Field Notes: Week Six
Corn height: over the saggital suture of cranium (over my head)
Well, it’s goodbye to July and hello to August. We’re officially past our halfway point, with six weeks gone and four weeks left of the field school at Poulton – although things certainly aren’t slowing down.
This past week kept us on our toes with a lot of interesting features and individuals turning up in the excavations of Trench I. The atmosphere on site was great, with lots of students – both returning and new, in Trench I and with Kevin in Trench L, plus all of the volunteers who came out too. I was particularly pleased to have so many GCSE and A-Level students out for the week. It is never too early to pursue an interest in archaeology – and getting experience in the field is invaluable!
In the north part of the cemetery we had a group of students working away through the grave fill that was below the backfill we took out last week. They were working towards excavating a sub-adult individual that had been exposed in the side wall of a grave cut in the weeks earlier. Once they were down to the level where the bones were being uncovered though, it became apparent that there was a second individual in the grave cut, also a sub-adult around the same age.
After careful excavation and cleaning, the students exposed this double burial and got busy recording. These particular individuals were selected for extra sampling by a PhD student who is researching various aspects of the cemetery site – this included them coming out to site for a day to take soil samples and photograph the burial in order to investigate differing rates of preservation at Poulton. Once this was completed, the students were ready to lift the individuals.
In the south part of the cemetery we had students excavating a section, which is a little unusual for a cemetery. You know when you see photos of archaeological sites or maybe on the telly programmes, where the areas they are digging have lovely straight edges and are nice perfect squares or rectangles? Well, normally it’s very difficult to do this in a cemetery, because individuals aren’t buried in perfectly aligned and measured out areas – they also overlap and intercut with each other. However, in the side wall of a grave cut I’d identified a large deposit of charnel (this is disarticulated or loose bones) and I wanted us to be able to record it. Therefore I set up a section by running some strings for students to follow and they began excavating down to expose the skeletal material, so we could get a sense of the concentration of bone in this area. Charnel is a really interesting aspect of medieval funerary archaeology, so I was keen to find out more.
Poulton, being Poulton though, meant that this didn’t last for long. The students came across another truncated sub-adult individual (complete except for the lower legs) within the charnel, so the section had to be extended so that we could include this individual. For the rest of the week the students worked in two teams here – to excavate the charnel in section and the individual in situ (or in plan).
Our luck finally ran out though. The beautiful weather we’ve been having all summer decided to have a bit of a holiday. The forecast kept pushing it back in our favour but finally, on Friday, the rain arrived. Now, if it’s just drizzling lightly, we can still work outside. If it’s raining a bit heavier, we can get out some tents to shelter under when we’re digging. However, if it’s POURING, like it was on parts of Friday it quickly becomes unsafe in the trenches, because of the clay. It first becomes slippery, then it becomes sticky, and finally it begins to release the Creatures from the Black Lagoon.
Now this week, in addition to all of the regular every day field school tasks, I also had the pleasure of taking part in a site tour at Poulton on Tuesday evening. We hosted a fantastic group of students and staff from the Penycloddiau dig just over the border in Wales. It was a wonderful opportunity to share all of the hard work our students have done so far this summer with other archaeologists in area. If you’re interested in archaeology (and you must be, since you’re reading these updates), why not research the on-going excavations in your local area and see if they offer tours (like Poulton) or open days (like Penycloddiau) and get out to see them?