Poulton Research Project 2018

I arrived back in Edinburgh on Saturday after spending the last two weeks in Chester working on site with the Poulton Research Project.  This is my second season back at at the site, which if you’re a keen reader of this blog you’ll know to be a 13-15c Medieval Chapel with surrounding graveyard (read about my first season here).  The excavations focus on the medieval burials – but there is plenty else around the site from Prehistoric, ‘Celtic’ Iron Age, and Roman.

I’ve scanned in my excavation log for your reading pleasure and for an extra challenge of reading my smudgy handwriting. Enjoy.

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summer with the anglo-saxons

Hi all! It’s me.  Still alive and probably still a nuisance.  I just got back from my five week excavation at Bamburgh Castle along the Northumbrian coast.  I’m still super tired but the last five weeks have been amazing.  Here’s a quick run-down of the excavation from my excavation journal for the viewers at home.

12 June, 17.45 

First day at Bamburgh Castle excavation!  Arrived yesterday via train from Edinburgh.

Today we had a site tour, health and safety, and general info.  We are working in the outer ward of the castle with two trenches.  Trench 1 is located near St. Oswald’s Gate, the original 7c entrance to the castle.  Trench 3 is located closer to the inner ward of the castle in an area that has been identified as a manufacturing center with evidence of metalworking and animal processing.

We then took a tour of the Excavation offices located in the 19c windmill.  This is where most of the post excavation work is carried out.  We got a chance to see a multitude of finds from the project including bone artifacts and metals like iron, lead, and even gold.

We began to clean Trench 3 after removing the tarps and sandbags.  Cleaning a Trench means that you remove the top few millimeters of wash-in soils to reveals the colour changes of the archaeology below.

Trench 3 showed evidence of a structure with two cobbled paths.  The current level of excavation is around the 7/8c.  There is a large amount of animal bone as well as evidence of metalworking.  As stated, the current assumption about the site is that it was the manufacturing portion of the castle, near the entrance, with finished goods then taken into the inner ward.

13 June, 17.53

Day 2 complete.  Continued to clean back Trench to reveal colors of the features.  Nearly finished with cleaning and will start excavation in few days.

During cleaning, I uncovered an iron nail!  It was catalogued as a small find and given a number for the records.

A lot of animal bone has continued to come up so the site continues to support the ideas of a production center.

Excited to begin trench excavation.

14 June, 19.55

Finished cleaning trench today.  Took photographs of pre-excavation levels.  Will begin proper excavation tomorrow.

I was cleaning the ‘Roman’ area of the trench.  So-called because of the samian ware found in a hole in 2011.  This bedrock on this side of the trench is located higher up but is equal stratigraphically with the other side of the trench.  However, because Roman finds have been coming up on this portion of the trench, work in this area will stop until the Roman level is reached on the other side of the trench as well.

We have the castle tour tomorrow, which should be good to see with our supervisors leading the way.

Overall, I am really enjoying the site and learning a lot.

June 15, 18.54

Worked on Trench 1 today!  The Trench is nearly complete with aims to close at the end of the season.  I finished cleaning a feature, planned, and took a photo.

Today we also had a tour of the castle.  We learned more about the site and the history of the castle.

June 17, 19.21

Yesterday I worked Finds.  I floated samples, sieved, and worked in the windmill for a bit.  The Windmill is where all the records are kept and finds are managed.

As for floatation, I am always so surprised at the material recovered.  Basically, floatation consisted of taking soil samples from the trench and stimulating them in a large tank with running water.  This causes lighter organic material like charcoal and even burnt seeds to float to the top and into a collection bag.  The skill is really useful for collecting data about past environments like what I was doing in Romania last summer.  It’s a really useful way of analysing the site… I just really hate having to go through the process.

Excavation on site will continue tomorrow as I help to plan more of Trench 1 before it closes.

As for today, I had the day off and went to Alnwick (pronounced An-Ick).  I went to Barter Books as the recommendation of my friend Sophie.  The bookshop is HUGE! and is located in the old Alnwick Railway Station.  They basically just covered over the Platforms with boards and put in tons and tons of bookshelves and filled then with thousands of used books.  *heavy breathing*   After going to the bookshop, I went to the castle.  The castle was incredibly opulent and the library inside was ridiculous, I could not believe some of the title they had! Leather bound copies of both the Chronicles of Froissart and Monstrelet aka the closest we have to eyewitness accounts of the Hundred Years War including the best account for the Battle of Agincourt!  Alnwick castle was also the filming location for the first Harry Potter movie and was used for exterior scenes of Hogwarts!  And it was the birthplace of Henry Percy aka Harry Hotspur who helped to put Henry IV on the throne and then later became rivals to the family and according the Shakespeare a direct rival to Henry V.

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Causal castle crying.

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I work again tomorrow and Monday starts Week 2.

