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Driving round the coast for the papers on Tuesday morning I screech to a stop and reverse back to read the hand-painted sign: "Iron age souterrain".

Oh, happy archaeologist to encounter such a thing.
And such a thing: discovered this decade, excavated by the community, maintained by the community: leave a donation in the box by the road, follow the faint path, and there is even a torch for you to borrow.

Cheerful archaeologist has the gear in the boot, but is staying clean. On round for the papers, leisurely coffee, back round bursting with anticipation, park neatly, change footwear, add outerwear, and skip along the little path as merrily as the tackety boots allow.

And then intrepid archaeologist turns chicken. Touch of the John Buchans, looking down into the darkness under the earth, uneasy on the Scarts o' the Muneraw.

Well, would you? Away on your own, would you put on a hard hat, lift the torch and crawl 17 metres along that underground passage?

And it was not a sensible fear. In this place my car would be seen and someone would look for me soon. No, it was a terror of being grabbed by Something in there, in some "dark abyss of savagery" yawning there.

And optimistic archaeologist became a silly tourist, trudged back to the car, and drove off.
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If you have to have a UTI, the worst place on earth to have one has to be on an archaeological dig.

When it came on, at the start of the week I was one of only three women on the site; the copse of trees I regard as being for my personal use was five miles away; and that leaves the ditches which, to be frank, are only useful if you are under three feet tall.

But, when you have to go, you have to go. So I went; frequently.
As did my concentration. I was still on my knees at one point when the site director shot over all enthusiastic about the burned bone I'd uncovered in the remains of Neolithic hearth - don't know if he realised I was about to chuck it in the spoil bucket. I had not even looked at it, and was too preoccupied to care anyway.

And for reasons too complicated to explain (and anyway, we have forgiven him) we'd had to leave the cars two miles from the site and hike in and out, and by the time I had inspected another ditch or two on the walk out I was mortified.

And the week got worse. Wednesday I "vanished" home; Thursday I got sent home.
Saturday I stayed in bed most of the afternoon, and today I was heading for the Kirk when another bout of incontinence changed my plans again.

And now I am bored. Last night I watched X-factor and this morning I have been on here fighting with the Concert Hall website to get the last two tickets for John Lill playing Tchaikovsky next Saturday rather than face an evening like that again. Assuming I am continent enough to go.

But I am giving me a couple of weeks off the digging until I'm 100% again.
An incontinent archaeologist is no use to anyone.
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The digging is harder in the Bronze Age. More aches and pains and blistered hands, long empty trenches, few finds. But, oh, the bells and whistles if you do find something!

Last day before the holiday, he worried me. "Here's what you're looking for," he said, holding a few shapeless crumbs of black pottery, baked (unfired) from the clay, and my heart sank. No chance, I thought. And an hour or so later I scraped up a chunk of the stuff, barely distinguishable from the surrounding soil, but its rim clearly visible, and he was as excited as a child.

I basked in the warmth of his smile for half the day!
(And then in the afternoon I blew it - found a sharp shiny sliver, like flint, so well honed as to be almost translucent; and it turned out to be a piece of plastic off someone's pack of sandwiches!!!! Oh the shame. And, worse, I was in a trench with a new girl, a lassie heading off to do archaeology at Cambridge, so I was doubly mortified.)

Anyway, back from holiday, and he is still obsessed with this pottery. Another guy also found a piece, from the same jug/cup/beaker/whatever, and the two pieces fit together perfectly. But he is convinced the vessel's base, unfired, crumbling black pottery, is out there somewhere in the black soil of that valley and I'm already tired looking for it..........
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From 6000BC to 2000BC (no, not BCE; I'm politically incorrect.)

OK, the last couple of weeks have been relatively unproductive, but relatively is a big word given that so much mesolithic stuff was oozing from each metre in the first months that they were weighing it rather than recording every flake!

But he decided to keep us upbeat by moving us round the valley to the Bronze Age cairns. Thirty of them. I didn't want to budge but there you are. Or here I am. It stopped raining, finally, and the sun came out for the first time in seven weeks, and it took six of us a full five sweating hours to dismantle one cairn and my arms hurt with carrying rocks. Upbeat this is not. Gonna start a campaign to get put back into my trenches.
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Other half has met a woman on the internet. Somewhere, probably above the Atlantic, the lines of the world wide web fanning out from Scotland and Washington collided,  and he met Kindred Spirit.

Great thing the internet; you press a key and a set of DVDs or a Kindred Spirit wings its way towards you.

He was collecting her yesterday morning, but I had been invited out to a palaeolithic coring day  (No, I wasn't sure what that involved but it turned out to be the usual field/mud/rain combination) and by the time I got home I was wet and dirty again and he had organised their dinner.

And today Other half  had an early morning Kirk Session meeting, so I got left on my own with her briefly, but I was busy packing my gear for the digging, and eventually I just warned her not to trip over the dogs, and I fled.

And now I'm home again, absolutely filthy and frozen, and after my bath I'll need to go down and talk to her, but at the end of a day in a trench I just want to lie down.

Must have missed the hostess classes at school.
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She is from California of all places, and her voice carried clearly above the wind and the rain yesterday afternoon: "Where's the loo?"

She is a realist, really. She was stuck without whimpering in a filthy trench in what passes for a Scottish summer, with the rain battering down and the ground underneath so badly waterlogged that the peat tries to suck off your boots every step you take.  The peat has protected this valley completely for at least 3000 years -  there has not even been a rabbit through it - but it has not allowed a single bush or  tree to grow either. The hillside is completely open. She was really just asking for vague directions.

