Fieldwork

Report of Student Experiences on Departmental Fieldwork in 2009

Hatcliffe Top, Lincolnshire 11th to 29th August 2009

Steve Willis’ excavation in Lincolnshire provided the perfect opportunity to experience excavation at first hand, especially as the results of this project will be used to answer important research questions. 

 As a group we uncovered numerous features and finds dating to the Roman and possibly Saxon periods, all of which point to Hatcliffe Top having been an occupation site during these time periods.  Possibly the most exciting finds were the two Roman corn dryers, and the numerous coins dating from the Iron Age to the Roman and Saxon eras as well as various modern day currencies, seeing coins such as these first hand is a rare experience.  One reason it was possible to see so many coins recovered was because we had a metal detectorist on site scanning the spoil heaps.  Other than this the majority of the finds were bone and pottery, the most common finds of these periods. 

Over the course of nearly three weeks we got to experience many elements of a working archaeological site, from the planning of trenches to the recording of finds and features.  This experience included excavation, filling in context sheets, soil analysis, taking survey points, and on site archaeological plan drawings, these are all valuable skills which can be put to use in further fieldwork. The days on site were sometimes long and hard but never dull, as the ideas behind the sites function kept changing and evolving as the project developed and we dug the layers and features. 

There was never a dull moment on site was the good nature and humour of everyone participating, including members of the local society, which resulted in a friendly environment which was pleasant to work in. For many of us it would not have been possible to participate in the fieldwork had we not received one of the fieldwork bursaries offered by the University of Kent, as these allowed us to stay together and live in comfort for the duration of the excavation, which after a full day on site was a blessing! 

 Emma, Shervelle, Lisa, and Enid

 

Reports from Students at Kent on departmental field projects in 2008: Ostia and Crete

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Ostia: Excavating a Late Roman Forum

 As soon as I took off to fly home, I knew that I needed to return to Ostia! During my time spent in the ancient city I was able to improve upon archaeological skills that I have already learnt, such as excavating and processing finds and was presented with many opportunities to learn new ones such as surveying, planning and artefact photography. My time there also allowed me to develop my supervisory and logistical planning skills.

Having never travelled to Italy before, I had been told that I would not be disappointed with the archaeology of Rome, which was visible on every street corner.  Never has such a truer word been spoken. Truly awe inspiring!  From the catacombs of the early Christians to the pomp, scale and magnificence of the Imperial architecture – what more can I say?

(Helen Harrington, student trained as site supervisor 2008)

Having only once dug before, on a site in England, the opportunity to go to Italy to excavate was a promising one for me. Once I was there, all aspects of the dig were different to any that I had previously experienced. The small, friendly group of people were great to work with, and the mixture of experienced and new diggers was just right. When the hard days work was over, we always had the chance to grab a beer or two in the nearby town, before returning to camp for a tasty meal cooked by one of the team. The days off were always fun too, a mixture of a big night out to the beach or into Rome for drinks, followed by a relaxing day seeing the sights in and around the Italian capital. The mixture of amazing people and great digging conditions made this a truly memorable excavation, one which I am glad I was a part of, and would relish the chance to return to Ostia over the following years.

(Michael Joyce)

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Crete: Minoan Peak Sanctuaries

Céline Murphy:

“As one enters the premises of the British School at Knossos, one is granted an immediate warm welcome by the school curator, the multi-cultural project researchers, and the stray dogs who much appreciate a scratch behind the ear. The palm and pine trees in harmony with the flowers set the scene for an exciting three weeks of beautiful and adequate working environment. Sir Arthur Evans’ villa, although slightly eerie at first because of its vastness and darkness, suited us as the ideal type of accommodation since it allowed us the advantage of self-catering, and offered us a ‘home’ to come back to after a day of hard work. Moreover, the privilege of residing in the famous archaeologist’s own spacious property was much appreciated!