June 18, 18.04

Worked at the castle today putting a stair access into the trench by cutting back the turf and shoveling dirt.  This is because the ramp used as a second access point will soon be re-sucked back into the trench as Trench 8 (an old trench dug by Brian Hope-Taylor in the 1960s) will be reopened for re-evaluation.  The stairs will serve to allow access in. This a very important part in site planning and health and safety.

Additionally, after a long day of hard work in a surprisingly hot Northumbrian sun we ate ice cream and went for a swim on the beach.

19 June, 18.30

First day of Week 2!

Excavated a shell midden to start which proved to be a very complex feature with evidence of multiple dumping acts over a period of some time.  There were layers of shell beneath layers of sediments.

Next, I cleaned the feature in the corner and planned it.  Unsure as to just what the feature is as there are many different context boundaries and colour shifts.  It is intriguing that there is a near perfect darkened rectangle in the middle of the orange clay feature.  Possible burnt area?  Possible post hole?

June 20, 17.24

Worked a long day today.  Excavated the feature I planned yesterday.  Revealed to be a burning site, potentially in situ!!  As I found evidence of fire cracked stones.  Large stones were used as a means of boiling large vats of water quickly or could have been used to line a hearth.  However, the bone found in the area did not show evidence of burning. It was a more redish hue which could mean that it was boiled, connecting it to the fire cracked stones.

I collected two sample buckets of the burnt context for further analysis and then filled in context sheets, plan forms, and photos.

June 21, 18.24

Today I began a cross section of a possible feature.  I planned, leveled, and began to find the edges of the context.  This was in the afternoon.  In the morning, it finally rained and we went inside the Windmill and washed finds.

I am getting along great with everyone on site and am really enjoying the excavation.  I am a little tired though and probably a little bit more grumpy than usual.  But, it’s been 3.5 weeks camping for me now.  (1.5 on excavation and the two weeks before that going up to the Bothy and then the Road Trip).  My grumpiness could be linked to that or the kinks in my back.  I plan to take evening to read a little and go to sleep early.

Tonight we have a lecture about the Bowl Hole, the cemetery found outside the castle a few years back.  I am very excited for this lecture.

June 22, 17.39

Today I helped with the ramp building along Trench 8.

Trench 8 is to be re-evaluated once a safety ramp is constructed.  I shoveled dirt, belayed buckets out of the trench, etc.  No actual excavation today but setting up a proper area to work in is just as important as the actual work itself!  No one wants to become part of the archaeology!

And it was pretty fun to get some rope work in.  I used a hip belay to bring up buckets from the Trench.  Archaeology and mountaineering knowledge… am I Lara Croft yet?

24 June, 21.38

Yesterday I continued to clear out the backfill of Tench 8.  Again, T8 is the location where Hope-Taylor found the two swords and the axes in the 1960s.  We are reopening it to 1) Check the records are correct for publication and 2) Connect T8 to the cobbled path in T3 were last year a copper Anglo-Saxon bird plate was found.

We shoveled more buckets of backfill and will continue on Sunday when I work again.

Today I am off to Edinburgh to do my laundry and water my plants.

25 June, 19.46

Today we worked to plan a cross section of a pit by measuring out the grid, measuring rocks in the cross slab.  We did this by taking grid points aka eastings and northings.

Good day today with good work.  Easy Sunday.  I am excited to get back to work tomorrow.

26 June, 18.25

Today I filled in context sheets for the tri-pit.  So called because this feature is a pain in the ass.  It was thought to be a single pit.  Until two more pits were found cut into an older pit in the center.  However the southern pit has been truncated by an early section excavated in the 1960s.

The feature was half-sectioned and I filled in sheets for the section completed.  It was very confusing attempting to establish a chronology for the feature because you first need to locate the cut lines in the half section of the wall.

After completing the paperwork, for the half section the other side of the pit was excavated.  Samples were taken of the first two pits.  Each pit had to be excavated separately as to keep the samples with the least amount of contamination.

Tomorrow it is due to rain and I will be working Finds.

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living the tent life day 32. #archaeology

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28 June, 17.15

Yesterday it rained.

Today I finished excavation of the pit feature, previously called the tri-pit… now is the quad-pit. Today there was even evidence of a possible post hole burning with a perfect circle of charcoal appearing the new pit cut into the pit.

We realised that the multitudes of pits inter-cutting each other had made the feature look bigger than it actually was.  But, there was no way of telling the boundaries of the feature without excavation.

Lastly, the pit shows (maybe?) a relation to a know floor surface.  Was the floor surface cut into?

1 July, 11.59

Sorry haven’t recorded.  Thursday it rained.  So we worked finds in the morning and in the afternoon we took a trip to Lindisfarne.  We got to see the island, the priory, and walked along the beach.  It was a beautiful island and amazing to see the connections between Lindisfarne and Bamburgh.

