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Doing a PhD can be quite a lonely endeavour. Very few people understand what you are trying to do, and even fewer people understand why you are trying to do it. It can also be incredibly difficult to gauge progress on a three year project that seems to constantly change its methodology and focus. Moreover, the working arrangements of independent research – where you often work to your own schedule and don’t have a manager constantly checking over your shoulder – mean that motivation can be hard to come by.

Now I don’t want this to sound like a rant: I absolutely love what I do and am fully aware that this will probably be the best job of my life. The reason I bring up these common PhD concerns is to highlight the benefits of getting out in the field. It only takes one week back in the trench to remember what archaeology actually is!

3Getting stuck in after a desk-bound Winter

Last week I helped out with the University of Reading’s Easter excavations at Lyminge in south-east Kent. I have referred to the Lyminge Archaeological Project previously but readers should also check out their fantastic blog. In a nutshell, the project is excavating one of the most significant Anglo-Saxon settlements ever found, which boasts monumental timber halls and incredible material culture. The site emerged in the 5th century and was a key node in the political landscape of early Anglo-Saxon Kent. In the 7th century, the settlement shifted and a double monastery, housing both monks and nuns, was established.

1A fantastic aerial shot of the 2012 excavations courtesy of Bill Laing’s helicopter drone

Based on the results of a geophysical survey, it seemed that a prehistoric barrow was situated some 25m away from the 6th and 7th century hall complex excavated in 2012 and 2013. Armed with a small army of passionate and skilled volunteers, it was our task last week to investigate it.

Although the Monday was effectively written off due to a torrential downpour, the weather was beautiful for the rest of the week and we managed to achieve a lot. Our 20m x 2m trench picked up both sides of a c.15m ring ditch, which encircled 5 cremation burials dating to the Bronze Age (c. 2500 to 800 BC). A more accurate date will be determined once the finds are analysed and the burials are properly excavated in the summer.

2One of the cremations exposed and ready for recording

Whilst there is still much more to be done on the site, and our final 6 week season in the summer is already looking extremely busy, the results show that the placement of the Anglo-Saxon settlement was partly informed by an understanding of the existing, prehistoric landscape. This is something we see across England and throughout north-western Europe during this period and is a tantalising glimpse into the mindset of early English rulers.

We will be back at Lyminge for the final AHRC-funded season of excavations from 21/07/14 to 31/08/14. Interested parties can get information on volunteering here.