Burning issues

I was going to write something on the actual Day of Archaeology, a rather dull day of going through e-mails, writing invoices and proposals and maybe doing a desk-based evaluation for the walk-over survey I was going to do a couple of days later. Just a typical day at home for a low-key small-scale independent contracting aarchaeologist. First of all I made use of the dry, sunny and breezy weather to weed the garlic without being attacked by the Highland midgies and picked the raspberries. So I got online, settled down to browse databases when my son (luckily) looked out of the window and noticed that the whole horizon to the north was on fire. It was the largest heath/grass fire I’ve known here, and the rest of the day was spent beating out flames before they made their way to our trees. If they’d reached the trees our house would also have burned. Five fire crews attended and in the end, apart from a few fences, the telephone line and a couple of hectares of young tree plantation, no harm done. But that was my Day of Archaeology.

Anyhow, life goes on, so yesterday I went out to do the survey work for a proposed buried cable route between a wind farm and a sub station, crossing country for about 10 miles, through pasture, heath and forestry. By coincidence, the broad area of high ground had been burned off sometime in the past few years. The satellite image showed it as under a thick cover of gorse, but now it was open and clearly showed a prehistoric settlement which would have been obscured and inaccessible before the fire. It must have been a hot one, as many of the stones on the hut circles were fire-cracked. Ther was also a previously unrecorded kerbed cairn, I have to say that hut circles are two a penny but I’d never found a kerbed cairn before. Fortunately there’s a fairly clear corridor between features for the cable to run, so it’s not too bad news for the client.
Back home, my colleague offered to go ahead of me with a box of matches in future. A bit of gentle muirburn to reveal the archaeology. It is becoming a problem in great areas of the Highlands where livestock has been removed and vegetation is growing rank, particularly gorse and bracken, to be able to identify or verify sites.

An Exciting End to the Day

The day turned out to be very exciting as, at last, we have entered the 21st century with satellite broadband. This morning, 3 minutes per Mb, yes you read that right. Now, unimaginable speeds.

Why does that matter so much? Time was, as a contracting archaeological surveyor I would have to go down to Edinburgh, over 4 hours drive each way, to look at databases and archives, and noted findings manually onto paper maps with pens and tippex. Now it’s all online, including reporting, and digital mapping has been a real headache.

Now I’ve no excuse. It has seemed to me recently that good skills in identifying archaeological sites in the field, interpretation and placing them in their historical context, which I’m good at, comes definitely second to being able to keep up with technological advances. It’s hard as an independent contractor, with no buzzing office full of IT geeks to help out and no salary to allow time out for training. Still, all that time I can now waste watching YouTube clips…

Sorting Photos

It looks like I’m going to be spending most of today sorting photos and writing indices to add to a report on survey work I did on Monday. Already I’m struggling to remember which building footings are which in a large, spread post-mediaeval township in Strathdearn which, although a SAM, is under threat of being surrounded by commercial forestry. that includes enclosure and removal of grazing. At present the township is well managed by the grazing sheep and has a lovely cover of wild flowers ( a great distraction during survey) but the client is giving up on sheep and is diversifying into conifers. So, like so many other fantastic sites in the Highlands, this ine will, if the scheme goes ahead, gradually disappear under coarse grasses, bracken and ultimately shrubs. What landowner is going to commit to, and keep to the commitment of, a long-term programme of management of their archaeology within forestry?
What else is occupying me today? Whether or not to apply to be site supervisor on a local comunity dig. It’d be great to scrape the rust off the trowel, but all the comercial clients still awaiting completion of evaluation reports will not share my pleasure. Speaking of which, back to those photos. Now which building was that?