Friday was another rainy day spent working on finds.  I sorted the environmental finds in the morning and finds washed in the afternoon.  All in all two good rainy days.

It’s been a little hectic lately with the living situation.  A group of us got majorly flooded out of our tents on Friday.  With our tents flooded all our kit got pretty soaked and the staff who had stayed at the campsite spent the day drying kit and making sure nothing was super wrecked.  It was awfully nice of them.  But, you can’t really return to a tent once it’s had nearly 2L of water poured out of it.  So I now find myself with the other students in an AirBNB here in Belford.

3 July

Yesterday I worked back in T8.  Continued to shovel backfill until the section edge reached 1.20m.  The legal working height for an open trench with small sides is 1.20m again health and safety.

Today I planned the stupid quad-pit and it still proved to a pain in the ass.  But the context is now closed.  Afterward I helped one of the staff members to locate a missing trench edge from an old plan that had unfortunately not been finished or included grid points.  By using the context register and old photos from 2002 we were able to locate the plan and then I started to remove the turf to uncover the edge.

6 July

Tuesday was the fourth of July spent in rainy Northumbria.  We worked in Trench 8 on the section plan until the rain puddled too much and we had to move to Finds.  I spend the afternoon working to track down missing samples from the Kaims which had somehow gotten lost in the shuffle a few years back.

Wednesday was sunny so we did a full clean of Trench 1.  So that it could be photographed.  T1 is again the trench by St. Oswald’s gate was thought to be complete until about 18 new features surfaced after the amount of rain we got last week. Wednesday afternoon I worked on Finds.

Today was the day!  We started the morning by going back to Lindisfarne to see the excavation being carried out there.  Looks like they found a new church!

That afternoon, I started to remove and sample the 9c pebbled surface.  The pebbled surface ran adjacent to the 9c metal working building in the SE corner of the trench.  I’m working on the area and today was excavation was recorded to later be used in some media uploads for the excavation.   The surface is between two rows of curb stones and consisted of many layers of stone deposit.  I have already found animal bone, teeth, and charcoal.  Basically, things people would have dropped or lost.  With it’s proximity to the metal workshop I am hoping to maybe find metal objects or coins.  The last part of the day I id’d a cut feature in the path which had been called a post hole.

I’m really proud to be able to work this pebbled path because it’s a really important part of the trench.

9 July

Friday I continued to clean away the surface.  We planned and photographed the area.  This included having to off sight plan by using a temporary bench mark.  We then used the tape measures to off sight the eastings and northings.

We did id a definite post hole on Friday and today I half-sectioned the post hole for sampling.  The post hole rests against one of the large curb stones and so the curb stone was probably used as a packing stone for the post.

While I was excavating the post hole my working partner half sectioned the path so that we could see the layers of stratigraphy.

After a bit time it became apparent we had entered a new layer as small pebble stones stopped and a layer of shell emerged followed back a layer of cobbles.  Next to the new layer of cobbles is what appears to be a sandstone area.

The curb stones on either side of the part are very deeply imbedded and will an absolute bitch to excavate out.

13 July

Monday, continued to work on pavement for half day and then moved to work on cleaning back trench edge on east side to reveal matching statifigaphy to missing plan.

Tuesday, worked finds.  I sorted between animal bone and human bone from old bone bags from the Bowl Hole.  Actually found a human finger mixed into the older bags.

Wednesday, worked on the cobbled path.  Removed layer of cobbles and sandstone to find that the cobbled path discovered last season underlays our area!  How big is this path?!  Also found another medieval hobnail!

Thursday, continued with cobbled path with planning and photography.

Today, last friday at the castle.  Very good season.  Today I was on Finds.  Worked through five bags of samples. I really enjoyed this season and as I weigh my options for next summer, I am really considering returning.

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Last week of excavation here and I'm sad.

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The excavation was really incredible and the site was in a beautiful location with the sea crashing up onto the nearby beach.  I am so glad that I was able to excavate here and again, I am so glad that I chose to study archaeology.  It gives me a chance to get out into the field but also stay in and work with records and books.  It’s an incredible feeling waking up each morning and entering a castle to work.  There were times when I was excavating the pebble path that I thought just how many feet had trodden over the surface and that I was now amongst them.  I guess it’s just like the pull of mountaineering.  To be able to go places and see things that few people will ever get to see.

On Saturday, a group of reenactors came to the castle to stage mock fights.  They pitched tents in the outerward by our excavation.  I shut my eyes and listened to the clanging of metal swords and spears as I worked.  For a brief minute, as I uncover the Anglo-Saxon world I got to be a small part of it and was re-learning what we once knew.

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whoa-o we’re halfway there

Hello friends!  It’s me.  Back in civilisation after a month of traveling around and living in the ~great outdoors~.  But just for a bit.

