 11, it is given as 20 inches, but this section was drawn by Mr. Joyce before his attention was particularly called to this subject. The land enclosed within the old walls is described as sloping slightly to the south; but there are parts which, according to Mr. Joyce, are nearly level, and it appears that the mould is here generally thicker than elsewhere. The surface slopes in other parts from west to east, and Mr. Joyce describes one floor as covered at the western end by rubbish and mould to a thickness of 28.5 inches, and at the eastern end by a thickness of only 11.5 inches. A very slight slope suffices to cause recent castings to flow downwards during heavy rain, and thus much earth will ultimately reach the neighbouring rills and streams and be carried away. By this means, the absence of very thick beds of mould over these ancient ruins may, as I believe, be explained. Moreover most of the land here has long been ploughed, and this would greatly aid the washing away of the finer earth during rainy weather.

The nature of the beds immediately beneath the vegetable mould in some of the sections is rather perplexing. We see, for instance, in the section of an excavation in a grass meadow (Fig. 14), which sloped from north to south at an angle of 30 degrees 40 seconds, that the mould on the upper side is only six inches and on the lower side nine inches in thickness. But this mould lies on a mass (25.5 inches in thickness on the upper side) "of dark brown mould," as described by Mr. Joyce, "thickly interspersed with small pebbles and bits of tiles, which present a corroded or worn appearance. The state of this dark-coloured earth is like that of a field which has long been ploughed, for the earth thus becomes intermingled with stones and fragments of all kinds which have been much exposed to the weather.

The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms Page 46

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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