01 JunVolunteer Experiences – Gavin Fox continues

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

The days slipped by, faster than I would have believed, but then, as the saying goes, time flies when you’re having fun. And fun we were definitely having. Why digging a great big hole in the middle of a field is fun, does, I agree, take a little bit of explaining, and I am not sure I can.

Firstly I’d broken the golden rule. ‘Never volunteer for anything.’ Several of my friends had pointed this error out to me. They were also totally gob smacked that I was giving my time for free. But then I am a time millionaire. I think the thrill, because that’s what it is, is that I am touching history. The flint tools I have found were last touched, probably by their maker, around four thousand years ago.

Just think about that for a moment. Prehistoric. Pretty much everything I know about history happened during, and after the Roman invasion. This stuff was made around two thousand years before that. So that’s from me to Julius Caesar, that’s just the half way point, then on into the past for another two thousand years.

We were excavating a field, about a mile from where I was born. Where people had lived and died all those years ago. What sort of people? I don’t know. What I did know was, that this was an awful place to have lived, on this exposed ridge. So they must have lived further down the hill, towards where the current village of Minster is today. They might have been Bronze Age people, or earlier, but they weren’t stupid. What they were was skilled toolmakers. Some of the blades I had found, would put my Stanley knife to shame. One of the professional archaeologists suggested that the barrows, and henge’s we had uncovered might be aligned with Orion’s Belt, they wouldn’t have called it Orion, but they could recognize the constellations, and used them. So not stupid, just primitive, just doing the best they could to live, eat, keep warm, and look out for their families. Same as us then.

I’d been asked to dig part of the ring around the barrow we had cleaned on our first week. Luckily I didn’t have to use a trowel. Not this time. This time I was handed a heavy mattock, and a shovel. I went to work. This was heavy work, shame we couldn’t have done this the week before, when I could have done with warming up. Luckily I wasn’t alone. Keith, one of the other volunteers, worked, or sweated alongside me. I swung the mattock, he shovelled, then we swapped over, through the morning, and on into the afternoon. The next day I was on my own. Keith not being a time millionaire had gone back to work. I carried on, Alex gave me a hand, and so occasionally did Nick, a powerhouse of a bloke, who looked more like a rugby player than an archaeologist, but somewhat of an expert on the subject of flints. Lucky that.

Eventually we reached the bottom, solid chalk, I’d dug to a depth of 1.2m, no deeper of course, that would be strictly against the rules. Now where was that tape measure? The original trench, dug all those thousands of years ago with antlers and the bones from a cows shoulder blade (or scapula), could now be seen, even by me. The sides of the ditch showed the layers of soil which had then refilled the ditch over the millennia, the soil washed in by rain, then some more substantial infill, and finally, the top layer, from when the mound was smoothed out when the field was ploughed, level.

When I had volunteered I had expected just to labour, push a wheelbarrow maybe. Not a bit of it. We were doing the same work as the professionals, and that included recording what we found. Photos, scale drawings, sheets, and sheets of written descriptions of what we dug. It took me back to the maths classes of my youth. I wasn’t very good at it then, now I just couldn’t see the smallest of the grid squares!

Now it was time for a break. Vix, the site’s boss had brought us all an ice cream. I could get used to this!

Gavin Fox, EKAR Volunteer, May 2010

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