training

A Day of Excavation

(by Meaghan)
Friday July 29th 2016
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4 am – Up packed and ready to jump in the car to drive the 300+ kilometers to the site. A historical dig in the city. This will be my first ever dig experience so I’m more than a little nervous. Its dark when we pull out of the driveway and partner suggests I go back to sleep while he drives. I try closing my eyes, but don’t sleep. We stop at a roadhouse on the way for a quite coffee and an egg and bacon sandwich. I feel a little more relaxed after that.
8:15 am– We didn’t get lost or stuck in traffic so I arrive at the site earlier than requested. It’s a rare empty space between city buildings. Walking in I find myself behind a tall fence looking at a graded dirt lot which a number of people in florescent work jackets are already shoveling loads of earth into wheelbarrows and cleaning sieves. Outside the fence you can hear all the typical noises a city makes, but the site itself is like a quiet oasis.There are three shipping containers at the back of the lot, I ask which direction to the office to sign in and two women cleaning sieves point towards them. The woman in the office gives me a warm smile when I enter, signs me in and gets me to wait in one of the shipping containers which has been converted into a lunch room with a refrigerator, microwave and urn for hot water. It is far more civilized than I’d envisioned. I find out that the third container is the bathroom and the other the conservation lab where another group of students will be working to clean, assess and catalog any artifacts uncovered.
9 am– Formal site induction with the site supervisor and several other students on work experience. I find out that I am the only one in the group who will be staying the whole day, but I will most likely work with one or more of these people next two weeks, so I try to remember their names.
10 am – I’m sent to the field area to find the supervising archaeologist where I’m handed a trowel and a shovel and instructed to start scrapping back a small area. The earth is harder than I thought it to look at. In the process I uncover a rounded deposit of really sticky clay which I am told may indicate the location of a post hole. The archaeologist supervising tells me to mark around it and move onto another area and see what else we can find.
10:50 am – we break for morning tea. Its cold and has threatened rain all morning so we all huddle in the lunch room. Everyone is super friendly, which is a relief. Some of them have already been working on this  project  for weeks before the dig began, others only started on Monday. Some wander to a nearby cafe and come back with coffee. I must remember to bring some change for coffee when I return next week. It smells really good.
11:20 am– I spend an hour and a half with one of the archaeologists scraping back earth to reveal yet more areas of clay while another group work at uncovering stone foundations. The supervisor deems the area they have named “Site A” clear enough for us all to start scraping back in a long line. We start at the outer edge of the site and trowel back, removing debris and the loose earth left by the excavators. There are about ten of us working in a long line, each troweling an area approximately a meter and a half wide. Senior, junior archaeologists and work experience students work side by side, all at the same task.  The archaeologist I’m working next to shows me how to work the trowel and alternate hands so I don’t get cramps. She tells me which size trowels work best for what areas and another tells me where to get decent quality ones online. I find some broken crockery pieces and bottles, and a lot more clay.
1:45 pm– It drizzles rain and the supervisor calls lunch. Most of us head for the lunch room, a few head back to the cafe. In the lunch room the archaeologists chat about other places they have worked and their favorite and least favorite projects. I try and file away some of this information for future reference.
2:30 pm- The rain has stopped and we are all back to troweling. Everyone is in good spirits and chatting away about archaeology, places they have worked and  the kinds of characters they have met on digs in the past. Troweling is almost hypnotic, but by 3:30 my knees are getting stiff and my arms starting to ache. The ground is damper now, which is making it somewhat easier. Someone finds a broken piece of a smoking pipe. There are pieces of ceramic pots and more slivers of broken china and glass.
3:45 pm- We’ve all but finished troweling back Site A and it rains. Properly this time. We wait it out in the lunch room.
4:15 pm – The rain stops. Site A is full of puddles and slippery clay now. The site supervisor makes the call to abandon Site A for today and start hoeing back Site B, which sits much higher and has still to be dug out. We spend thirty minutes or so with everyone hoeing and shoveling out wheelbarrow loads of earth and debris before it begins raining again. By this time we are all very muddy.
4:50 pm – The site supervisor calls it a day. We all put away tools and sign out in the office where myself and the other work experience students are handed our days stipend, a small payment to assist with the cost of transport to the site and lunch etc. There is very limited parking around the site so those who live or are staying locally must use public transport, which I decide I will do next week to save five days of long drives.
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5:10 pm- My partner meets me in a nearby car park where I awkwardly  change out of my muddy boots and clothes in the back of our car before the long drive home. It takes us over an hour just to get out of the city and onto the road home, but I don’t mind. It gives me a chance to tell him all about my first day.Somewhere around the 100 km mark I fall asleep mid-sentence and don’t wake until we pull into the driveway

