The accumulation of rubbish on the sites of great cities independent of the action of worms--The burial of a Roman villa at Abinger--The floors and walls penetrated by worms--Subsidence of a modern pavement--The buried pavement at Beaulieu Abbey--Roman villas at Chedworth and Brading--The remains of the Roman town at Silchester--The nature of the debris by which the remains are covered--The penetration of the tesselated floors and walls by worms--Subsidence of the floors--Thickness of the mould--The old Roman city of Wroxeter--Thickness of the mould--Depth of the foundations of some of the Buildings--Conclusion.

Archaeologists are probably not aware how much they owe to worms for the preservation of many ancient objects. Coins, gold ornaments, stone implements, &c., if dropped on the surface of the ground, will infallibly be buried by the castings of worms in a few years, and will thus be safely preserved, until the land at some future time is turned up. For instance, many years ago a grass- field was ploughed on the northern side of the Severn, not far from Shrewsbury; and a surprising number of iron arrow-heads were found at the bottom of the furrows, which, as Mr. Blakeway, a local antiquary, believed, were relics of the battle of Shrewsbury in the year 1403, and no doubt had been originally left strewed on the battle-field. In the present chapter I shall show that not only implements, &c., are thus preserved, but that the floors and the remains of many ancient buildings in England have been buried so effectually, in large part through the action of worms, that they have been discovered in recent times solely through various accidents. The enormous beds of rubbish, several yards in thickness, which underlie many cities, such as Rome, Paris, and London, the lower ones being of great antiquity, are not here referred to, as they have not been in any way acted on by worms. When we consider how much matter is daily brought into a great city for building, fuel, clothing and food, and that in old times when the roads were bad and the work of the scavenger was neglected, a comparatively small amount was carried away, we may agree with Elie de Beaumont, who, in discussing this subject, says, "pour une voiture de materiaux qui en sort, on y en fait entrer cent." {53} Nor should we overlook the effects of fires, the demolition of old buildings, and the removal of rubbish to the nearest vacant space,

Abinger, Surrey.--Late in the autumn of 1876, the ground in an old farm-yard at this place was dug to a depth of 2 to 2.5 feet, and the workmen found various ancient remains. This led Mr. T. H. Farrer of Abinger Hall to have an adjoining ploughed field searched. On a trench being dug, a layer of concrete, still partly covered with tesserae (small red tiles), and surrounded on two sides by broken-down walls, was soon discovered. It is believed, {54} that this room formed part of the atrium or reception-room of a Roman villa. The walls of two or three other small rooms were afterwards discovered. Many fragments of pottery, other objects, and coins of several Roman emperors, dating from 133 to 361, and perhaps to 375 A.D., were likewise found. Also a half-penny of George I., 1715. The presence of this latter coin seems an anomaly; but no doubt it was dropped on the ground during the last century, and since then there has been ample time for its burial under a considerable depth of the castings of worms. From the different dates of the Roman coins we may infer that the building was long inhabited. It was probably ruined and deserted 1400 or 1500 years ago.

I was present during the commencement of the excavations (August 20, 1877) and Mr. Farrer had two deep trenches dug at opposite ends of the atrium, so that I might examine the nature of the soil near the remains. The field sloped from east to west at an angle of about 7 degrees; and one of the two trenches, shown in the accompanying section (Fig. 8) was at the upper or eastern end. The diagram is on a scale of 1/20 of an inch to an inch; but the trench, which was between 4 and 5 feet broad, and in parts above 5 feet deep, has necessarily been reduced out of all proportion. The fine mould over the floor of the atrium varied in thickness from 11 to 16 inches; and on the side of the trench in the section was a little over 13 inches. After the mould had been removed, the floor appeared as a whole moderately level; but it sloped in parts at an angle of 1 degree, and in one place near the outside at as much as 8 degrees 30 minutes. The wall surrounding the pavement was built of rough stones, and was 23 inches in thickness where the trench was dug. Its broken summit was here 13 inches, but in another part 15 inches, beneath the surface of the field, being covered by this thickness of mould. In one spot, however, it rose to within 6 inches of the surface. On two sides of the room, where the junction of the concrete floor with the bounding walls could be carefully examined, there was no crack or separation.

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book