I’ve just finished week two (of five) of the Bamburgh Research Project.  I’m excavating at Bamburgh Castle aka the Anglo-Saxon capital of Northumbria.  There are three weeks left of the excavation but I caught a ride back up to Edinburgh to water my plants, do my laundry, and check up on things around here.

Just quickly because I’ll write a longer post at the end of the excavation, I’ve been working in the outer ward of the castle which was used as a manufacturing centre for the castle.  Think metal working, smithing, and animal production.  Past excavations have uncovered everything from patent welded swords to a metric fuckton of animal bone.  I’m staying in Belford with the rest of the excavation crew, in you guessed it, another tent!  And you guessed it, my back hates me.

We spend the first week cleaning out the trench and setting up for the season.  The second week, I excavated a corner of the trench which had evidence of burning aka fire cracked stones, charcoal, different colours of soils.  The rest of the week I helped to literally move a metric fuckton of soil to reopen another trench for re-evaluation.  I used some rope knowledge to hip belay buckets on buckets on buckets of backfill.

[Dad, I know you’re going to make some joke about me ‘actually doing manual labor’ in the comments.]

But it’s been fun.

I got all my marks back for the year and ended second year with a solid 2:1.  I’m now a Third Year!  Cries.  I’ve chosen my classes for next year.  It look like I’ll either have a course on the Crusades and Medieval Society or a course on Conflict Archaeology for first semester plus two required courses.  For second semester I have one required Archaeology course and then hopefully a course on the History of Tea (it sounded fun, okay?) or the Crusade class if I didn’t get it first semester and then another class in Forensics.

But anyway, that’s what’s up and why I’ve been more AWOL than usual.

things i should do

Hello friends and welcome to Limbo!

Since getting back on Sunday night this week has been a rather calm period again right before the storm that is going to be me in a tent for 35 nights crying over Anglo-Saxon archaeology in rainy/boggy Northumberland.  Picture a slightly more grotesque Gollum holding a trowel instead of The Ring and you should sort of get the idea.

This week I’ve spent it mostly inside because of the torrential downpour Edinburgh is currently facing.   We have gotten so much rain in the past week, Princes Street Gardens has basically become the Old North Loch again.  Now we just need a David Hume-like figure to fall in. (True story, David Hume fell in a bog right here in Edinburgh.)

However, on Monday I went to go see Wonder Woman.  Go.  See.  This.  Film.

I know I always gripe about DC and how their past films have been pretty shitty… but Wonder Woman is fantastic.  The acting is incredible and the story is spot on for today.  It has a great message at the end about doing the right thing and believing in hope even if everyone around you is being shitty.  It also does a great job at presenting both the female and male characters in the film.  This is a film that we’ve needed for a long time.

And, it’s directed by Patty Jenkins who is from Lawrence!  The playlist for today is just the Wonder Woman soundtrack because I’ve been listening to it on repeat.

I also finished playing Rise of the Tomb Raider the other night.  The final boss battle was frustrating af, but the overall game was great.

I’m doing some general tidying and then I’m packing for excavation.  This morning I used the egg coddler (a birthday gift from my mother) to make myself a plate of my favourite breakfast: eggs benedict.  I turned on some ~smooth~ jazz to drink my tea and write this post.  Look at me, #adult.

But today I have a list of errands to run so because since I find my days remotely interesting, I figured you would find them interesting as well.

I. I need to become a presentable human to the outside world and not forget to brush my hair.

II. Before I head out I need to put on a load of laundry or else face the wrath of the clothes monster growing faster than No Face from Spirited Away on my desk chair.

II. My disposable camera from the Road Trip has been developed so I need to run up to Princes Street to get the photos. Those (fingers crossed) will be uploaded to Facebook tonight.

III. I need to sort out the pillow situation for excavation or my neck will riot.   Thinking of getting a compressible camping pillow, so if anyone has any recommendations???

IV. My favourite body lotion, a combination of cocoa butter, oatmeal, and lavender is back at Lush…

V. The dishwasher is out of tablets and I am nearly out of milk… to the shop.

VI. Get a cup of coffee.  Or two.

In other exciting news, my writer’s block aka the constant nagging I’ve had for not publishing something again in the last six years has lapsed? Finally?  After basically abandoning a manuscript I’d worked on for years and was over 70k… I’ve just hit 30k on a new manuscript!!   I think the story works well and I’m hopeful that I can finish it.  Two words: Space Archaeologists.

But, that’s my afternoon.  It’s just starting to rain.

 

Poulton Excavation

Hello all!  Today marked the end of the Poulton Research Project, the two week excavation of a medieval graveyard south of Chester.  The site is located five miles south of Chester in the middle of an agricultural field.  For your reading enjoyment (and because I’ve already written it) here’s my field journal.

April 9. 3.56 pm 

Took the train down from Edinburgh this morning.  Had a stop over in Crewe to change trains.  Read Postcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher while on the train.

