Corn height: towering ominously over our excavations
It has been another fantastic week on site. The weather held out for us for the most part, although I feel it’s only delayed the inevitable. As I write this, the remains of Bertha have arrived and I’m about to go hunting for my wellies.
Following our very rainy Friday in week six, we had a lot of work waiting for us on Monday morning. Thankfully all of the students, returning and new, were keen and we were able to finish everything up by Tuesday morning.
While we always try to finish on-going tasks before the weekend, it’s not always such a bad thing when it carries over, as it means the students this week got to work on a few different things. We spent the beginning of the week finishing recording and then lifting individuals in both the north and south part of the cemetery – and finishing up the recording and lifting of a charnel deposit in the south part of the cemetery too.
Once this was completed we moved on to excavating a few severely truncated individuals in addition to the most complete articulated individual we’ve seen this summer. The different tasks needing attention on site also meant that students got to mix-up their groups a little bit mid-week, which is always interesting!
The truncated individuals excavated this week included an upper left limb of one individual, the lower limbs of another individual, and a few truncated remains of others within multiple over-lapping cutes including two sets of lower limbs, an upper right limb, and a disarticulated cranium. It took a little while to suss out the exact relationships between them all, as well as the phasing (which order the individuals were buried and subsequently truncated in) but careful excavation (and patience) from the students really helped to give us the information we needed to make our conclusions and interpretations.
The articulated individual excavated was very interesting – not only for the fact that they are the most complete individual we’ve encountered this summer – but also because they had a clearly identifiable grave cut. This means that the students were able to distinguish, using soil colours and textures, the original shape of the hole dug into the ground into which the individual was placed during their burial. Because of the amount of over-lapping and inter-cutting at Poulton, grave cuts are often not identifiable, so it was a wonderful opportunity for the students to excavate such a feature.
In addition to all of the excavating and recording and lifting this week, we also accomplished a lot of washing. We had a few showery afternoons and as I keep saying, all of the remains and finds must be processed! I actually think this aspect of the field school is really great, as it allows the students to examine the various bones and artefacts they have encountered a little more closely. You can also see more aspects and details once they’ve be cleaned of all of the soil – including quite a few interesting tool and teeth marks on some of the charnel that was excavated.
Finally, we had a great session in the ‘Bone Cabin’ this week, where the students go over post-excavation analysis of human remains. The new students were really determined to get right into the detail of everything and did a fantastic job at laying out the skeleton from the teaching collection, as well as helping to assess it for age, sex, stature, and pathologies. They also asked a lot of really pertinent questions about skeletal anatomy, archaeological theory and methods, and funerary practices in the medieval period. This is definitely one of my favourite aspects of the field school (I think I’ve said that about just about every part of the field school at this point, but I really do mean it).
This week, the students had a few things to say to people who are arriving for the last few weeks of excavation on the field school. First and foremost was be prepared for the weather – all eventualities. Some students were saying bring sunscreen, while others were saying bring waterproofs. I suggest bringing it all.
The other (really important) they wanted to let everyone know, was that you will get more and more into the excavations as the week goes on. It was really clear this week that people’s enthusiasm and interest in the work on site (not just the cemetery trench) developed the more time they spent in the field. So whether you arrive already skipping with excitement or with a few trepidations, just give yourself a few hours or a few days to settle into the routines and absorb all of the information. I have been really pleased that students have signed on for extra weeks – or have come back to visit the site later in the summer, after finishing up their time at the field school.
To see the connections being made and the context being considered, well, there isn’t much better than that, is there?