Changing jobs in April.

As I am once again on the move. I do change my job like I change the sheets. It has come to my attention that whenever I change my job at this time of year there seems to be a ridiculous influx of offers.

Now I could be incredibly unrealistic and say it’s all thanks to my ability to do my job, but lets be pragmatic here. April is the start of the financial year. Everyone suddenly has an increased workload, just watch BAJR for those adverts flying up all over the place, everyone suddenly needs copious amounts of staff.

So my advice to those would be archaeologists, or would be ‘stepper-uppers’: Apply for everything, even those jobs you wouldn’t necessarily think you have a shot at, from the end of February onwards. Companies desperately need people. If you think you can do the job but just want a bit more training on something, then tell them that.

Offers come pouring in and options are an archaeologists best friend.

 

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I visited Must Farm!

Luckily for me I was invited to go along to a little friends and family open day at  ‘Britain’s Pompeii’ (Daily Mail, 2015).

Back when a pipeline was being put in place and fragments of wood were pulled up in the foot wide trench, it was recognised to be something of interest, a note was made, should the quarry ever decide to extend, and in 2006 when a quarry expansion was planned the true identity and significance of Must Farm was revealed. Trail trenches were excavated and a plethora of late Bronze Age artefacts were retrieved, leading to the open area excavation currently taking place.

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Gone is the outstanding view of the Whittlesey McCain chip factory, a warehouse has been erected, water sprayers and scaffolding are at the ready. The site, being done by CUA, has been running since July 2015 and they’re now in the fight for more time (hence all of the outreach and open days to spread the word of site significance).

Three roundhouses (in blue), a palisade (in red) and a causeway (in green) have been revealed. The largest of the houses being almost 16m in diam. The three houses seem to be contemporary, or at least burnt down at the same time along with the palisade, but the causeway being around 100 years earlier.

The site is dated from 1300-1200BCE. All manner of specialists have been out to have a looksee, including, of course, those Flag Fen folks. Next week they have a shiny person going out to analyse and conclude whether the houses burnt down by accident or by arson. As of yet they’re keeping all of the specialist comments under wraps but a couple tid bits of gossip made it out. The content of the pots discovers in 2006 revealed food remains, a bizarre concoction of nettles and grains, I decided on a form of nettle bread and my housemates parents on nettle porridge; a well preserved box was lifted a couple of weeks ago and the skull of a child (no other bones) has been found under what appears to be the remains of the outer wall of the largest roundhouse.

The site looks good in the photos which have been spread across newspaper headlines and the bbc, but it can’t really compare to the reality. Stumbling across this open expanse of wood and you would think it freshly hewn and put together, bizarre levels of preservation! But here are a few of the best bits:

 

The largest of the roundhouses. (Note the half closest to the camera has started having its burnt down roof removed.) The palisade enclosing all 3 roundhouses, you’ll have to forgive the oblique section shot, but you can see the depth of the posts, they conducted a test and when the clay is wet the posts can be driven directly in without the need of cutting a posthole first, remains of the wattle and daub walls, having fallen inwards, every part of the house has collapsed in on itself, suggesting the fire started from within and the roof joinings, the one piece of wood has had a rectangular hole cut through its centre and a second piece of wood pushed through, the construction techniques show true wood working mastery.

It’s not all glamour and treasure.

Well since the end of my amaza-site, I have had nothing but blank eval trenches. How the ups come down.

Over the last two and a half weeks I have completed 3 jobs and spent a lot of time in the office writing those reports. In fact it’s probably taken me longer to write the reports up than it took to complete the dig.

First job, got sent to the city of broken dreams (we all have that one place we vowed never to set foot in again. I got sent back to mine)… I went down to take over a colleagues site, he was moving house and needed to not ‘be away’

I arrived and 5/12 trenches had been completed, 4 more were blank and 3 were left to finish, a couple of days down in that pit of a city and the deed was done. Get back up to the office with a couple of days left to spare in the week and I had to stay in doors. Sad times.

Second job, get sent to the city of broken dreams again! Turns out these two eval jobs came as a sort of joint package because they want to build two schools next to each other. Off I go with two other people to do 250m of trenching.

Bish bash bosh, 2 fulls days and then a couple of hours on the third and we’re off again, out of 5 trenches I had two with archaeology in. What’s going on!? I get back to the office with days of the week to spare yet again and I have to be in doors.

This morning I head off for another away job, this time in the beautiful little town of Wall. I was meant to be there for two days. 4 hours on site, 3 test pits and a lot of phone calls later, jobs done, recorded, kit back in the van and back home for 4:30. Now got to spend the rest of the week in the office. Still writing reports.

The fickle life of an archaeologist.

From an amazing site and spending all my days out doors. To the odd days here and there out on site with blank trenches and becoming a computer jockey.

On the upside, come October 12th I’m going back to my amaza-site to complete phase 2. Bring back the barrows and Saxons.