Arrived in Chester.  Will be taking part on the Poulton Research Project for 2 weeks.  Staying at a lovely flat on the River Dee.  Just staying by myself, I really am going to enjoy the next two weeks.  And!  The place that the Parliamentary forces broke through the city walls during the English Civil War and a Roman Amphitheater are just around the corner from where I am staying!  I will pass them each morning as I walk to the bus stop!  I am going out now to sort lunch and buy groceries for the 2 weeks.  Very excited to be on this excavation – medieval skeletons! Need to be on site for 9 am tomorrow and then 9.40 form there.  On site until 4.30 pm each day.

April 10. 5.52 pm

First day of excavation complete.  Caught bus to the Straight Mile this morning.  Met at the milking parlour for debrief.  The site is on a very old landscape with finds from every period from Neolithic to Medieval.  A large Iron Age settlement is suspected in the region.  We saw the finished Iron Age trench (to be filled in next week).  It had 9 roundhouses.  Massive round-houses built over a period of 200 years.  They suspect it was some sort of tribal capitol.  The land during the Medieval period (12c-ish) was owned by a the Cistercian monks who build a large Abbey in the area.  The Abbey has still yet to be found.  The monks kept people off of the land, un-intentionally preserving the archaeology.  After 70 years, the Abbey was abandoned and the land laid bare due to increasing pressure from the Welsh border.  There was a series of Welsh/English conflicts in the 14c/15c.  In the early 15c, a Chapel (where I am excavating) was built by the Manley family.  The last time the Chapel appears in records was during the English Civil War of the 1640s where the Chapel was used as a look-out for invading Parliamentary forces as Chester had backed the Royalists.

The Chapel itself is built on the ground of a Roman building (possibly a shrine to a water-goddess).  After Roman occupation there are Saxon furrow marks in the soil.  A early medieval chapel was built on the site before the larger later one built by Lord Manley.  This is evidenced by the buttress on the inside of the Chapel tower.  A buttress was a feature used on the outside of a building to support the wall.

I am excavating in the southern graveyard.  There are six of us working in the graveyard.  We have been allocated into groups of two.  My partner and I excavated through the demolition layer which included charnel bone, teeth, slate roof tiles, sandstone, and building mortar from the Chapel.  We should expect to find an articulated skeleton by day three or four.  The side of the trench has the ball of a femur exposed so either this is a loose burial or a disarticulated bone.  Additionally, a geological anomaly created soil that was less acidic and in turn preserved bone much better than most sites around Britain.

The site is in a really amazing landscape with large potential as not many excavation have been undertaken in the area due to the boulder clay soil/idea that nothing was there.

April 11. 6.17 pm

Long day!  On site for 9.40 am.  Continued to take down demolition layer.  Still no sign of burial after a few false leads.  The femur head was just that.  I found a few other bits of bone but no stratified burial yet.  My partner discovered a bit of skull just before the end of the day.  Have been excavating quickly now to get down to lower levels but unsure.  We have however uncovered a piece of 10c Chester ware which backs up the Saxon connections to the site!

The site directors are very nice and I am learning a lot from them.  My knees are sore from today I stopped at Lush for some bath bombs and will take a nice soak after making dinner… I’m thinking salmon and veg.

April 12. 6.52 pm

We have a burial?  Or two?  Articulated vertebrae and ribs were found today!  The cranium found yesterday was actually a second cranium directly on top of our burial.  We have excavated down and are currently working to recover the rest of the burial by removing the deposition layer.

We have been assigned a context number for our burial now.  Context is an archaeology word for a ‘human action in time.’ A burial consists of 3 actions: grave digging, placement of the body, and backfill.  Our feature has three context numbers.

However, our feature has been a little strange.  It also has a spare C2 vertebrae and Maxilla (upper jaw).  Is there a second burial below?  Will be interesting to see if the burial is indeed a burial/double burial/ or a charnel pit.  Many questions.  The cranium is facing east, so that is a good sign pointing to an articulated Medieval Christian burial.

April 14. 7.34 am

Forgot to write yesterday.  Went out for drinks and a tour of Chester!  The city is super cool and was founded by the Romans as a fortress, you can still see the Roman grid system in the roads.  We met at a pub which was actually located in the old city crypts built in the 11c!

Anyway, excavation went well yesterday.  Our burial is very young, probably at least three but no more than four.  I exposed the vertebrae and we have recovered the right femur.  Still no sign of the right side which is a bit strange.  Haven’t been able to figure out how the second cranium fits in either because it is too close to the first and one would expect another stratified burial?

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©♓️📧⚡️🌱📧®

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April 15. 10.14 am

Just seated for breakfast on my day off.  Yesterday was a quick day on the site.  First, we gave short presentations about our burials and excavations thus far.  We have continued to clean down our burial.