It’s not all glamorous – some of us drink our tea in offices, not trenches

I am a cliche. I got into archaeology because of Indiana Jones and because I liked to visit old castles when I was a kid, running round pretending I was a knight or some such.

After undertaking a degree in the subject at University, I quickly learned my image of archaeology was wrong; however the fiery passion that was ignited in my youth, based on intrigue, adventure and imagination stayed with me, and I learnt that the reality of archaeology and heritage could be just as exciting, only in different ways.

I imagine many of today’s posts will be about muddy boots, interesting fieldwork using new technologies and amazing finds (or rather mundane finds as is often the case!). There are however a fair amount of us who would describe ourselves as archaeologists that never set foot in the field (basically because we just dont like getting dirty – something else I discovered at university!)

I currrently work as a Training Delivery Officer in the Capacity Building Team at English Heritage and our aim is to provide the heritage sector with the knowledge, information and skills needed to better understand, protect and manage our heritage. So whilst I am, for the most part, office-bound, I like to think it is for a worthy cause!

Today I have been working on two separate, but not unrelated, tasks.

Firstly, part of my job involves co-ordinating English Heritage’s programme of collaborative PhDs. One of the main schemes we are involved in is the Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships (CDP) scheme and offers a small number of AHRC funded studentships that are jointly supervised by a specialist member of English Heritage (EH) staff and an academic from a UK university.

Offering collaborative doctoral awards gives students the possibility to combine academic work with the acquisition of practical skills and work experience outside the university context. It also provides us with focused research advancing the protection of the historic environment and heritage through the National Heritage Protection Plan (NHPP).

CDP projects we have offered have covered a diverse range of topics, with titles such as: “Defining the Potential of Ploughzone Lithic Scatters for Interpretation of the Final Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Landscape”, to “Interpreting loss of data from metal artefact decay (rates, reasons and conservation management implications)” to “Religious Heritage in Transition: Sikh Places of Worship in England”.

This morning I have been writing up notes from a meeting I attended yesterday with a Consortium of CDP holding organisations where we discussed, amongst other things, the joint specialist training programme we are running for CDP students across the country, as well as hearing from the AHRC on the future of the scheme.
You can find out about EH’s collaborative research opportunities on our website: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/professional/training-and-skills/work-based-training/collaborativeresearch/

The bulk of the day so far however has been spent with a colleague in our National Planning and Conservation department designing a training course that is aimed particularly at Heritage Champions and other elected Members in Local Authorities, to really get them to understand some of the key concepts around managing our heritage; and identifying and developing practical exercises for them to get to grips with how these are applied in the real world. This course will form part of the HELM training programme, which is a Capacity Building programme aimed at decision makers in local authorities, regional agencies and national organisations whose actions affect the historic environment. You can find out more about EHs training offer on our website http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/professional/training-and-skills/

The next generation of Archaeologists

The Republic of Kazakhstan has students who like archaeology and who participate in practicums as part of their first or second course studies as History majors in university.  But as we know archaeology is not a profession that brings wealth or even fame.  Therefore it is very important for all of us to train the next generation.  We have worked in the Talgar region for twenty years now, hiring local high school kids to work on our digs.  Now the oldest students in our village have children!  While none have become professional archaeologists, many have enjoyed their work with us and have now a good appreciation for their cultural and historical heritage.

