Mother nature was on our side as we began our first days digging at Boltby Scar. A clear blue sky and rolling hills greeted us as we marched up to the site from our coach. Upon arrival we were given tour of the place by our commander in chief, Dominic Powesland. It was quickly established that our first day would be made up of the reasonably laborious job of cleaning trench AD. But as students who had be writing and reading about archaeology for two thirds of our first year at university, we were unbelievably anxious to start doing what archaeologists are really known for- DIGGING! So, everyone picked up a trowel, hand shovel and bucket and began to clean, a process which basically involves scraping back the loose material which had been left by the digger; and generally making the trench look neat and tidy. This process continued until lunch. It is an amazing thing really, how good a simple packed lunch and 30 minute break feels in the context of an excavation! After lunch we replaced our trowels with brushes, and began to brush the area we had already cleaned. According to Dominic, Boltby Scar is perfect for brushing, so we all felt lucky to have the chance to try it – especially as it is far less strenuous than trowling! By the end of the day we had cleaned and brushed over half of the AD trench, with all the staff appearing very pleased, albeit surprised with our work. Thoroughly exhausted and elated from our first day at Boltby, we headed back to the coach. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?
Day 2 – Group K, by Josh Cole
Finds! Despite low expectations on the number of finds we would discover at Boltby, day two was a real surprise. It was evident from when we started to clean and brush the remaining half of the AD trench, that discovering finds would be the highlight of the day. Despite DPs view that finds get in the way of excavations, I think we were all a little chuffed when a few flints started to be found all over the trench. I myself was lucky to find a couple flint flakes! We quickly got to understand the finds recording system which involved writing down site number (517), trench designation (AD), context number (1 –written in a square) and tag number (number written in circle). However, luckily for me and the majority of group K, we were not destined to stay cleaning in the AD trench forever! After the first tea break, we went with our group supervisor Kirk and ‘the famous Italian archaeologist’ Gigi Signorelli (surname maybe spelt wrong) to a new trench, designated AF. Both Gigi and Kirk are really decent chaps, and on behalf of group K I can say it has been a privilege to dig with them. Our task In the AF trench was again cleaning, however, the state of the AF trench was far worse than AD and so instead of trowel and brush we picked up mattock and spade! The work was more far strenuous than before, but in my opinion far more enjoyable, although a few of the girls (trying to not be sexist!) looked a little less eager than they had the day before. Working in the AF trench also gave us a chance to view the jewel in the crown of Boltby scar, which is basically a large cut in the AF trench revealing a rather wonderful example of the ramparts stratigraphy.
- Looking at the AD trench, we could also see the rest of the team had finished and brushed the whole of the trench and the remains of the ditch and rampart were clearer than ever.
The time myself and group K spent in the AF trench with Kirk and Gigi was invaluable, and I’m sure we are all better diggers because of it! So, day two was undoubtedly, for group K, more exhausting than day one, but it was a good kind of exhaustion, and we went home knowing the weekend would rest us well for when we began again on Monday.
Day 3 – Group K, by Josh Cole
After the trials of day two, myself and group k trudged up to Boltby Scar resembling more a group of war weary warriors than young and eager students. But we didn’t let our wounds from yesterday dampen our spirits as we were once again chosen to battle in the AF trench. To be honest, we all feel quite privileged to have been chosen twice to work in the AF trench, and it’s starting to feel more like home than the AD trench! Our first task of the day was to dig down to, and remove all the Teram (cloth like material) left from the last excavation. This was reasonably easy going, and by the first tea break, we had finished the job. At tea, we had a VIP visit in the form of Alan Hall, an environmental archaeologist who had given us a lecture at the uni only last week. He gave us a brief overview of what kind of environmental evidence we could find at the site, including material that could help date the site. He also mentioned that material such as cereal grains and pollen could also be found at this site. The talk was great for two reasons, firstly it highlighted what environmental evidence could be found on site, and secondly it greatly lengthened our tea break! After some brief cleaning in the AF trench, myself and a couple of other from group K were asked to aid the rest of the team in the AE trench. This worked consisted of cleaning and brushing as we had done on the first day in the AD trench. However, perhaps it was the smell coming from the portaloos, who knows, but today Mother Nature was not on our side. Her wrath manifested itself in incredibly powerful winds that made brushing particularly difficult. By the end of the day it felt like there was more grit in my eye than there was eyeball. However, the results were worth it and the AE trench had been fully cleaned and brushed. All in all, the site looked a lot more ‘tidy’ than it had done on Thursday, and the whole team were really pleased with how the dig was proceeding. Furthermore some rain over the weekend had made the remains of the ditch and the rampart more visible and defined than ever, and the AD trench did look rather pretty! So, now the majority of the site has been cleaned, we all eagerly await tomorrow when we might get the chance to ‘dig some holes’!
Day 4 – Group K, by Josh Cole
Day four started perfectly, with a warm sun and a blue sky, and more importantly a noticeable lack of wind! Once again, myself and group K were posted to trench AF, which now truly is our home. We were split up into small groups and given separate tasks within the trench. Some were given the task of cleaning and digging back the wonderful ditch section at the back of the trench which shows off all that lovely stratigraphy. A majority of the group were tasked with excavating the plough marks in the trench, which have left a gruesome scar though the remains of the ramparts! Myself and two others were tasked with troweling off the plough soil which remained on top of the rampart, revealing its hard surface below. Another important aspect of today was that our numbers were supplemented with local volunteers. Before their arrival, we all speculated as to the level and skill of the volunteers, perhaps they would be veteran archaeologists –who knows, perhaps they would even boss us around the site. But our fears were unfounded as a small, very friendly and determined group of volunteers aided us our work at Boltby. Two of these volunteers were sent to our trench and they quickly and effectively troweled back and cleaned a large area of the AF trench with Kirk. Me and my small group made quick and easy work of the troweling, however the other groups had far more demanding tasks – which they more than adequately accomplished. The group focussing on the cut had large amounts of material to move out of a hole that was getting increasingly deeper! The plough marks group had a very complicated piece of rampart to excavate and some quite tough material to trowel through. However the finished product did look great:
The completion of our tasks took us the whole day, and it was only in our breaks and at days end that we properly saw the other trenches. It was clearly apparent that the other groups had had an even tougher time in excavating the huge digger tracks found in the AD trench.
So to sum up, day four was pretty eventful, with more archaeology being revealed than in either of the past three days. As a group, everyone is far better acquainted now, in particular I had a small chat with John Hinchcliffe (‘the one who was in English heritage’) and his views on the hill fort, which as we are all agreeing, is starting to look far less like a hill fort and more like an enclosure. Anyway, a generously given day off awaits us tomorrow, which will allow our knees to recover. We all now eagerly await Thursday, praying that there are no more plough or digger marks to excavate – Bring on the Boltby!