Field Notes: Week One

Corn height: tibia mid-diaphysis (shin high)

It has been a fantastic first week at the Poulton Research Project field school. We’ve had a lucky number thirteen students on site – eight working in Trench I (the cemetery) with Mike and I – and five working in Trench L (the roundhouse) with Kevin.

While the students have had to hit the ground running (or rather, digging) it’s also been a busy week for me as I got to grips with the recording systems used here on site. I reckon that I’ve got them sussed though!

This week in the cemetery we had the students split up into three groups. Group A (if you will) was made up of four students who were set away excavating through the surface layer towards an identified grave cut in the southern part of the cemetery. However, within a short while they began to encounter what at first seemed to be a lot of disarticulated bone (which isn’t unusual on this site). But, on further excavation it exposed a shallow juvenile burial. This group spent the week working on this particular individual.

The second group, Group B, was a group of two students who were set away excavating an identified truncated burial also in the southern cemetery. It was an adult individual and comprised mostly the upper left portion of the skeleton, although they did encounter some disarticulated material within the same grave cut. They spent the week working on both this individual, and as it didn’t take as long to excavate, record, lift, and clean – they also spent some time in one of the Roman ditches in the northern part of the cemetery.

GraveCutRecording1

Recording the grave cut

Also in the northern part of the cemetery, the third group – Group C – a group of two students, were busy excavating another juvenile burial that had been identified. Initially we thought it would be badly truncated – like the adult burial being worked on by Group B – but it ended up being almost entirely complete. Because of the alignment of this burial, the students working on it had to spend a bit of time taking down a baulk at the edge of their grave cut that was over-lapping the lower limbs of the individual. It had some very interesting post-medieval truncation as well –

a great big stone right at the end of the feet!

All of the groups of students picked up the excavation techniques really quickly and their progress was impressive as they maintained a high standard of excavation throughout. Once the individuals had been fully exposed through careful excavation, the students were all taught how to record the skeleton using context sheets – and also how to record the grave fill (and the important difference between the various types of contexts on an archaeological site). This involved not only putting to practice their knowledge (or our explanations) of stratigraphy, but also other important aspects of (funerary) archaeology. Oh – and you mustn’t forget the lessons on how to use the dumpy level. Everyone learned that it has to be set up to the shortest person in the group, which conveniently is always me!

 

BoneWashing1

If you dig it – you wash it !

After this, the skeletons were then lifted from their grave cuts – some easier than others – and were bagged up in trays ready to be cleaned. All of the soil from the graves was carefully sifted so as not to miss any small skeletal elements – especially important when excavating juveniles. The washing of the skeletal material was very delicate work for some groups, as their individuals were very small and was not as well preserved as others. Once this work had been done, the groups set about recording their grave cuts and then were also taught how to map these onto the site the plan. In time everything excavated this summer will be added to the master plan and lists – expanding the database of information gained from Poulton.

In addition to this, on Tuesday afternoon the students had a visit from Bernard Dennis, a local archer who taught them all about archery during the medieval period (which is especially interesting, given the arrowheads found at Poulton) – and then, everyone got a go at shooting a longbow! There were definitely some naturals in the crowd.

Finally, owing to some superb weather forecasting, we spent the last part of this afternoon in the ‘Bone Cabin’ going over the basics of post-excavation methods together and then the students also got a chance to look at some of the other material from the site, including examples of different pathologies.

All in all, it has been a wonderful first week on site with the students and I’m already looking forward to Monday. There are a fair few students from this week who are staying on, but we’ll also be welcoming a new bunch of smiling faces first thing Monday morning, which will be great.

Before I wrap up this (rather longer than expected) update, some of the students who spent their last day at Poulton today have put together their ‘Top 10 Tips’ for anyone who is arriving next week or later this summer.

Tips for coming to Poulton from Week One’s Students:

  1. Bring sunscreen and remember to apply it regularly!
  2. Bring a hat and sunglasses (the hat is also useful for when it rains).
  3. Don’t forget to drink plenty of fluids.
  4. A pair of overalls (painters or a boiler suit) will keep you cleaner and warmer – or more protected from the sun.
  5. Wear comfortable shoes as you’ve got a little way to walk, but you may also have to position yourself into some awkward positions depending on your dig site!
  6. Bring a waterproof, it will likely rain.
  7. Whenever Kevin talks to you be prepared for some excellent/terrible ‘Dad Jokes’ depending on your sense of humour.
  8. Don’t forget to clean your mug after using it!
  9. The biscuits are hidden where you wouldn’t expect (head for the water heater at the back of the tent).
  10. Have a big breakfast before you come – lunch is at 12:45.

ENJOY! We’ve had a great time.

Well, I can’t really say anything better than that (except that I think number 7 is especially key) and so I’ll leave anything else until next week’s update!

Alison