PHD candidate at UCL Institute of Archaeology

Mission Impossible: Making sense of Iron Age field boundaries

For the last 3 weeks we have been excavating what was supposed to be a very simple site with pretty much only a big Iron Age enclosure ditch….. It turned out instead that the site was criss-crossed with small linears, ditches and gullies partially overlaid by what I can only describe for the moment as an activity area of probable Anglo -Saxon date. So we spent most of the 3 weeks trying to understand their nature, period and their relations. This was made even more difficult by the almost total absence of finds, and by the scorching hot weather.  As it happens the developer wanted his site back, so we did all possible in the time allowed and then we had to pack up.  I remained on site for a week of watching brief which, in spite of the weather suddenly turning rainy and stormy, turned out to be much more pleasant then what expected as the workers kept me supplied with hot coffee and doughnuts!

During the breaks I kept going back to the excavation area to see if, after the rain, the situation might have become  clearer, but to no avail…

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Today though, just one hour before I was due to leave the site, the mechanical digger started working on the area we had excavated, cutting a long section all along the bulk. Even though I was not meant to check while they were going thorough the already excavated area, I took the occasion to have a look. Amazingly the digger exposed several of the intersection of the ditches, making clearer what cut what, and eve more amazingly uncovered a large deposit which contained a conspicuous amount of burnt pots, one of which was still intact before the “gentle” hand of the mechanical digger got in to it. The workers were very kind and decided to stop the digging and give me time to clean and record the sections and to take pictures. They also helped me to collect the pieces of the large pot that can now be put back together and can be used for dating!!! So I guess tomorrow the coffee and doughnuts will be on me!

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Excavating a Beautiful 18th Century Landscape Garden

My day started at 5.30am to prepare for the long drive to the site,  the little inn where we have been lodged offers a large full English breakfast, which would really keep you going for most of the day, unfortunately though we are leaving too early so no breakfast, just a cup of questionable  coffee ( mostly due to the UHT milk supplied in the little plastic pre-dosed container) in my  room.  I knock on the door of my colleague to make sure he is awake and after 10 minute we leave toward our site.

We drive for 1 and a half hours on beautiful country roads , between spells of rain, sun and blast of strong winds..so me and my colleague joke about the weather changes that saying we are time travelling and we are quickly passing through each season of the year as the kilometers go by.  When we arrive on site we are greeted by our other colleague and the manager of the beautiful 18th century garden we are excavating, as we enter the garden a flock of roe deers with their babies run pass us and cheer all of us up!

The project is trying to relocate several features of the ancient garden  as the Lord that owns it  (is manor house is within the garden/ estate) wants to restore it to its former beauty.  Suddenly a heavy rain fall comes down and in few minutes rivers of water come down from everywhere, lightening and thunder seems to fall just next to us, and being in the middle of a woodlands is not really a safe place to be during thunderstorm… Thanks god the master gardener came to rescue us and with our extreme surprise and relief he takes us  to the house, he said we  have been permitted to use the “posh” toilets instead of the public one, and that he arranged for tea and coffee to be served to us to warm us up, since by then we were as wet as the pond we were excavating! In order to be allowed in the toilet the maid, with a horrified face requested us that we took off our boots and waterproof gear as we are too dirty to be allowed in even if only for the toilet!! So there we go in the toilet shoeless ( they were spotless)! Though we get rewarded by been offered proper coffee and tea in one of the tea room of the house, all accompanied by the most beautiful  and tasty biscuits ever! As we are terrorised to dirt or stain of mud the sitting we just all stand around (still shoeless) with our warm tea and lovely biscuits in the hand, and marvel at the fact that they gave  real delicate china tea cups and real silver spoons!!

The rain eventually stopped and we got back to the real world of archaeology, muddy boots and all. After few hours we pack our tools and head back toward  our little inn in what it use to be the first Saxon town ( or so the sign at the town entrance says) we time travel again for 1 and half our through the 4 seasons and eventually arrive to the inn, quick shower , something to eat in the little pub down the road and then  finally to bad to prepare for another day of archaeology and hopefully more silver spoons and lovely tea cakes!!