Gravitational Field Season

Normally the Day of Archaeology falls just as we are packing up at the end of our major field season in Jersey. At the end of a month of intensive fieldwork, public outreach and teaching we’re usually on a high and really reluctant to leave. I wrote about this feeling for Day of Archaeology back in 2013 in this post.

This year we are going into the field a month later and, instead of packing up camp, I’m packing up getting ready to leave the UK. There is excitement but it’s not the endorphin fuelled excitement you feel while on the dig itself. It’s raining and an unpredictable August lies ahead. We’re going to be staying a new base, different to the one we’ve used for the past 7 years and grown into (having spent about 8% of our lives there during these past years). For me these means I’m going to be camping instead of sleeping indoors for a month and so the amount of kit I need seems to be double. I’m fairly OCD when it comes to living environment, so the thought of being somewhere different for a month with different routines having to be evolved very quickly is daunting. Added, to this I seem to have lost my waterproof, which is one of those little things which, right now, with the rain lashing down, feels like a BIG THING.

Translocating your life for fieldwork is something many archaeologists and other fieldworkers have to do, but it takes mental and emotional energy to achieve successfully and it takes a toll.
By lunchtime tomorrow we’ll be moving into our new base and then the students arrive on Sunday. I know that by then we’ll have evolved new systems, adapted old routines, negotiated new ways of making camp and dig life work. It’s such a human thing, entering place and making it a social space. It takes a deep breath and trusting in our team and the human ability to re-form patterns of connection and develop new ergonomic systems wherever we find ourselves.

The Magdalenian camp site we are digging at Les Varines is itself a place people repeatedly journeyed to 14,000 years ago. We envisage it as a place that was visited a number of times, maybe seasonally by the same group. How many seasons are represented at the site is difficult to tell but we suspect, on the basis of artefact numbers, it isn’t so many compared to a site like La Cotte de St Brelade. We envisage maybe a single extended family group entered into a seasonal routine of periodic return to the valley, turning the space into a persistent place of human return. Perhaps, depending on the eventual horizontal scale of the site, more than one group converged here seasonally. What we do know, given the narrow vertical time depth of the occupation horizon, was that this routine came to an end, maybe after only a few years.

What factors disrupted this pattern, climate or environmental change, changes in animal movement patterns, or the discovery of a better site (maybe close by) is impossible to determine right now. But we know that one season long ago the group changed its plans. Heading out from the landscapes of modern day Normandy or Brittany and striking out for the terrestrial island horizon of Jersey, they might have already known at the point of departure that they weren’t going back to the old place but heading somewhere new. The old place at Les Varines had persisted in their annual life but it was now to be left to memory, dreams and the inhuman processes of landscape change: freeze-thaw, rooting, slope movement, soil creep. It may have become, for a while, a story until that too died.

Generations later its presence, through scatters of shiny exotic flint in a potato field, was noted and tracked in upon by archaeologists. Once again this little bit of island landscape rekindled the dark energy of human attention and deepend its own gravitational field, reinitiating the orbits of annual human return.

Feeling the pull we pack and, as a team, converge.