I had decided that possibly the world had had enough of my forays into the world of archeology and excavation for the moment, but some of the comments at our final little dig meeting this evening made me change my mind. As well as the digs themselves, there has been a whole calendar of backup events, and what with these and the thorough introduction to archaeological methods given by the archaeologists from MOLA, not to mention Crossrail, several of the people who volunteered for this dig are never going to look at life the same way again! I would have loved to have gone to some of the lectures, but I didn’t have the time. What I did have time for were three afternoon digs, and most enjoyable they were.
Monday afternoon Marianne and I were digging with Don as our mentor. The layer we were trowelling through at this point was mainly floor tiles, with plenty of bones included, mostly pigs. This was interesting in the light of being told that the Carthusian monks who inhabited the site were vegetarian. Though I pointed out that the lay brothers who did all the hard work around the place were not expected to stick to strict diets.
Marianne was blown away by Don’s ability to identify bones immediately. It transpired that he was one of the two osteoarcheologists always available on site, owing to the fact that the place was known to have been a burial ground. I was just stunned (and very grateful)that a senior archaeologist was emptying my spoil buckets! We learned quite a lot that day about the site and about the archaeological approaches taken to investigating it.
On Thursday(my next day at the dig) the volunteers were led by Martin from Bexley Archaeology Group. Martin is also, like me, a volunteer with the Thames Discovery Programme, so it was nice to see an old friend! On Monday we had been pulling lots of tiles and animal bone out of this trench, but now the finds seemed scarcer. I picked up a fragment of bone and recognised suture lines on it. I handed it to Martin, saying “here’s a piece of skull, but skull of what, I’m not sure..” Earlier I had handed him a piece of bone which he thought was human. He took the pieces over to the osteoarchaeologist, and it was confirmed: they were both human. Then everything in that trench stopped for a while, as the osteoarchaeologist furtled about for quite a while with his trowel until he was satisfied that further human remains were unlikely to emerge from that trench. Once the all clear was given, it was back to work. The other find of the day, maybe THE find of the day was a Tudor thimble which Martin found. I have no pictures of either of these finds, but here are some pictures of things which were found over the life of the dig:
There were plenty of clay pipes including some nice quite early ones, and plenty of oyster shells. Oyster shells and clay pipes are an archaeological equivalent of finding cigarette- butts and crisp packets- proof that everyday life was going on in the area.
My last day was Saturday, also the last day of the dig. As well as the team of MOLA archaeologists, Jay Carver lead archaeologist for Crossrail was working on the dig. It was during the Crossrail dig that it had first come to light that excavations in the square might be well worth pursuing. As it was a last day, there was a time pressure there had not been earlier to complete the dig and find what was there. This led to the archaeologists taking over most of the excavation work as, as seasoned professionals, they could work faster. Here are some pictuers of the trenches. In the big trench you can see Nick Elsden (MOLA) and Jay Carver with one of the volunteers. It is very nearly the end of Saturday, and a very hot day it was! The other photo shows the smaller trench with Serena from MOLA and some of the volunteers- while I was around the dig this little trench is where it all happened!
At the end of the day, Nick called us all together to talk about the aims of the dig, and what had been achieved so far. The big discoveries of Plague burials during the Crossrail dig had prompted speculation that there might be more burials in the area. Geophysical survey had given evidence for structures, although there had been no evidence on period maps (unreliable to say the least). The little trench at the least had revealed a burial cut by a boundry ditch, but there was no evidence for burials in the large trench. But the dig would provide useful evidence for the developers who intend to landscape the area next year. And Jay added that the whole dig will be written up on the Crossrail website, where you will be able to read it in more and better detail than my wobbly memory allows!
Then Nick asked for feedback. One lady banker who had attended most of the events told us her entire perception of the area where she works has been completely transformed, and that she was fascinated by archaeology and its perception of how things relate! Another lady told us that during the week she had already signed up for a short archaeology course at Birkbeck- and of course not everyone on the dig was at the meeting. I think the dig realised its aims in terms of outreach, certainly! I enjoyed it as there was a ‘first’ for me, together with great working conditions, learning stuff from professionals, and a chance to stroll round some lovely historic buildings. I only hope I put in sufficient graft to express my appreciation!