Preparing for the Future – A New Day for Archaeology in Caerleon

Things are very different one year on. This time last year, the History team at Caerleon was putting the finishing touches to a successful week long excavation, underneath the Iron Age Hillfort at Caerleon. It had been a wonderful excavation, with a perfect blend of highly experienced archaeologists, and complete first time novices – though by the end of proceedings we had established some new expert ditch diggers (though I don’t know how happy they were about it). Today, the planned excavation is a few weeks away, and the circumstances under which we are excavating are very different indeed, and for that to make sense, we need to go back in time a little.

About ten years ago, Caerleon was a hot bed for archaeological activities. Those with good memories might recall the SCARAB group which used to operate out of Caerleon. Back then we did a lot of archaeology, a lot of great archaeology. But, for a series of quite boring reasons, most of which have long been forgotten, all that disappeared, almost overnight a great archaeology department vanished. A decade on, and I am very pleased to be able to announce, on this Day of Archaeology, that we are working very hard at Caerleon to bring archaeology back. As I write this, I know that I should really be working on the new degree proposals, but there will be time for that. Not just archaeology though, we are looking at delivering on Heritage, Archaeology and Historical Studies. It’s a long road to walk, but if this programme proves a success, we will be contributing to Days of Archaeology for many years to come, and that is something that really should be celebrated.

For today though, it’s all about the comparatively more mundane process of pre-excavation prep. We’ll be spending most of the next two weeks finalising our team (and anyone reading this who might be interested, you’d be very welcome – see Excavate2013) and equipment. This year we are predominantly looking at a post medieval site, a series of farm buildings with some clear wall evidence surviving in places. In addition, there is one very tempting mound feature nearby. It’s never been touched before, and while it might end up being just a natural feature, or post med activity connected to the farm, it might, just might, be a Bronze Age feature – worth a look either way. We had a bit of a shock last week to hear that there were plans to demolish the tool shed and everything in it. A bit of a misunderstanding, which was quickly resolved, but those are the sorts of things that crop up from time to time, the least expected problems can be expected while preparing for an excavation. Rest assured, the tool shed and equipment are safe and sound, and ready to go into action in August.

I’ve just had a symbolic unpacking of the trowel as well – a small but essential, and quite emotionally laden piece of kit. As we have officially been a History department in Caerleon for many years, the opportunities to excavate have not been as frequent as I might have liked, so my trowel of about fifteen years has a now annual recess, tucked away on the bookcase, where any who dare to touch it our quickly chastised and warned away from its proximity. That trowel has now made the symbolic move from bookcase to desk top – a daily reminder that we are getting closer to breaking ground.

Ready and waiting.

But that will be about as much as gets done on this particular Day of Archaeology. For all the excitement and rewards that field archaeology provides, there is that mundane trade-off, as planning, sorting and finding of tools that have been sitting dormant for eleven months, gradually come together. But come this time next year, I’m hoping that I’ll be complaining about the sheer volume of fieldwork facing us, after all, if all goes well, we will be, in part at least, an archaeology department once more.