The Stratigraphical Museum … was a haven of peace, good mood, and reflexion. Very few contexts are as beautiful and resourceful to work in. Table after table of sherds and figurines – which almost formed a small independent exhibition – displayed astounding first hand information about the Minoan life-style. Observing such material was vastly inspiring and immediately set my mind to work. Our job mainly consisted in classifying, analysing and recording the sherds. We created a database which required much organisation and made us responsible for the efficient recording of every single sherd. In order to produce an enlightening database and to understand the use and age of the sherds, a great amount of fascinating fabric analysis was entailed. Above all, handling such ancient and fragile material was a precious experience. Most material of the type we dealt with is usually observed from behind a thick glass window and it was therefore a privilege and joy to touch it. It almost was a traumatising experience to have to chip off a piece of the sherd to analyse its core!

Three weeks flew by and the outcome of our efforts was rewarding and satisfying. I left Crete with the feeling that a great part of my interest in archaeology lies in that arid yet abundant land. I acquired great knowledge and confidence from this experience and strongly encourage other students who are offered such an exclusive opportunity to seize the occasion since they’ll remember it for the rest of their lives.”

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Tom Bridgeman:

“Being able to take part in the fieldwork trip to Crete was simply an amazing experience. Apart from the fact that Crete is full of archaeological sites it is also a beautiful country with its mountainous terrain and stunning ocean views. The people there, both the archaeologists and locals were all friendly and helpful. I had a great time and would really like to go back. Staying at Knossos in the villa Ariadne we were literally surrounded by history and archaeology all the time. Being so close to and having access to such sites was a positively unique experience and I feel so lucky to have been able to take advantage of it. As for the work it was fun as well as a educating. I learnt so much to do with post excavation work such as working with the database, cataloguing the pottery sherds, determining the different fabrics of the sherds, sherd photography and the cleaning of those pictures. I could not pick my favourite part of this trip I loved every part of it.”

n501940135_3162737_22792Chiristopher Brackin:

“Crete was one of the most amazing experiences of my life! For someone who’s never been abroad before, the chance to do so while working on an archaeological project allowed me to experience the country in much more depth than if I was just a tourist. In turn, living in a country that I had studied the history of, really allowed me to appreciate what I had learned that much more and build upon it faster. For anyone studying the culture of another country, I strongly recommend visiting that country, as you really do learn about it that much faster and it sinks in so much better and allows you to appreciate and acquire some perspective on what you’ve been studying.

Crete itself was an amazing island. With wild peacocks and lizards everywhere, 36 degrees for several days, ruins mixed in with modern settlements, mountains littering the landscape, providing the most captivating views, contrasted by crystal-blue sea and sandy beaches surrounding the island, as well as clear skies and palm trees everywhere, it really was beautifully picturesque! I loved it the moment I arrived and was sad to leave it. The Greek people were friendly and helpful and by the end of the trip, they gave us free gifts, knew us fairly well and would talk with us for ages about anything. Their hospitality was warm and kind and in general, they were such a fun and lively people. One of the highlights was the chance to be able to pick up and learn some of the Greek, to a point that I was able to read some of the signs and understand some of what people were saying. The people I worked with were equally amazing and together we had so much fun working and on our time off, seeing sites and going out, until eventually, we started joking about constantly to the point of having water fights! Whether with my co-workers or the Greek people, it was definitely fun-packed, and I made many memories I’ll keep forever.

The archaeological work was fantastic and an amazing opportunity! All of us had agreed that we seemed to have learned more in the first few hours of being there than on a whole twelve week module! It’s definitely the best way of learning archaeology! The practical experience I wouldn’t trade for anything and all of us who participated are already planning future trips we hope to go on. Although admittedly, it did grow tedious at some points, we all expected that it might do and knew that a lot of work would be asked of us. However, by working with each other and the fact that each of us had such a strong passion for what we were doing, we worked hard and had fun while doing so! Learning database work, archaeological drawing and photography, and fabric analysis, it’s hard to choose a highlight of these skills we acquired, as all were equally valuable and interesting and taught us so much! Though I did enjoy the fabric analysis a fair bit, as it taught us so much about what we were working with, such as how an item was made and out of what.

