October 12th, 2009

Wanaka tree

Digging, digging, digging, digging, digging

First of all, I want to apologise to everyone. I'm being a really bad friend at the moment, I'm neglecting you and I really don't mean to. I feel guilty for not posting and I feel especially guilty for not having even replied to all the comments you have made recently. Please forgive me.

The website project I'm working on at the moment has reached crunch point. There is loads of work and I am right in the thick of it. I have people submitting pages for approval and I have to go through them, check they have done all that has been asked of them and tidy them up ready for publishing. This would be fine if it's just a few but its hundreds of webpages, each with loads of information that can't be wrong. It's very time-consuming and can be frustrating too; frustrating at the moment because the system I'm using seems to have crashed and I can't get in. Whenever this happens it means that the work piles up with less time to do it in. Don't get me wrong, I'm enjoying the project and I know that everyone concerned will be really proud of their web pages when the site goes live (whenever that will be) but right now I just have to get on with it and it throws everything out when I can't get in there.

Anyway, I hope you can all forgive me for not being as attentive as I should be, or would like to be. I try to read your entries every day but just don't have the time to comment and reply in the way that I feel I should.

I can't believe that the photos I'm posting here now were taken over two weeks ago. As many of you already know, I recently volunteered on an archaeological dig. It was a fascinating experience and I learnt so much. It was good to get away from driving a computer for a few days and to concentrate on something totally different.

I'd better fill you in on some background first. The area I live in, Somerset, was, until the Middle Ages, largely bogs and swampland with small islands of firmer ground poking up through the wetlands. Many of Somerset's villages are built on these 'lost' islands and they would have been joined up by causeways and tracks. The village I live in is just like that, a hill with the church on the top and the village sprawling out beneath it like a ragged skirt.

The village of Muchelney, about 10 kilometres away to the south is pretty much the same. Muchelney means 'big island'. I was invited along to this dig having offered to help on any project quite a long time ago. We were digging in some trenches based on some spectacular geophysical survey information taken a year or so ago. It showed roadways and ditches, field boundaries and pits, small-holdings and undefined blobs in what is now an open field. I turned up really not knowing what to expect, what I would be allowed to do or even what historical time period we were going to be looking at. It turned out that the settlement was most likely Roman and this was borne out by the finds and discoveries we made.

It was hard work, it hadn't rained for several weeks and we were digging through hard-packed clay. This meant that, rather than very delicate activities, we had to resort to pick-axes and mattocks to get into the ground we were working on. I was given the job of working with an archaeologist to clear out a ditch, layer by layer until we reached the natural clay at the bottom of the cut. We recorded things as we went and found small bits of pottery, animal bone and lots of stones that didn't appear to belong where we found them. We were able to show that the ditch was probably originally dug as a stock fence and began to fill up with silt and other rubbish thrown in around 1800 years ago. This puts it smack in the middle of the Roman period in Britain and confirmed what was subsequently found elsewhere on the site.

My biggest thrill came when I uncovered a large piece of black burnished ware pottery, the rim of a vessel. It was a real thrill to uncover this object and it really set me thinking. It was such a 'human' thing. Sometime in the late first or early second centuries AD, someone in Dorset had dug the clay, someone had fashioned it into a large vessel standing about twenty centimetres tall with a bent over rim about fifteen centimetres across, smeared the outside with fine sand for grip, fired it, sold it. Someone had bought it, had used it to store food in or to cook food, others had eaten the meals prepared in it. Someone had broken it, either by accident or as a deliberate act of temper, and thrown it away in the old ditch at the bottom of the settlement. Then 1800 years later I had come along and dug it out of the ditch and wondered at it. I found that incredibly moving.

Anyway, I've droned on long enough. Pictures.

My archaeological mentor for the duration, Alan. A fascinating man to talk to and spend some time with.

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