Today was the first day of the much-anticipated dig. Setting off this morning with my waterproofs, walking boots and rucksack I felt as though I was about to tackle Snowdonia. I probably did allow for too many worst case scenarios judging by the weight of my rucksack.
The site itself is extremely remote. The ground is boggy and bumpy, and we were sharing it with some curious cows. They must have seriously ruminated about the motley group of bipeds digging up their grass today. (Not to mention the yellow quadruped with a wagging tail who liked the taste of their dung). Yes, Trudy came too.
The plan today was to dig four trenches so that we have an idea where to focus our efforts for the next two weeks. As we set to work the air became damp with impending rain. Thankfully one violent shower was all that fell from the sky.
Because we are excavating a field that is normally used for grazing cattle, we have to pile up the soil in separate mounds so that afterwards we can put it all back in the right order (known as backfilling). The topsoil is the first layer of soil, and this was hard and crunchy as the spades kept hitting tree roots.
Some people dug the soil, while others (like me) began sieving the mounds of earth to sort out any hidden finds. It was a lovely moment when one of the volunteers found his first large piece of pottery. We all found various fragments of pottery and glass. The general rule of thumb for novice archaeologists is: “If you’re not sure, put it in the Finds Tray”. At first most of my “finds” were stones and gravel, but as my fingers became more tuned in to the soil I was able to hand-sift tiny fragments of glass and pottery, and to differentiate between stone and brick. As the trench became deeper, the soil lost its lumpiness and became more fine and dry. By the end of the day I had even stopped yelping at the sensation of worms and centipedes wriggling through my fingers.
Today has been such a memorable day. I enjoyed the competitiveness between the different trench teams, the camaraderie during the lunch break as we sheltered under a gazebo, the sonorous cows, and the field itself with its old oak trees peacefully watching.
But like all the volunteers I am absolutely exhausted! Walking back from the site at the end of the day I could hardly muster up enough power to motor my arms and legs. At one point I actually forgot how to walk. We left the seasoned archaeologists on site digging deeper into the trenches. Which one will be our focus for the project, and will we discover anything significant about Studmarsh?