Barrows and Saxons

I have just finished what will probably remain the most interesting site of my career. It has been intense and incredible.

This site started out as a tad headache, initially having to machine it in two phases because the evaluation trenching identified two archaeological horizons. So a couple of months ago I conducted an excavation of the ‘higher’ or shall I say latest archaeological features, to do this I had to spend 9 days in front of a machine while a tiny field was stripped of its topsoil. A lot of spoil was created for not much reward, I had a dry stone wall, a minor earth work and the remnants of a ditch. All of which could not be more than 200 years old.

So from that initial survey I held out little hope for the second phase. BUT me of little faith!…. Turns out in that second horizon of archaeological features there was a total platter of amazing stuff.

Firstly there were some big neolithic pits and a few meandering ditches.

Then came an early Bronze Age barrow – containing this beauty:

20150812_121136 a lovely collared urn

Into that narrow some Anglo-Saxons dug some graves and deposited some fabulous treasures.

20150813_08410120150826_132146 some brooches and some beads

And although the preservation of the human remains was pretty poor, there were some little pockets within the sand (stuff must have miraculously created its own micro-climate and managed to outlast 1400 years) where true treasures lay.

Below are pictures of some weave, believed to belong to a purse and something wooden, having collapsed and sealed its copper alloy grave goods. This is the true mystery, is it a box? is it a ladle? only time (and conservators) shall tell.

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Digitally my site resulted in this:

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Total geek.

In my first year of university I completed a module called Britain BC, of course I searched this in amazon for relevant literature and I found a book called Britain BC.

It is authored by a man named Francis Pryor. I found it accessible, sassy and above all interesting. What can be better than archaeology interwoven with anecdotes?

Well last night I met Francis Pryor. Some of you may have read his books, some of you may have watched him on TV. He is a thoroughly nice chap.

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Old dogs & New tricks.

One of the best parts of my job is working with people who are genuinely interested in archaeology.

When a community archaeology project arrives I absolutely jump at the chance, this is why I am currently taking holiday from work to help on Operation Nightingale.

Here are a few photos of my old dogs learning new tricks and they’re loving it!

One of veterans Steve being left to the planning after having to endure a good hours lesson from myself about planning on an excavation. How we do it and why we do it. After that lesson I left him to it to complete 1m square worth and went back to check his drawing afterwards, needless to say, he’d done a stirling job!

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In this photo you can see experienced commercial archaeologist Nick Garry showing some of the veterans different types of finds/artefacts. Predominantly Roman goods, so that they could get a feel for the type of finds which they themselves could expect to find in their trench. You can also see a man in a hat (Dr. Will Rathouse) displaying his collection of replica pre-Roman jewellery, which he had very cleverly made himself! (Even managed to sell a couple of pieces on the project)

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Now knowledge doesn’t all pass one way, our veterans are certainly teaching us a thing or two as well. Here’s Steve again but this time as the instructor on how to properly throw a grenade (in exaggerated movements).

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And this photo is our Fred, telling the boys a few life lessons.

A lot of the time on site is spent exchanging stories of our lives. The best part about this project really!

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Operation Nightingale.

Two weeks ago I began on a project called Operation Nightingale.

This is the short description of the project from their website:

“Operation Nightingale is an initiative to help rehabilitate injured soldiers recently returned from Afghanistan by getting them involved in archaeological investigations.

Operation Nightingale was developed to utilise both the technical and social aspects of field archaeology to help in the recovery and skill development of soldiers injured in the conflict in Afghanistan. There is a close correlation between the skills required by the modern soldier and those of the professional archaeologist. These skills include surveying, geophysics (for ordnance recovery or revealing cultural heritage sites), scrutiny of the ground (for improvised explosive devices or artefacts), site and team management, mapping, navigation and the physical ability to cope with hard manual work in often inclement weather conditions.”

So far it has been an eye opening project, at times inspirational, at times difficult, but never boring nor unworthy.

A couple of shots of the team including our two veterans Fred & Steve, taking shelter in a 9×9 army tent, out of the rain and chewing the fat over a good brew.

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Working hard to clean off the Barrow in Trench 2, through the wind and rain and by jove was it worth it!

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And as with every archaeological project it cannot be all work and no play, so on the first Wednesday night of the project the Major (the important looking chap in regalia + medals) organised a formal dinner for us all in the Officers Mess and what a night it was!

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We’ve also had a few day trips out, including a visit to the Colsterdale WW1 training camp which is currently being surveyed and excavated by York University.

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Here is a shot of trenches dug by the Leeds Pals soldiers in training. We ate ration packs and surveyed in the trenches old school style, with taps and no GPS!

A day out to Locomotion: The National Rail Museum in Shildon, where visitors could ride on the mini train and play in the sandpit… of course we did!

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And this was finished off with a trip to and a tour around Binchester. The student excavations by Durham University have just finished their 7th and final season on the site.

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