... more mattocking

My list of things to do on Saturday 29th June 2013 read as follows:

1. Get up
2. Get washed and dressed
3. Have an amazing day

And I did.

9:45 – No sign of archaeologists

9:46 – I spot a group of people huddled furtively together on the path at the front of the house. They admit to being the team from Archeox – here to dig a test pit. So we head off to the back garden and get stuck in.

The first thing to do was to mark out the 1m x 1m area to be dug and remove the turf. Ideally, the turf should be laid out on a spare bit of lawn in such a way that the pieces can be put back exactly where they came from – unfortunately, there isn’t any spare lawn, so it is piled up next to the shed.

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Once the pit area is marked out, digging begins. “Digging” is, in fact, a process of gently scraping soil off the surface and depositing in a bucket. Any finds are put in a “finds” tray. The soil from the buckets is sieved by other volunteers who add finds and other material to the finds tray. As well as human artifacts such as pottery or nails, they also set aside things like charcoal (evidence of human activity), animal bones and flint. I quickly learn that archaeologists can’t get enough of flint – they’re positively addicted to the stuff. The significance of flint on this site is that it’s doesn’t occur naturally – which means that it must have been brought here by people.

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Every so often, work stops so that the pit can be measured. This is partly to check that it’s being dug to an even depth and partly to see whether it’s time to start a new layer. A layer is a distinct phase in the digging and a new layer is started if there is a significant change in the soil or after 20 cm. Finds from each layer are kept separate and Jo, the team leader, keeps a running record of finds and other observations for each layer. The process for declaring a layer “finished” is a bit like Casualty when everyone stands around the newly deceased and agrees that they’re dead.

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Early fears of finding nothing but late 20th century builders’ rubble quickly vanished.  By lunchtime, the diggers had unearthed not only nails (consistent with the shed-building that used to take place on the site) and “modern” roof tiles (“modern” is archaeo-speak for “less than 200 years old”) but also early medieval pottery (14th/13th century?), Roman pottery and a piece of worked flint.

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By the end of the day, the diggers had made impressive progress and we had the satisfaction of knowing that ours had been the most productive pit in terms of finds – although this may be because the top layer of soil had been transferred from the foundations when the house was built.

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Next: Bagged and Tagged