Field Notes – Week Four
Corn height: caput femoris (head of the femur)*
Welcome back to my regular weekly updates. I hope everyone enjoyed the special Day of Archaeology post from last week!
Week four on site has been a little bit different for me. Trench I, the cemetery, has been a bit quieter as all of the new recruits are over with Kevin in Trench L for the week. This means that I had just a few students who were staying on from the previous weeks. However, given the tasks we had to complete in week four, it actually worked in our favour.
To start the week, as a small group we finished lifting the remaining two individuals from the ‘triple’ burial that was excavated last week. Preliminary assessments are that all of the individuals are juveniles, between the ages of about four and fourteen. The students did a great job and were even given the addition task of labelling of the bags for different skeletal elements themselves. We took advantage of the nice weather to complete the lifting – and even managed to listen to some podcasts together (all about history and science of course). This is the first opportunity that I’ve actually got to excavate anything for more than fifteen minutes since the field school as started (although I did my best not to actually interfere with the students’ opportunity, so I stuck to the dirt instead of the bones).
Once lifted, all of the individuals from this grave cut were washed, including those that were lifted last week. This is incredibly important aspect of the excavation process… and as it gives you a task to do under shelter while it’s tipping it down outside, we also washed some of the artefacts that have been excavated in some of the grave fills this season. Since there was a lot of washing to complete, we managed our schedule for the rest of the week so that our other tasks were completed in between periods of us all sat in front of plastic tubs with toothbrushes. When everything was finally cleaned, it was then taken to the ‘Bone Cabin’ and set out to dry ahead of boxing up for storage and eventual transport for analysis.
During this time, while I was able to help out with the lifting and the washing, I was also able to catch up on some necessary paperwork. It is really important that we ensure all of the records the students take during their time at the field school are complete and that copies of the context records for each grave fill, skeleton, and grave cut are kept in our master site records. To help me with this, I keep a daily field notes of what is happening on site so that if there are ever any questions in the future I can refer back to them. It’s also a great habit for the students to get into, so I do try to encourage the use of field notes for everyone. I still have mine from the very first field school that I attended as a student!
The last thing for us to complete this week was mapping the grave cut onto the site plan. Given that together the students had already done about three or four of these in previous weeks, they completed this task largely under their own initiative (although of course I was there to tweak their grids a little so they were just right). They even helped me out by mapping an earlier grave cut that needed to be drawn onto the site plan (extra practice, right). It’s always a bit trickier when it’s not a feature you have excavated yourself, but it’s an important skill as it teaches you to see the features, by distinguishing their differing characteristics, instead of just remembering what you’ve done.
Once all of this had been completed, I had the opportunity to have the students help me out with a neonate burial that I have been working on. They were, understandably, very keen for the chance to experience this firsthand. I think they quickly came to realise the level of patience, attention to detail, and sheer concentration required in order to complete an excavation as fragile as this one.
I know that I say this regularly, but I am continually astounded by the students who have been attending our field school. Not only are they enthusiastic (and really I wouldn’t have expected anything less) but they take direction incredibly well, have superb attitudes toward any given task, and have quickly picked up so many of the skills required for archaeological field work – from delicate excavation to detailed record keeping to heavy lifting to how to duct tape a shade tent together.
If the rest of the summer carries on this way, I shall be a very happy supervisor.
*Although it must be stated that at this point the corn ranges in height from talus/ fibula lateral malleolous (ankle) to caput femoris (head of the femur)… and I’m only wee small.