Archaeological fieldwork

A Day of Archaeology on the MARBAL 2017 Project

Disclaimer: This post is a time-stamped “day in the life” of MARBAL (Mortuary Archaeology of the Râmeț Bronze Age Landscape) co-director Jess Beck, and is brought to you by approximately 17 cups of coffee.

6:40 am: Consume first two cups of coffee. Begin analyzing bones in home lab.

8:53 am: Two cups of coffee later, head out the door for the museum. Demolish  breakfast of Cascaval, bread, and delicious Romanian red peppers that project member Emilie Cobb thoughtfully prepared for me.


9:24 am: Arrive at our collaborator Horia Ciugudean’s lab at the National Museum of the Union. Emilie begins size-sorting fragments, while I finish entering  data on an adolescent pair of scapulae, clavicles, and innominates.


10:53 am: I continue my analysis, moving on to the fragmentary adolescent cranium. Please notice the binder clip I have fetchingly clipped to my shirt so that I do not lose track of it.

12:25 pm: The most important meal of the day! Cookie break as we pack up for the field.
The MOST important meal of the day
12:46 pm: Make a brief detour to the train station to procure tickets for our trip back to Budapest on Monday.

1:13 pm: Stock up on field snacks at local supermarket.

Important healthy snacks
1:33 pm: En route from the train station in Alba Iulia to our field site in the mountains. I nurse my current thermos of coffee on the ride.

Alba --> Teius

2:17 pm: Arrive at field site to find it only SLIGHTLY more glorious than morning lab setting.

2:47 pm: Project co-director Colin Quinn begins putting in shovel test pits.

4:06 pm: Colin bemoans not taking a charcoal sample two years ago after we hit multiple sterile test pits.

4:11 pm: After being (foolishly) entrusted with making a sketch map of our STPs, it becomes clear that I do not in fact know where North is.

5:01 pm: After a rough half-hour of realizing our own limitations, we switch locations, and begin putting in a 1mx1m to examine the profile of an area in which a modern road cuts through an Early Bronze Age tomb.

The 1x1
5:07 pm: Colin teaches Emilie how to package a charcoal sample.


6:15 pm: After taking some closing photos, we stock up on glamour selfies and pack out.


6:30 pm: Important car snacks are consumed in celebration of a stratigraphically informative 1×1.


7:30 pm: Return to the house to shower, eat, and load and label photos from the day. Next up: publishing this post, and then immediately copying this Romanian buddy I spotted yesterday:


Allan Kilpatrick – Historic Environment Scotland

As I stood on the rain-sodden hillside, soaked, surrounded by two-metre-tall ferns and being bitten by a biblical plague of midges who viewed me as a three-star Michelin meal, I wondered: Is archaeology really worth it? However, once I’d brushed myself down, killed a thousand or so midges and began to move again, I realised I wasn’t finished with archaeology yet. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that there is almost no other job like it. Where else can you find yourself walking across a bit of countryside discovering the history of the landscape? This particular day, I was an archaeologist with a mission. I was looking for something not from our ancient past but rather more recent: I was seeking the archaeological remains of the First World War.

The field work is part of a HES project to survey and record the defences of the Clyde from both wars, as part of the Discover the Clyde programme (http://discoveringtheclyde.org.uk)

The sites I was looking for were military blockhouses. These are timber buildings which housed soldiers and were surrounded by an earth and sandbag wall providing a fighting position or strongpoint to defend an area of ground. I had with me copy of a map from The National Archives on which was drawn the position of a number of blockhouses on the hill. I had many questions to answer: were the blockhouses actually built? What did they look like? How accurate was the annotation on the map? Had they survived or had forestry ploughing destroyed them? So many variables and combined with the new trees and suffocating ferns, it was going to be a challenge to find them.

With the start of the Scottish version of a monsoon, I made my way upwards to a low summit which I thought might be my best chance.  For me, the thrill of fieldwork is the finding of archaeology, be it a cairn or rig, a hut circle or blockhouse.

As I reached the summit I found a small square concrete hut base which was not quite what I was expecting, but I recorded it and moved on. I carried on through the undergrowth and stumbled upon a large, square enclosure with a partial earth wall measuring about 5m by 5m.

The first Blockhouse found © HES

The first Blockhouse found © HES

Was this what I sought or was it something else? Indeed it was close to the position on the map.  I needed a comparison. Some more scrambling and two thousand dead midges later, I found a second rectangular enclosure on the edge of a steep slope covered in dense ferns and fallen trees but measuring the same internal size. Success!

The second Blockhouse built on the edge of the slope covered in dense tall bracken © HES

The second Blockhouse built on the edge of the slope covered in dense tall bracken © HES

As it turned out, these were indeed the sites of two blockhouses. We discovered two almost identical sites about 2km to the north later that day (see https://canmore.org.uk/site/331613). We have now found six of these blockhouses which defended Ardhallow Coast Battery on the Clyde from landward attack. The quest will continue as somewhere in the dense forestry lie three more.

A blockhouse was in there somewhere © HES

A blockhouse was in there somewhere © HES

Is archaeology worth it, on a day like this one it really is!