The very idea of working with figurines and pottery that were several thousand years old was almost unbelievable! To actually be able to touch and work with such a substantial part of the past was incredibly rewarding and to see them in person taught us more than just seeing pictures in books and lectures. A nice compliment to our work through the week was being able to visit the Heraklion museum (where artefacts such as the Phaistos disc and Agia Triada Sarcophagus lie) and various other sites at weekends. These included Phaistos, the Temple of Apollo (where we got to see the legendary tree that is always green and is said to mark the spot where Zeus, as a bull, seduced Europa, conceiving Minos!), Agia Triada, Malia, Knossos Palace and surrounding ruins, as well as the Peak sanctuary itself whose artefacts we were working with: Philiaremos! It’s impossible to pick a favourite from all, as they were all such exhilarating experiences and truly awe-inspiring!

I would strongly recommend such an opportunity to others, as the practical work teaches so much more, especially in such a practical subject as Archaeology. And if volunteers do have the chance to visit another country, take the time to visit all the sites and historical areas, for if you’d already learnt about them, it’s best to see them after, as you can point out places there that you learnt about. It’s incredible to name certain parts and already know what’s what and then see them. To see them in person, especially locations I’d learnt about in lectures, really put them into perspective and helped me to realise the grandeur of the Minoans. There’s nothing better than standing on a site, thousands of years old, built by another people long-gone and absorbing the atmosphere. I would trade this wonderful, valuable opportunity and all the education, experiences and memories it’s given me for nothing! Even after returning, we are still working on the database and attempting to organise data we have and are planning possible meetings with each other to work further on it. Some of us have even begun individual projects on what we were working with, such as the fabrics and techniques of various figurines which I’m currently working on at the moment. I will most definitely be on the look-out for similar opportunities and grab them up as soon as I can and hope to soon return to Crete for further research on my project.”

Jennifer Gray:

“I must say what a great experience the trip was. I very much enjoyed the three weeks working on the project with a specialist and dedicated team. I very much enjoyed the working environment- It was well managed, our tasks were clear and we were allowed sufficient breaks for lunch (which i think we all needed in that heat!) Everyone got on so well with each other and I think this is one of the main reasons we found it so easy to work together.

From my personal experience I mostly enjoyed working with the fabric analyist, Harriett- as she taught me so much on the pottery we were dealing with from what the material was made from and understanding what it may have been used for and from what area it may have come from. Also the photographist, Kai was very willing to help us understand how we could take decent photos from our digital cameras and to ‘clean the image’ on photoshop.

Crete is a beautiful island, and luckily we got the chance to explore some of it on our days off as we managed to hire a car and (I being the only person over 21) volunteered to drive us around some of the well-known archaeological sites such as Phaestos, Malia and Agia Triada- which in itself was thoroughly enjoyable and extremely useful to witness some of the sites which we have spoken about in our lectures.

I would highly recommend this trip to others who are passionate and keen to learn first hand experience working on an archaeological project similar to the one we worked on. I learnt so many invaluable skills through this trip and have lots of great memories to go with it, so thank you for giving me this opportunity to work with some truly wonderful and knowledgeable people.”

Lisa Forrest:

“At weekends we went around Crete visiting several sites including Malia, Phaistos and Agia Triada. Don was able to give us a guided tour of Knossos Palace that we were of course directly opposite to. In this sense the opportunity was fairly unique as we able to learn first hand details about the architecture and function of the palace that could not be learned from an ordinary guide. It made what we had learned in the Aegean Archaeology module real, as we could physically see how it all fitted together and the true scale of these ancient monumental buildings.

Evangelos gave us our final Monday off to go up to Peak Sanctuary that we had been working on. We drove up scenic windy mountain roads; stopping periodically to take soil samples, view the surroundings and even stumbled upon a Roman Villa that we looked around. We climbed up the final part of the mountain to the Peak Sanctuary and on the way saw a Vulture gliding above us. Here Evangelos sang us an old Cretan shepherd song, adding to the atmosphere. The climb made me more appreciative of the effort ancient people went to in reaching these places. It made me realise sites such as this one, must have held great importance to be worth so much effort, especially considering we had driven for a large part of the ascent. To see this Peak sanctuary was not something that we would necessarily have been able to do as a tourist or traveller. This again made all of us realise how great an opportunity we had been given in coming on the trip.”

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