Our skeleton is very young – probably three but no more than four years old.  There are two extra craniums alongside the burial.  I excavated the right side to reveal that the right arm (and so the left) have been crossed over the body.  However because the burial is so young, small, and fragile we have little hope of recovering finger and hand bones.  Likewise, while we have cleaned the ribs and second cranium (to be removed Monday as it shows no sign of stratification).  We have avoided cleaning the sacrum because a phD student from Durham is doing a study about parasites found in child burials.  Okay breakfast has arrived… will continue later.

Overall, the excavation is run very well and I believe I have truly learned much over the past week.

On Monday, we will be having an osteology course in the milking parlour at 10 am.  on Tuesday afternoon, we are getting to learn about medieval archery!  I have not expressed my massive interest in archery just yet – I fear it may make me look like a bigger geek that I already am!  Today I have the day off and will be exploring Chester for a good coffee house – somewhere to revise.

April 18. 8.24 am

Busy weekend off.  Glorious weather and exploring Chester.  On Saturday, I went to the the Grosvenor Museum and saw some of the material from Chester’s Roman fort.  Next to the Cathedral, the oldest part was built in the 11c!  On Sunday, I ate breakfast, went to the Jaunty Goat for revision and coffee and then took the bus out to see the Duke of Westminster’s Estate.  He had opened the gardens for the day to allow the plebeian riff-raff like myself a chance to see them.  The driveway was long (2 miles!) and no one stopped offer me a lift so I walked.

Monday was back on site but it was raining so we stayed inside to wash finds.  We had an osteology unit.  It was very cool and we got a chance to look at two different skeletons from the site.  I clearly had not gotten a first in osteology for no reason and I was able to successfully age and determine the sex of both skeletons!

It always amazes me what you can tell from a set of remains – nearly everything about a person… but really nothing about who they were…

10.18 pm

Cleaned up after muddy day on site and ready to sleep.  Today was a typical day will be photographing skeleton tomorrow morning.  Lifted 2nd cranium today but third (the one bisecting the right femur) is still a mystery.

Other groups: one intact standard burial near complete.  Another group started as a charnel pit(?) but turned into a child burial with potential of being a double inhumation!  However, while clearing, a cranium was found inside of a left pelvis!  Our supervisor was concerned that they had uncovered a baby in utero alongside the mother!  Thankfully, it turned out just to be two more charnel bones.  Whew.

Our skeleton is just as interesting however in its relation to cranium 3.  As it bisects the right femur, the only was it could have would be if it was placed in first there is a significant grave cut which truncates the child’s burial past mid-femur so there is a high probability that there is a second grave directly below ours. A mandible located close to the cranium 3 could belong to it… but no way to know.  Additionally massive amounts of post-mortem damage has affected our skeleton including bioturbation from the nearby hedge line and compression from years of walking over which has actually smashed the skull inward.

Additionally, an archery teacher came today to talk to us about the English longbowman because the site being on the Welsh border was an important one during the Border Wars of the late 13c!  The ones that Henry V was involved in during the reigns of Richard II and Henry IV.   They have actually found a burial on site which had a large bodkin inside of the sternum!

We got a chance to shoot the bow and although I hadn’t shot a bow in nearly a year… I guess it’s like riding a bike.  The archery teacher even complimented my technique.  Side tangent: I taught myself how to accurately shoot a traditional longbow and crossbow while researching a paper on the English longbowman during school to gain a better understanding of the medieval sources.

April 20. 8.25 am

Good day yesterday.  Photographed and took levels and measurements for the burial.  Used the dumpy level and took eastings and northings using the grid system.  Filled out context sheets and skeleton forms.  Now lifting the burial and should be complete by tomorrow!

8.34 pm 

Today I lifted the cranium of a small child.  Who ever they were, I would like to hope to think they were buried with love and care as they were wrapped in a shroud and lowered into the earth over 600 years ago.

We finalised our burial today, filled out more forms, will plan the cut of the grave tomorrow. I have truly enjoyed this excavation and it has given me huge insights into medieval osteoarchaeology!  The teaching has been very professional and well explained.  And the constant supply of coffee and biscuits is always a plus.  I have learned a lot and have been very inspired to continue my study of osteology.

This excavation has really given me more reason to further my study.  Excavating a skeleton has given a sense of gravitas to what I study.  As I lifted the cranium from the ground, I thought of the people who placed the body of the child into the ground.  I know we will never know for sure, but I would like to think that this child’s parents loved them as much as my own parents love me.  I am thankful to have been able to excavate them a get a glimpse of who they were.  This adds in a better understanding of who we are, where we come from, and where we are going.