Here’s a photo of the in situ pot fragments we found today!

Culver Archaeological Project: kilns and cremations

AOC Archaeology Group has been working with Culver Archaeological Project (CAP) on their excavation of a newly discovered Roman site at Bridge Farm near Barcombe, East Sussex. This post is a joint post from AOC and CAP!

team photo

Just part of the brilliant CAP 2013 team: members of CAP, Cat and Chris of AOC, and of course many wonderful volunteers (the team changes every day – sorry to those not in this photo!)

CAP began in 2005 with a simple programme of field-walking, survey and trial trenching in the hope of identifying further archaeological sites in the landscape around Barcombe Villa. Fieldwalking finds included Roman pottery and coins dating to the 1st and 5th centuries AD, and a comprehensive geophysical survey revealed impressive archaeological remains, just waiting to be investigated. CAP were successful in their application for a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and with their support are conducting six weeks of excavation this year. The project is community-focussed at its very core, and volunteers are participating (for free) in every stage of the on-site work, which runs from 1st July to 10th August: excavation, wet sieving, finds processing and geophysics – and a brilliant job they are

robin excavates kiln

Volunteer Robyn came all the way from Ireland – only to be landed with the gloopiest feature imaginable!

doing too. Volunteers range from school pupils to octogenarians, and everything in between. Five local primary and secondary schools have also participated in classroom-based workshops, and then come out and visited the site before the end of term, taking part in the excavations, wet sieving, metal detecting, finds washing and so on, and we’ve also had a visit from the local YAC. There are also weekly workshops on various specialist areas of archaeology. Sounds busy, doesn’t it? It is! There is lots going on every day but everyone involved is showing boundless enthusiasm. The sunshine has helped!

Anyway,  moving on to what’s been going on in the run-up to the Day of Archaeology 2013! We are almost four weeks in to the six week programme of fieldwork, and things are getting really interesting. Our trenches were located to target specific features that had appeared through geophysical survey. This week, we have excavated an almost complete urn, which may contain cremated remains. The urn was removed intact, and will be excavated in the lab at a later date.

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The urn is carefully excavated to reveal its true size, then wrapped in bandages for support. Note the smiles of relief as it comes out intact!

 

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Tile-lined feature with opus signinum in situ

We also have an interesting tile-lined feature, which contained a large chunk of opus signinum (a type of Roman cement). The current thinking is that the cement might have been prepared to line the feature, however for some reason the job was never completed and it solidified to the tiles below. A bit of research has found a similar feature excavated in Tuscany, which the archaeologists there interpreted as a basin. Still speculation however.

Nearby is a possible kiln, which has a hard-baked clay lining. The fill of this feature was particularly sludgy, and Robyn and Clara had a very enjoyable day removing it! The look on their faces amidst the slop and squelching was something to behold! However the hard clay lining gives us more certainly that it may be a kiln, but it’s exact use is still uncertain. Postholes nearby may represent the traces of associated structures.

Today Dr. Mike Allen attended site and at tea break gave our students and volunteers a talk from the point of a geoarchaeologist, a very interesting point indeed, we now understand post depositional gleying, which explains the difficulties we are having identifying some features on site.

With two more weeks of digging to go, we are excited to learn more about the site. We couldn’t possibly explain it all in one post –  this is just a snapshot of life at CAP 2013 – so please come on over to CAP’s website to catch up on the rest.

Culver Archaeological Project is supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Follow the project! www.culverproject.co.uk www.facebook.com/culverarchaeology @culverproject

To find out more about AOC, go to www.aocarchaeology.com or follow us on social media @aocarchaeology www.facebook.com/aocarchaeology