test pits

The Big Village Dig in Cobham, Kent, July 2017

I’ve always enjoyed posting about my summer activities through the Day of Archaeology….thanks for the opportunity to reach new audiences and tell them about interesting and exciting community archaeology projects in Kent.

A quick update on the Heritage Lottery funded Cobham Landscape Detectives Project. Following on from the Mausoleum Cottage Dig last summer (see 2016 post), we decided to organise a village dig for the second year of the project. We held an open meeting for residents in the Spring and were invited to test pit in over 30 properties. We offered residents the opportunity to dig their own test pits, with advice and equipment, dig one with us or allow us to dig in their gardens. As I write we have now excavated 40 test pits and trenches across the village, including collaborating with the Primary School to get every class involved in a dig on their playing fields and the North Downs Young Archaeologists Club to dig in the back garden of the Darnley Arms.

Working with Cobham Primary School

Working with the North Downs Young Archaeologists Club

We have made a number of interesting and important archaeological discoveries in a village that has seen little previous archaeological investigation. These include:

  • A previously unknown 17th or 18th century agricultural building in the back garden of the Darnley Arms
  • The surviving traces (paths and drains) of a great House at the east end of the village, comprehensively demolished in the 1850s
  • The lost Victorian reservoir of Cobham (built in 1848)
  • Medieval soils limited to the south side of the village, near the medieval church and priests college
  • The industrial quarter of the village, at its eastern end
  • A geophysical survey that may dispel the long held stories of a megalithic structure at the west end of the village, though the survey does hint at buried archaeology in the field.

Working on the Victorian reservoir, photo courtesy of Brian Hughes

And the finds? Bags and bags and bags of china plate sherds, clay pipes, glass bottle fragments, coins, tokens, nails, hinges, tiles and brick – more than enough finds processing to keep us busy for months.

The project has brought the village together in a journey of archaeological discovery, we have made many new friends and been asked to consider running a second season in 2018!

None of this would have been possible without the hard work, passion, humour and commitment of the many volunteers who have helped organise and staff the project. They are the backbone of every Kent County Council community archaeology project and completely invaluable, not to mention expert at the digging of 1m square test pits! The Cobham Landscape Project continues through 2018 and more information can be found at ArchaeologyinKent on facebook, ArchaeologyKent on twitter and the shorne woods archaeology group web page. I leave you with a picture of our youngest volunteer Violet! Not yet 4, but a 3 season veteran, having dug at Randall Manor in 2015, the Cottage dig in 2016 and now the Village Dig…she has an expert eye for china plate!

 

Violet the champion China plate spotter. Photo courtesy of Rock

My Month as an Archaeologist

My first time as a real life archaeologist was even better than I imagined and it’s all thanks to the Northern Mongolia Archaeological Project, short for NMAP. Run by Dr Julia Clark from the American Centre for Mongolian Studies and Dr Bayarsaikhan Jamsranjav from the National Museum of Mongolia this field school offered a once in a lifetime opportunity to investigate nomadic pastoralism at the site of Soyo in the Darkhad region in Northern Mongolia. The team was comprised of a variety of nations; Mongolians, Australians, Americans, Scottish, British, French, and Swedish. Though all originating from different cultures, languages, and education, we all spoke the common language of archaeology and excitement!

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The back side of Soyo mountain.

The trip gave me experiences in a variety of areas, but some of the archaeological that first come to my mind are working with Ian Moffat (Flinders University), and Dave Putnam (University of Maine at Presque Isle). Ian was on the team in order to construct an image of the whole site using GPR (http://www.dayofarchaeology.com/archaeological-geophysics-in-northern-mongolia/). As a student of Ian’s we were given the task of walking up and down the sloping hills of Soyo, more often than not scattered with boulders ranging from the size of a hand to the size of a tent! Strapped onto our back was the radar which every 2cm would send pulses down into the ground to a depth of roughly 4m before bouncing back up. As we moved forward the screen depicted the data we had just collected, and it was fascinating being able to see what was beneath our feet and what it would mean later on for the site. Apart from GPR we were able to fly a kite with a camera attached to it up in the air to capture an aerial image of the site. What I definitely learnt from trying to fly a kite multiple times, was that all one needs is a storm and a kite goes right up! Learning about GPR, and learning how to work the technology associated with it was fascinating and a preview into what I see as the way of archaeology.

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Ben Turcea and Evan Holt digging one of the test pits.

Working with Dave will always be remembered as the time I baptised my Marshalltown trowel. We dug six test pits in total and every test pit provided a different stratigraphic image of the landscape. Two of our test pits reached a depth over 140cm, with one of them even hitting permafrost which was an exciting discovery! Dave, along with Ian were able to describe each of the different layers we were viewing and bring them to life. Reading about stratigraphic layers from a textbook will never be the same let me tell you that! What I found extremely interesting were that the glacial boulders we encountered were at different depths at each test pit and units. Additionally I was able to help dig out the deeper test pits while upside down which just shows I’m fit for the role of an archaeologist!

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Evan Holt and Adam Nelson giving me a helping hand.

This trip will be one of the most memorable excavations in my lifetime and I would recommend it to anyone! My only recommendation is that when you’re offered goat, take as much of it as you can because you’ll want seconds!