25 MayVolunteer Experiences

Volunteer Gavin Fox shares his experiences excavating on the East Kent Access Road:

It was cold, although the sky was blue. The north wind was bitter, I was wrapped in two fleece jackets, a woolly jumper, and a rugby shirt. A fleece hat kept my bonce warm. I knelt on all fours on the stony ground. Kneeling next to me was Alex, a twenty something archaeologist with a degree from Reading University, she held the flint I had handed her, hoping it was a “find.” She shook her head, “no mate.”

I was at home when I saw a link on the BBC news site, which took me to the Oxford-Wessex Archaeology website. Volunteers wanted. I volunteered, sent in application forms, and was accepted. Whoopee. I told my wife, her eyes glazed over, “that’s nice dear.”

It was like the first day at school, exacerbated by the letter of acceptance which also listed what to bring, and what was strictly not allowed. So leaving my iPod at home, I reported for duty on the Monday morning, having met my fellow volunteers in the nearby hotel, over coffee. Vix, the archaeologist in charge of our section of the dig, area 23, gave us the outline of the weeks work, and the all important safety briefing. Then armed with a bucket, containing a pointing trowel, a brush, and a shovel we made our way out to the dig. It was a round barrow, a burial mound from the early Bronze Age, or earlier. The top soil had been removed. We had to “clean” the area, with our trowels, removing another fifteen centimetre’s or so of earth. With a small pointing trowel! In total there were twenty of us, but just eight volunteers. That first day we were all eager little beavers, the volunteers that is, and went at our task with a will. I worked all day, and found nothing, well I found quite a few things, but none that passed the Alex test.

The next day I woke early, my muscles ached, but pulled on my steel toe cap boots, and headed for the dig. It was even colder than the day before. As lunch approached we were almost halfway across the barrow. We were taking it a little easier. Alex shook her head as I presented yet another piece of flint. We progressed, slowly but surely. Millimetre, by millimetre, on hands and knees.

Wednesday, a little warmer, we resumed cleaning the barrow. It was a painfully slow process, but we kept at it. After mid morning coffee I handed Alex a small piece of flint. She nodded, and smiled, “that’s a nice specimen, better bag it.” At last I’d managed to find something. A small Early Bronze Age tool. Yes! During the next half hour I found five more. This was a good morning, it was warmer, I was working at a pace at which I could continue all day.

Later that afternoon we finished the clean, and stood around the perimeter for a group photo. I was covered in chalk dust, and was filthy dirty when I arrived home to my wife later that afternoon, a happy but knackered volunteer digger. Still with the rest of the week, and all of the following to come.

Bring it on.

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