It’s raining. Not pouring down, just a light drizzle. Like someone is helpfully spraying us with mist. It’s also windy and the temperature can be described as ‘a little bit nippy’. This doesn’t matter. Even though the weather isn’t the best there’s a clear view of the River Mersey and the city of Liverpool to the north-east and Beeston Castle and Moel Arthur to the east and south-east respectively. If you look to the north and squint you can even make out Blackpool Tower. The whole of Cheshire, Merseyside and parts of the North Welsh coast are visible. But the view doesn’t matter either. All eyes are firmly pointed towards the ground. We’re not here for the views. We’re here for the archaeology; ‘here’ being Penycloddiau, the largest hillfort in Wales. Not a bad place to work in all honesty.
We’re here excavating the prehistoric rampart entrance of the hillfort to try and understand how it was constructed; and for good measure we’re also excavating what could turn out to be a roundhouse platform. So far so archaeological but what makes #PyC15 different is that our team is undertaking some fairly intense on-the-job training: they’re all students on their very first dig. Our team consists of students from the University of Liverpool and the IFR. This year alone we have students from the UK, United States, Canada and Australia who study a range of subjects from archaeology to ancient history, anthropology to civil engineering. The variety of knowledge and enthusiasm these students bring to site is astonishing and highlights the best aspect of archaeology: it’s inclusiveness. Anyone can hold a trowel. Supporting these students are a dedicated team of supervisors, many whom were digging here as students in previous seasons. #PyC15 isn’t just a student training dig, but a site where those who truly want to make this their career can develop crucial supervisory and interpretative skills under the direction of experienced directors who work in both the academic and contract sectors.
Here at LAFS though we don’t believe in just teaching our students the ‘basics’. Penycloddiau is also a research excavation and in the framework of Hodder we try to encourage our students to ‘interpret from the trowels edge’. In essence we teach our students the necessary skills to work both on- and off-site. To be able to interpret a context and understand formation processes whilst also seeing the ‘bigger picture’. Our students experience on-site and off-site training in illustration, survey, excavation, finds and environmental processing, and heritage communication. We ensure that students are exposed to all aspects of the archaeological process.
It’s not all smooth sailing of course. The weather can change, our time frame is limited, students inevitably favour one aspect of archaeology over an other, and as often happens when a group of people get together someone always gets ill. These things pass pretty quickly though, no doubt aided by a healthy dose of competition (all our students are places in Game of Thrones style ‘houses’) and 80’s tunes and we all come together to get the job done (from de-turfing to cleaning to excavation).
So on this #DayOfArchaeology, a week into our season, we will be shoulder to shoulder with our students. Working alongside them as we excavate a little piece of prehistory at a time. Bringing them into contact with all the things associated with the field that so many people love: the humour, the mystery, the excitement, the rain, the camaraderie and (hopefully) the rush of unearthing your first find. Our aim is inspire, to guide, and to open their eyes. Judging by the students responses so far we’re well on the way to fulfilling those aims but don’t take our word for it. Come and join us and experience it first on hand on our open days (Saturday, July 25th and Saturday, August 7th).
Join us…and appreciate the view. In the meantime here are a few pictures of our lovely students and site and a video that will tell you more about we do here than I ever could.