Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, Anglo-Saxon Period, Archaeology, Artefacts, Blogging Archaeology, Blogging the past, Bones, Britain, Britannia, Culture, Dark Age, Dark Ages, England, English, Englishness, Folk, Funerary Archaeology, Germanic, Heritage, History, Identity, Kent, Kingdom formation, Kingship, Lyminge, Material culture, Medieval Period, Middle Ages, Migration Period, North Sea Region, Pagan, PhD, Postgraduate life, Public engagement, Religion, Religous belief, Research, Ritual, Settlement Archaeology, University of Reading
As mentioned in my last post almost seven weeks ago, I have spent my summer excavating the incredibly exciting and near unique Anglo-Saxon settlement site of Lyminge in south-east Kent. Of course, as with most research excavations in Europe, this involved living in a field. Whilst in ordinary circumstances I am quite a fan of camping, it really does get pretty old after six weeks.
Having returned to society again, the pleasure I get from the simple things we all take for granted – like, you know, sleeping in a bed – is actually quite grounding. Perhaps we should be reminded more often that for most of history life was a lot less comfortable than it is today.
But I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that you care less about my levels of comfort and more about the archaeology we excavated. Luckily, you are in luck, because the season produced some truly incredibly results. Dr Alexandra Knox has already written a series of engaging and informative blog posts about the excavation as it developed and I would certainly urge you to visit the Lyminge Archaeology blog for more detail, even if only for the pictures.
Instead of repeating what has already been written elsewhere, and because I am, frankly, struggling to engage my tired post-excavation brain in any meaningful way, I would like to offer a brief list of things that I learnt over the last six weeks.
1. Bronze Age barrows took a lot of effort to make
During the course of the excavation I had the pleasure of digging, and supervising the digging of, several slots across a Bronze Age ring ditch barrow. To those unfamiliar with the term, a barrow is effectively a cemetery that has soil heaped on top of it. Where does the soil come from? That’s right, a huge ditch.
The natural geology of Lyminge and the surrounding area is predominantly chalk and you only really need to dig 30-50cm to get down to it. Despite this, we were excavating ditches that had been dug up to 1.5m into the natural; something that would have taken a huge amount of labour, especially when you consider that they would have had rudimentary tools. It took us a day or so to dig and record a 2m wide slot of this ditch, but the thing itself was 20m in diameter! This surely wasn’t something built on a whim, and having dug one personally I can now say that I have a lot of respect for those labourers who toiled some 4,000 years ago.
2. All the cool stuff gets found when you are away
I took a few days out from the excavation during the second week to go to a wedding and, predictably, lots happened. Not only were the Bronze Age cremations lifted for excavation and analysis under laboratory conditions but we also found a beaker burial. These rare types of burial attest a broad European culture that existed from around 2800 BC to 1800 BC and the finding of a headless burial from this period mere meters from the entrance of a monumental Anglo-Saxon timber hall was certainly something of a surprise.
3. Camera drones are incredible
In terms of understanding the bigger picture, there really is no substitute for an aerial photograph. Nowadays we can mount cameras to little helicopter drones that hover high above and return some fantastically detailed images. In the old days you’d have to pay a local pilot to do a flyby and simply hope that the shots were okay.
In this picture you can see the outline of the Bronze Age barrow (bottom left), the large midden affectionately known as the ‘blob’ (top right) as well the southern wall of a sizable Anglo-Saxon post-built structure (bottom centre). Image courtesy of AD Photographics.
In this shot you can see the outlines of WWII buildings (with the dark walls) and, although a little faint, the outlines of the large Anglo-Saxon timber hall in the centre of the trench. Image courtesy of AD Photographics.
4. You can’t quite grasp the level of paperwork involved until you’re in charge of it
During the final few weeks I was given charge of an area of trench one that had well over a hundred archaeological features. Making sure that all the records tallied up was both a tedious and life-sucking chore but also an immensely rewarding and beneficial experience. To understand the level of admin at the centre of a large excavation you really do have to be a part of it, and I can certainly say I gained a whole host of useful skills that I hadn’t had previously. Ticking off the final record in a trench of 597 contexts was one of the best feelings I’ve had in ages (that is also one of the saddest sentences I’ve ever written).
5. The people of Lyminge (and surrounding areas) are really into the excavation
Just look at this picture. It is incredible to see how many people were interested enough in the excavation to make the journey down to visit us. The Lyminge Archaeology Project is a real show case for the level of interest public archaeology can create, and represents an important case study for its benefits to local communities.
That’s all this week. I still haven’t recovered from my tent-induced ‘cabin fever’ and I think I’ll need a few more naps until I can sensibly return to this PhD lark…