However, I know that we cannot lose sight of the humanity of the field.  We have been given a unique chance to know our ancestors on an intimate level and I feel I have a better understanding of what sort of relationship that needs to be.  The site was very clear about respect for remains on day one.  For instance we are not to name the skeletons or take photos to be posted online (which is why there are not many photos in this post).  We always have to remember that these were once people who already had a name and a life.  We will never know their true name and so will only assign a number.

It’s a funny thing really.  We know nearly everything about a person by studying their remains, their age, sex, height, pathology, healed injuries, even DNA can give us eye color, hair color, facial features… we can recreate their faces and see the past with our own eyes.  But, who were they?  What was their favourite color, food, animal?  Who was their best friend?  How did they spend their days?  That’s the rub. We know everything and nothing about them.  It’s exceedingly frustrating but rewarding all the same.

I shook when I raised the cranium, but I knew that I had to be steady.  This child deserves to have their life retold and studied, but also respected.  Science has a no many ways of helping us to know that past – without studying human remains our history will become lost to us for a brief moment the people of the past have a chance to be relevant again.  However, we must always remember with what and with whom we deal.

April 21. 5.53 pm

Today was the last day of excavation.  We planned the grave cut and took levels and then spent the rest of the afternoon finds washing.  We cleaned a lot of the extra human remains that came from the fill of our grave including the second cranium and multiple extra mandibles.  I had a strange experience when I realised that I was brushing a medieval person’s teeth with a modern toothbrush but other than that it was a solid day in the field.

I’m a little sad to be finishing as I really enjoyed going out each day and working.  Field archaeology is probably my favourite aspect of my degree.  Sure it’s fun to sit around and read articles and debate theory but I always love a chance to lay on the ground in some contortionist position with my head stuck in the trench, dentist pick in one hand, and brush in the other.  Someone has to do the dirty work to collect the data sets for the academics!

I feel like you also get a closer connection to understanding the past as you truly get to experience the environment from which the artifacts come.

Anyway, I’m back to Edinburgh on Sunday and then my mom is actually coming to visit for the week because my birthday is on Friday and she’s that sort of mom.

It’s been grand.  Props to you for reading all of this.

 

 

 

semester 2 done, off on excavation…

Enjoy some folk jams as you read.  As of yesterday I am officially done with my lectures for the semester!  As of this afternoon, I am done with all my assignments!  I just submitted my last essay about Goat domestication in the Neolithic for Archaeology.

This week has been pretty decent.  On Wednesday I explored a bit around Edinburgh and found a really cool antique shop up in New Town.  It had a collection of stuff stored everywhere.  I ended up with a brass-ship bell with the handle shaped like Bamburgh Castle… much to the approval of my flatmates.  I also had a chat with the guy running the shop about a bunch of 16c cannonballs they just acquired.  I always went antiquing with my parents and being a human with a general interest in old shit I do really like finding antique shops with tons of stuff just everywhere.

Last night was the last EUMC social of the year: the Adventure Race.  It’s a race around Edinburgh with stops and challenges along the way.  The route this year ran from GBH (near Old College) up Calton Hill for drinking and marshmallow eating, then to St. Anthony’s Chapel (the 15c ruins in Holyrood Park) for swimming and more drinking, up to the summit of Arthur’s Seat for more drinking, then down Arthur’s Seat to the Meadows for drinking while slacklining, and finally finishing back at GBH.  Erling and I ran the race again this year… and we took third again.  At least you can say that we are consistent.  The last part of the race had us running through George Square.  I played ‘Eye of the Tiger’ aloud on my phone to the enjoyment(?) of everyone emerging from the library late on a Thursday night.

But, I am done for the semester… until exams.

This semester has gone really well.  I didn’t have as many written assignments as last semester so that was sort of refreshing.  Archaeology diversified a lot and I got a chance to work in the computer labs to create digital posters, charts, and site plans for assessment versus just writing another essay.

I am really pleased with my selection of courses and while I’m stressed for the exam (like always) I feel like I know the material and know what I need to revise.  My exams this year are on May 15 (Archaeology), 18 (Medieval Europe), and 23 (Roman World).  After my last lecture it’s off on the EUMC road-trip for climbing and camping wherever it is sunny.

On Sunday, I’m headed down to Chester to take part on the first of three excavations this summer!  I am so excited for this excavation as I will be excavating a medieval cemetery!  I’m also excited to be getting out for some fieldwork again… call it being from Kansas.  I’m currently doing a load of laundry of clothes that I will need for the excavation and then I’ll finish up packing tomorrow.  I’m also taking some books for revision and my laptop so I can work on the weekends as the excavation runs 9.40-4.30 Monday to Friday.

I’ll be posting updates about the excavation here on the blog, if you want to hear about the new old thing I’m currently crying over.

 

And The Summer Excavation Is…

Drum roll please….

Schela Cladovei in Romania! 

I know, what you’re thinking, ‘Romania!?!’ And yes, it’s definitely outside of my wheelhouse, but this is the perfect opportunity for me to go out and try something completely new (and fulfill my dreams of becoming Lara Croft sshhh archaeologists can still be cool).

