I am on the email list of the Gwynedd Archaeological Trust. They soon as I became aware of their existence, that is why I wanted to be! I love archaeology, and I love learning about the history of the place where I live. So I had already attended several events they had been involved with.
When I received an email about a big project doing excavations with the help of volunteers, looking for Neolithic axes, I was tempted. The excavations rent for two weeks, and the first one was in the welcome week. I don't have to organise that anymore! So I figured I could afford to sneak off for a day in order to run much around in the surface sediments, looking for traces of human inhabitation of thousands of years ago!
I went to the farm where we were told to gather. When I got out of the car I saw a woman who looked familiar. It turned out she didn't know me at all, but she was very friendly so we ended up chatting. And in the meanwhile, the little verge filled up with cars. I also greeted one of the archaeologists leading the session: John Roberts, who I had met several times before.
After a while we were briefed by the archaeologist who seemed to lead the project; a lady called Jane, and then we walked up the hill. We could start! Some other people had been lugging materials up the hill with a little vehicle. Now we were asked to each grab a bucket, tray, sieve, trowel and spade. Then we would be distributed over the various locations where they wanted either a test pit or a proper trench. They wanted two volunteers for the first pit, and me and my chatting mate stepped forward. And so it began!
|Walk to the site|
Someone had already demarcated a square metre, and cut the turf in manageable chunks. So we first lifted these off and put them on a tarp. And then we started to slowly scrape away at the soil underneath. What was scraped off we put in a bucket, put it through sieve, and checked everything that remained in the sieve for signs of being of archaeological interest. The answer generally was: no. But when we were in doubt we put it in the tray anyway, and the resident archaeologists made the rounds to check people’s trays. What was not interesting got chucked onto the big pile of soil that had come out of the sieves; what was interesting was bagged up for later analysis.
|Work in progress|
It was quite physical work! But I like that. And in addition, the landscape was beautiful, the weather was too, and I greatly enjoyed the company of my digging mate. She was called Lisa, and after a while we figured out she was an old friend of my neighbour! The pandemic had got a bit in the way of that friendship though.
We didn't find much of interest, but at some point we found something that could be a flake. And one of the archaeologists confirmed that it was one! Lisa and I high-fived. A flake! Success. And we later even found a suspected second one. But then it was time to call it a day. We left our test pit; the next day some other team would make that go all the way down to the glacial till. And we tidied up our materials.
|Lisa and me at work. Pic: GAT/Carneddau Landscape Partnership|
Jane then showed us the treasures of the most productive group; they had been the only ones in an actual trench where they knew there was going to be something to be found. They had dozens of flakes! And a piece of rock that they had been chipped off. Spectacular!
I also took the opportunity of bugging John, the archaeologist, again. I had been on a very protracted mission triggered by one slide he once showed as part of an online lecture. He had skipped the slide, but later during a guided walk I had asked him but he would have said. And when he told me, I tried to find the location, but in vain. This was my chance to ask where it really was! And he didn't think I was crazy or obsessed (or at least didn't let on), but just showed me on a map on his phone. That's another weekend run sorted!
By the cars I exchanged phone numbers and said goodbye to Lisa. I hope we'll meet again! And then I tried to drive away, but John and Jane flagged me down. John had a flake to show me of which he wanted to know what the lithology was. And we talked a bit about chert and flint; Jane knew all about what it is archaeologically, but not geologically. So this time I could nerd at them instead of being nerded at! That was a nice change. And then my day was over! Back to the grinding stone of my day job… Luckily that is also interesting!