Kneeling in a trench for six or seven hours is murder on your back and knees, the work is filthy, the climate is appalling, but I am starting to suspect that the lack of facilities is what puts people off.
And I am starting to dream of a shower block. Not just a loo, but a shower block. With walls and doors, and hot water, and soap and towels. And a hot tub. I can picture it vividly as I trudge exhausted up the hill, squelching up through the peat, mud caked in my hair, and everything hurting, a jacuzzi, with a little floating tray for a glass or two of wine and some nibbles, right there on the valley floor. Just there. Where the trenches are.


Jul. 7th, 2010 08:51 am
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It's Wednesday and I'm still dirty. One bath, three showers, masses of washing up and the muck is still caked down the side of my nails. Not a good look. And my gear is still wet.

I knew on the way out at the weekend I should not be going - the water was lapping across the roads, and the spray blinding on the motorway, and it was hell at the valley. I looked at the mud and didn't think I could work in that. But I took a deep breath, dropped to my knees in it, and got on with it.  And wet earth is easier than baked earth and the wee bitey things were absent. And he let us finish early.

That is the joy of Scottish field archaeology - it is great when you stop.

Irony is that he went up to check the levels in the reservoir because despite the heavy rain then, we are having an unusual dry spell and if the water falls much more he will pull us out of the valley and put us into the reservoir.
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Well, it is not, not really. Seven hours cramped in a trench scraping through soil is back-breaking no matter where you try and put your legs, and there is dirt in every pore of me, with sweat trails running through the muck on my face by the time I crawled back into the car.
But I'm into my stride again with it now.

And this summer's treat is a beauty. A totally unspoiled valley, miles from anywhere, and untouched by man for at least three thousand years, with mesolithic leftovers spilling out from the soil in every square metre. And the weather, for once, is superb.

I'm a Roman geek but needs must, so I settle happily for a mesolithic site with hints of neolithic. Just so overjoyed to be out again. 


May. 27th, 2010 11:15 pm
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There's an email just arrived wanting me at a dig which starts this weekend - short notice, but hey....

And I was bouncing off the ceiling with excitement (I've done nothing bar the odd fieldwalking weekend since last summer and the winter was endless and I am crazily bored) and then I went to break the good news to the other half.... WE'VE got a cocktail party this weekend.
I'm not a cocktail party type of person. I want to get my boots on and grub in the mud across those hilltops, not make conversation or get too drunk squashed in an overheated room somewhere. Had not even bothered reading the invite.

 And then I start looking at "our" calendar for the next two months, and trying to work out how many days I could actually get out and it is not looking great at all.
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Someone has decided that it is spring; dunno why. But the farmer has been out ploughing, so today was fieldwalking. Raking through the dustbin of history. Looking for the broken things the Romans threw away.

It is hard to explain. It is certainly not treasure hunting. It is about knowledge; and maybe a brief connection with those who tried to subdue this land 2000 years ago. Actually, they did not try very hard. This place did not have a lot going for it even then, and standing in torrential rain, and being sandblasted by hailstones this afternoon, I am surprised the Romans hung around as long as they did.

Me and the guys (I'm choosing that as grammar today) had a good day though. We found pieces of pale blue fluted glass, the broken handle of some long gone water jug; shattered pieces of decorated samian- ware, shipped over from France or Spain; pottery from an amphora which once held wine brought in from Italy; pottery from what may have been the roof tiles on the bath-house; and even a piece of mottled window glass.

These guys lived in style at a time when officially my people did not. But I think the lines between "these guys" and "my people" are very blurred. Officially, serving Roman soldiers were not allowed wives. But I know damn well, you put 500 fit young men with their own food supply, and a carry-out of wine, into an area, and I bet my X-times great-grandmother was climbing over the ramparts with the best of them. Doubt if the fondness for wine is confined to this generation.

Anyway, it was a good afternoon and we found a lot. Could have found more, but heading back uphill for the last time with about a stone of clay attached to each boot, if I had seen the Holy Grail in my path I would have quietly kicked it out the way rather than fiddle with satellite co-ordinates and a waterlogged pen once more.

And now I have the washing up to do......millennia of muck to be scrubbed off each tiny piece...but not tonight. My own bath-house and a glass of wine beckon.  


Feb. 28th, 2010 10:51 pm
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Snow. Fields unploughed. Hypothermia.
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Usual Saturday morning, church for coffee, red and white plastic gingham tables packed with folk, then he comes over to me and, in what was probably supposed to be a conspiratorial whisper, launches into "Can you come out tomorrow?  I think I have found the bathhouse."

I dunno whether he has or not. There has to have been one; every Roman fort had its bathhouse; and he has been looking for it for years.  I don't even care whether he has found it or not -  I'm going out tomorrow!!!!!

I have been fretful enough with this snow, and had not been thinking of fieldwork. With this one we get a tiny, tiny window in the year, the days between the farmer ploughing and sowing. Last year that amounted to two weekends, one stunningly beautiful with the spring sunshine warm on the fields stretching all the way down to the Clyde, and the next where we could hardly stand against the wind.

With the snow this year, especially this week, I'm amazed that the farmer has started ploughing. Tomorrow will pr
obably be hell, but I don't care. Early morning February communion, then into boots, waterproof breeks, three layers of clothes, and OUT.

Just, please, don't let it snow again tonight......... 


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