My day of archaeology has been a gentle, desk-bound one, but nevertheless I’ve dug up at least one conundrum.
I’m going to be carrying out a small investigation of an industrial site, one that until recently had been producing pottery for 200-odd years. We’ve had to make sure that the area we will be excavating doesn’t contain any hazardous material, and have been given the all-clear in a corner of the site after a series of boreholes have been drilled and analysed. However, my work today has revealed that where we plan to be excavating may be crossed by or is certainly close to the route of the vanished-without-trace (mostly) Newcastle Under Lyme Canal, a singularly unsuccessful venture that was abandoned and filled in in the 1930s. Since the canal passed through much urban industry, I’d guess that it was filled with anything and everything that came conveniently to hand. Photographs and maps show mostly open space, with a couple of short-lived buildings, alongside this stretch of the canal. Some of the area had been used as a clay pit, itself long since filled in. A short tramway appears on some early maps, heading into this open space, perhaps either being used to move clay into the works or rubbish out. So, this amount of airy conjecture means that I have to find out more detail. More recent photographs show the area used as a car park. Perhaps if we did happen upon the remains of the canal it might be interesting. There again it might be a damp depression crammed with old bricks, which would be depressing!
The other investigation I touched on today focusses on a WW2 US Army base in Staffordshire that was used after the war to house displaced Polish families. It was capable of housing over 6,000 troops, and later a so-far unknown number of Polish refugees, the last of whom left in 1963. About a dozen buildings survive at least in part out of approximately 140 structures. The surviving structures are reinforced-concrete-framed prefabricated buildings with asbestos cement roofing and brick infilling, a few of which have served as agricultural stores and animal shelters. Others survive only as foundations and concrete slabs. Today I’ve been drawing a small scale plan, mostly so that I can work on a methodology for dealing with the extant buildings. I did however find my first reference to US Army units being sent there on their way to fight in the DDay invasion and the Battle of the Bulge.
Both these projects will involve archaeology and art, a fascinating and exciting combination. They have to combine the rigour of archaeological practice with the emotional and creative input and output of artists. A good way to spend the day of archaeology.