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Here’s the excerpt from the Uni about the site:

Set in one of the most remarkable archaeological landscapes in southeastern Europe, the Iron Gates, the site of Schela Cladovei, which was occupied in turn by the last hunter-gatherers and first farmers of the region, is arguably the most important Mesolithic Neolithic settlement to survive flooding of the Danube Valley following the construction of two massive hydroelectric dams.

The site will work with Neolithic Skeletal remains and I will receive training in Osteo-Archaeology!  This is an invaluable skill in archaeology, especially if I want to work on medieval sites in the future that nearly always have graveyards around them (those darn anglo-saxons and their inhumations!)

I’ll be on site for three weeks from the end of May to the middle of June.  I will finish up my last exam in May and then hop a plane to Romania!  I am so excited for this opportunity!  It will be brand new part of the world that I have never seen before and I cannot wait to be on site.  Being abroad has really taught me the value of a bigger world view.  I have come into contact with people and ideas from all over the world and I think in this new globalised world we need more people who understand more cultures than just their own.

(Side tangent: conflict always stems from a lack of understanding…)

Yes, archaeology is the study of material culture from the past, but underlying all of that is the question of explaining our present.  We cannot even attempt to understand the present without understanding our past and arguably vice versa.

So anyway, the excavation has been ongoing since 1965 by Edinburgh University and still is lead by a professor here at the University so I will receive training and work alongside the faculty from here in Edinburgh.  We will be staying in a house very close to the site and will have the opportunity to not only attend on-site lectures but get out and travel to other archaeological sites in Romania, Serbia, and Bulgaria.

We might even see some vampires. (Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Dracula was from Transylvania a region in Romania.)

I looked around a lot for excavations and while I found some really interesting ones in Northern Scotland (there was one excavating medieval turf houses near Aberdeen) they were not long enough to fulfil my First Year 3 week requirement (bummer).  But, I am still in contact with those site coordinators, so maybe in the passing years I will be up there.

But, for the summer I will be in Romania!  And I cannot be more excited for it!

This brings me to my second point.

(WARNING I AM REALLY NOT TRYING TO SOUND LIKE A PRETENTIOUS TWAT)

I honestly can’t believe how amazing my life is at the moment.  I’ll only be 19 in April but I am already living in a foreign country attending a world class university.  I have friends from all over the world.  I have seen hundreds of years of history just on my walk to class this morning.

If someone would have told me my freshman year of high school that I would be sitting in a coffee shop overlooking the Royal Mile writing about how I will be attending an archaeological excavation in Romania I probably would not have believed them.

I guess it’s just a testament to hard work paying off.  And maybe a little bit of luck, if you believe that luck is being prepared to seize the opportunity when it comes and not letting it pass you by.

Some F. Scott Fitzgerald for you, ‘Our lives are shaped by opportunities, even the ones we miss.’

Which, I know I am in no place to talk much (still a first year, guys!). I guess I have some credibility to talk to those people still in high school reading this… it’s so worth it.  Write every essay like it’s the most important paper in your life.  Read everything you are given.  Don’t stop trying to push yourself because it pays off.  Talk with your teachers, they are there to help you. (Bless my high school teachers for putting up with my shitty antics.)

Don’t be afraid to pursue a crazy dream.

Because, every last second pays off.

Just go for it.  There’s this quote from Amelia Earhart, ‘the best way to do it is to do it.’  I think it’s great.  So many people just talk about what they want in life and never go out and actually do it.  As Yoda says, ‘do or do not, there is no try.’

It might not be the cool thing, a lot of people are too caught up in trying to be popular and forgot to first like who they are themselves.  You’ll be ostracized.  You’ll be called a ‘teacher’s pet’ or a ‘know it all.’ But, that’s fine.  Embrace it.  You’re in school to learn so that one day you can be the smartest and happiest human you can be.  High school is full of groupthink.  And that’s perfectly okay, some people feel more comfortable in a group.  Some people like having others around them that are exactly the same.  I just know that I never did.

Every person to their own, just do what makes you happy.

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is just go out there and carpe the f*ck out of that diem. And the diem after that… and after that… you know, honestly just go carpe vitam.

Go learn as much, experience as much as you can.  But, don’t rely on others to get you there.  Ask for help, learn from your peers, but make sure that you are carving your own way yourself.  And remember not to live too much in the past, I know as a historian that’s a hard statement for me to say, but seriously yesterday is gone.  Move on.  Keeping climbing upward and reaching out for stuff and eventually it will all come together.  I remember this summer when I first arrived in Edinburgh I knew that everything had been worth it.

I’m here now, but that doesn’t mean the hard work is over.  If anything the prep is over and the hard work has just begun.

Okay, time to buy a trowel and work on my Romanian.