Hello and welcome to the contribution direct from the field in Lyminge, Kent! I’m sitting in our ex-Korean War mess tent on the edge of the excavation watching the archaeology unfold in front of me.
We are an AHRC funded research project run from the University of Reading and we are undertaking open area excavation in a picturesque village in the south-east of England. Lyminge has an extensive Anglo-Saxon history and we have been working in the area since 2007.
We began open area excavation in 2008-2009 and uncovered the precinct of the monastery that existed in Lyminge in the 7th-9th centuries AD. In 2010 we moved to a new area and discovered part of the pre-existing, pre-Christian royal vill at Lyminge, dating to around the 5th-7th centuries AD. Lyminge appears to have been a highly significant settlement over several centuries, and we have been uncovering some very high-status Anglo-Saxon evidence. Last year we revealed the full plan of a 21×8.5m feasting hall that dates to c.600 AD, together with datable finds in the wall trenches of the building, like the beautiful horse harness mount that dates from AD 525-575.
I’m Dr Alexandra Knox and I’m the assistant director. The project is led by Dr Gabor Thomas, and we have a small full-time team thoughout the year, with Simon Maslin (Data Manager and Environmental Supervisor) and Zoe Knapp (Zooarchaeology of Lyminge PhD and Site Supervisor).
It’s in the summer that we get out for six weeks and our team expands! University students and local volunteers sign up to learn field skills and join in for the season, with training provided by Rosie Cummings, our excavation manager. Roo Mitcheson (Egypt Exploration Society), Keith Parfitt (Canterbury Archaeological Trust) and Andy Macintosh (also CAT) and Ben Parker (University of Kent) complete the supervisory team and Helen Harrington runs Finds with Emily Harwood (University of Kent), her assistant. Finally, Bethany Wood (University of Reading) looks after our visitors!
Today we are almost a full week in to the dig, which means that cleaning back our 30x30m trench is almost
complete. So far we haven’t begun full excavation into the features, as we open a new area each year and have to hand clean the trench after the machine has removed the topsoil to reveal the archaeology. Students and volunteers have been deployed on those areas that need extra attention and we’re starting to make sense of the series of dark shapes in the natural orange clay. The extremely hot weather has been difficult to deal with, both for those digging and for the geology – the clay bakes very hard and we have to keep watering the site. Finally the weather has turned in our favour and we are finding it much easier to dig with a few clouds and a light breeze!
Today, Gabor and Roo are finishing laying out the internal grid on the site while the volunteers finish up cleaning. We can then do a full pre-excavation plan of the site today, something that isn’t absolutely necessary in terms of records, but we always like to do – it can be so helpful to go back to the pre-ex plan to compare what things looked like before you started to dig them, and to locate lost post holes! We will also begin labelling our features with context numbers so we have everything ready to begin digging into the features. As I wrote in my blog post yesterday on our own project blog, we know we already have several sunken-featured buildings and a possible timber hall, so things are looking very good for the next five weeks in terms of Anglo-Saxon archaeology.
Simon arrived today and is busy digging a nice hole in the spoil heap so that he can set up his flotation
tank and have somewhere for the water to soak away. He’s also getting the generator going for his pump, and we will be able to process our environmental samples on site. It’s great to be able to process samples on site as we get immediate feedback about the features and can adapt our strategy accordingly.
We also have a very busy Finds tent, with lots of local volunteers coming back each day to help with finds processing. We’ve had a core team of local ladies that come back year after year. Being week 1, of course, there isn’t so much to wash yet! What we do have lots of are mesolithic and neolithic flints, with a spread of these flints all over the field that we dig on, Tayne Field. While we don’t have prehistoric archaeological features, we are certainly able to interpret the site as a place frequented by mesolithic peoples who were sourcing flints and perhaps beginning to knap tools before taking them away for further use. The spring located at the head of the valley would have been an excellent source of fresh water for settlement and stopping over for many thousands of years. The Finds team are also hard at work recording the first small finds and other items coming up in the cleaning of the trench.
We’ve got lots going on today – even filming! Steve is a local camerman and producer and has generously agreed to help us document the excavation on film. This will be part of the sit archive but could also potentially be used in any future television documentaries. Steve grabs us when we’re not expecting it and gets us to explain what we’re doing to the camera!
I usually get a bit nervous in front of a camera but it’s all good fun and before you know it you’ve chatted away about an exciting find without worrying about the lens in front of you!
It’s currently the afternoon break and everyone is off site for a well deserved cup of tea. Some great features are coming up and you can see one of the sunken-featured buildings in the photo below, which has been nicely wetted down so you can see the edges. We’re really looking forward to starting to excavated these features as they’re often full of datable finds – certainly those that we’ve found in previous seasons have had fantastic artefacts within them (you can see a few of them at www.lymingearchaeology.org/photo-gallery)
The rest of the day will be spent finishing the cleaning back, planning, labelling and photographing, to say nothing of the blogging!