Preparing for the First Meeting

Our main task in this year’s heritage programme is to create a videogame for Malton Museum. Naturally, we needed to first meet with the museum staff to discuss exactly what they wanted, so a meeting was prepared for Tuesday afternoon.

If it were left to me, I would have turned up with a biro and hoped for the best, looking like a lesser known Chuckle Brother, although we fortunately decided to prepare a list of questions.

Harald then whipped out his post-it notes. I presumed he was going to write a small shopping list, but we were shown how to use them to organise notes. All of these good organisational skills terrified me a little, but I went with the flow and we ended the session feeling confident.

On Tuesday, we’d allowed a little time to explore and assess the presentation of the Roman fort site. Inquisitive visitors can wallow in education provided by four information boards, yet we were distraught when we found the third board to be completely absent. Seeing a crude rope swing hanging from a tree branch, we deduced that the local youths must be responsible.

Meghan and Sara observing an information panel
Analysing the first sign (Photo: Isobel Christian)

Thankfully, these vandals clearly had some sense of decency, as they respectfully left their ill-gotten gains resting against the fourth information board. We revelled at the opportunity of learning more about the history of the Roman fort, though the only thing we learned from the latter half of the boards was that lichen clings to plastic panels rather well.

Cursing the shenanigans of the sign-spoiling hooligans, we then paid a visit to our pals on the excavation site. Unsurprisingly, mine didn’t seem too pleased when I turned up in my Chelsea boots, after I seemingly blagged myself an early exit from the excavation.

Hayden analysing a lichen covered information panel
Deciphering the lichen (Photo: Emily Pearson)

Matters didn’t improve when one friend laid out her jacket for me to sit on whilst I ate my Nutrigrains, since I refused to sit on the soil. After receiving a complete roasting over my degree choice (and general nambypamby-ness), I made a slightly smug retreat and headed off to meet my appointment at the museum.

I don’t remember Tony Robinson ever being subjected to such grief when he checked up on the man with the colourful jumpers and the bloke with the hat.

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The Power of Pottery

The rain clouds had drawn in when we set foot on the excavation site for the first time early on Monday morning, and there was a steady downpour as we were talked through our initiation into archaeological excavation. It was my first time on an excavation, and at that point, the weather was a perfect match for my mood. Field archaeology had never held much interest for me so the prospect of early mornings and long days didn’t fill me with much joy. To top it all off my group happened to have the only site that hadn’t been machine dug beforehand meaning the hard graft was left entirely in our cold, damp hands. Within no time at all I was intimately familiar with our small 10 x 2 meter  trench.

De-turfing the trench.
Trench D, as we began de-turfing. (Photo: Isobel F. Christian)

 

Trench on my final day
Trench D, at the end of the third day. (Photo: Isobel F. Christian)

Throughout our first day the weather continued to improve and with it so did my mood, my body was aching and sore having not gone through such physical labour before.but the satisfaction when our patch of grass slowly evolved into a trench you might find on Time Team, was not something I had expected to feel. Despite the fact I only spend three days in the on the dig; my entire view of field work definitely did a 180 degree turn.

My first find!
Me with my first archaeological find. (Photo: Jessica Cousen)

The key moment for this I think was the fact that during the first 2 hours of our hard work we found no finds, no pottery, coins, or anything else other than a few worms and some interesting looking stones. But at the end of the first day while cleaning the trench ready to mattock down to the next level I spotted something in the ground. A small insignificant piece of pottery, but honestly in that moment I felt so elated and excited, that the idea of spending my day in the mud and rain didn’t matter anymore because the moment you discover something untouched by human hands for hundreds of years is so enticing I knew I’d had a change of heart.

Despite my unexpected new found love for excavation, the course I have chosen to study at university is Archaeology and Heritage, so my time on the dig was only short as the heritage students began our own digital field school. The idea of studying Heritage is one that I have been wanted to pursue since I was 16 years old, and had my first guided tour around Kings Manor, the archaeology campus at the University of York. History as a subject has always been my favourite, as a child I devoured all kinds of books, tv shows, films to do with anything historical and my parents were constantly taking me on holiday to visit historical buildings, and sites as well as Museums. The one thing I never enjoyed though was the endless displays with boring fonts and language which were inaccessible to anyone who wasn’t well educated and well-read in all areas of the historical and archaeological spectrum. Whenever I found a museum which I could enjoy, it excited me so much; places like Jorvik were my haven. I think my want to study heritage stems from wanting history and archaeology to be something accessible to everyone, as a subject it interests me so much I want to be able to create things which will allow others to experience that same joy and excitement.

Weathering the elements

Archaeology is undoubtedly one of the degrees that everyone idealizes, whilst thinking about characters like Indiana Jones or Lara Croft. But nobody really tells you what it really implies. In our short experience in the field we could experience what it really is first hand.

During the whole course,  we were all so excited about doing archaeology that nobody thought how it would be. The first day, as soon as we arrived , it started to rain- quite a different image to what it use to appear on documentaries, but despite of this, we didn’t lose our enthusiasm.

Finally the actual digging started, and we could experience what we had been looking forward to during all those years in which we imagined ourselves doing our dream degree. At the beginning it wasn’t really exciting, we were just trying to handle all the new information and do our best. As the day advanced, we started to see that we actually were improving, as we started to find exciting things, such as a massive tooth and even an animal bone. At last we were really archaeologists (though the mud drowned any glamour that television and the film industry may have sold us). We had actually awakened to authentic archaeology.

So by the end of the day we were proud of ourselves, despite of the fact that all our muscles were sore-even ones we were not previously aware of.

Team returning to the actual excavation with sunny day joining our excavation
the sun finally appeared in our digging (Photo: Marionna Sandin Catacora

The next day, despite  being exhausted and a bit sleepy after the previous day, we were optimistic after the discoveries which meant so much for us. But the weather seemed to hate us,trying to discourage us with not only rain, but hail and wind.. Overall it was a grey and sad day.

Despite that, we carried on with our research, finding not just little pieces of bone or metal, but the remains of an ancient Roman road. This made us feel that we weren’t simply close to something important, but to a real roman settlement,  as we could actually see that we were in the right place, not just following the information that our previous survey revealed to us.  Perhaps it did not seem as exciting as finding roman columns or roman baths, but it was really exciting to think that prior to us, roman people were actually using that road, and after hundreds of years had remained hidden from everybody else. I couldn’t help to feel like we were privileged, as maybe many people would see that road later, but we were the first ones.

Despite all of the issues and the bad weather, we found that all the bad conditions, rain and thousands of worms that seemed to want to join us, it was worthwhile.

Overall, I believe that these kinds of issues make us consider if this is really our vocation, and for me, undoubtedly, it is. Not even the bad weather that sank our morals, the blisters that maliciously reminded us of the hard work we had to carry out, and not even the fruitless hours of looking at an empty and frustrating ground with which you start mimicking after several hours of scratching the floor without any result, managed to undermine my enthusiasm. I chose archaeology and heritage, because I always thought that books don’t really give you what you need to understand a civilization, to understand why did they settle in a certain place. They just give you impersonal information that doesn’t actually reach the hearts and the minds of people. I  have been always told  that history was boring and for that reason I wanted to do heritage because I wanted to show them how I see  archaeology and history, why I find it so interesting why it is worthy, despite my back disagree with me.  

 

During the lunch break, the place is free of activity, oozing peace that soon will be disturbed by the rattling of the volunteers, accompanied by a gray sky that preludes rain
Excavation place during the lunch break (Malton) (Photo: Marionna Sandin Catacora)