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Photo Shoot

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As this is the last post of my Silchester blog, I figured I’d upload some photos rather then a long rant 🙂

Morris Dancing at the pub.

More Morris Dancing.

My trowel –  the picture was taken for the Silchester Bingo’s that Laura and I made this year, which were hugely popular!

The North Gate…

Our tents…

Inside of the Visitors Cabin,

where I have spent many, many hours… days… weeks…

View across site.

Another view of the trench.

I went up in a cherry picker Thursday, and got to see it all from above.

It was so cool, so much easier to see features from above.

Our camp site from up in the cherry picker.


The not so trusty tent

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Just a side note to begin with, here’s an article about the Silchester Open days from The University of Reading website: click me!

And here’s a quote from Professor Mike Fulford (the big boss), stolen from the article,

“The first Open Day was a wonderful occasion. It’s fantastic to see so many people, of all ages, take an interest in and enjoy visiting what is a site of great historical importance. The team are looking forward to the 2nd and final Open Day and welcoming a large number of visitors once again. They are such exciting and fun events, you never know what you might find!”

for your information we had approx 800 people at each open day, though more children on the first one, and more adults on the second.

Now on to the news about the tent…

You know how I said my tent would be my best friend on the trip? Well now, Monday morning, and my tent is dying.

It had been a terribly windy day, and clearly my tent couldn’t quite cope. It is showing its age, a whole three years. I must admit I honestly thought tents could live longer than that. But no. My tent is a 4-man tent with a porch, and the porch is practically destroyed. Torn tent material. And the elastic inside the pole which keeps it up has snapped, scattering bits of tent pole around my tent. Also, my guy ropes are snapping left right and centre. Some I had already replaced, and I spent my afternoon replacing more until I ran out of new guy ropes.

It’s not an ideal situation. And that is putting it fairly lightly. Actually, it’s a bit of a nightmare.

I spent my afternoon (after spending about an hour putting my tent into a condition in which it was standing, if only just) phoning my mother frantically. Why is it that my family is always home, except when I phone them? Finally I get hold of her, and agree with her that she will pick up the majority of my stuff Tuesday, and drop off the pop up tent our family once bought. The tiny, tiny pop up tent.

Except then I get back to my tent at the end of the day, and it has literally torn straight down the middle. Never have a more appreciated my mother then when she within half an hour is at Silchester, picking up me, my hastily packed stuff, and my wreckage of a tent. Right now, I really truly hate windy weather. It has its upside of course. I spend Monday night in an actual bed, having a slumber party with my two sisters, eating pizza and ice cream.

Some of my Monday evening is also filled with packing, and choosing what things I will absolutely need Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before my day off. Goodbye my beloved campbed, there is no room for you in the pop up tent. Goodbye lantern, your just too bulky. Should I keep my wellies or not? They take up so much space, but its supposed to rain Thursday.  Am I going to be using my solar shower in the next few days? I hope not, because it’s still dripping water, and I don’t want it in my tent, so off it goes. What clothes am I going to keep in my tent, which will I send home? The choices I have to make!

To be honest, I’m severely doubting whether there is in fact room for me in the pop up tent, much less any of my belongings. Its unpleasant to downgrade from a spacious four-person tent with a porch, to a pop up, one-man tent. Its only five days! I keep telling myself. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Only five days in a miserable sad little tent. I’m practically at war with myself, torn between feeling sorry for my plight, and dredging up my eternal optimism, and reminding myself that its only five days. Only five days! Surely I can survive five days in a tent which resembles a wormhole more than a home.

Once we’ve set up the pop up tent it doesn’t actually look that bad. Though the ceiling is low so I can only crouch or ay down, the bottom of the tent is actually fairly wide, allowing both me and my (small amount) luggage to fit. I can do this! Just five more days… I really hope it doesn’t rain.

One Week Left

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The point has come when I keep reminding myself that there is only 1 week left. Only 1 week in which to take the photos I want to take. Only 1 week left of solar showers. Only 1 week left of all my food being made for me. Only 1 week left of portaloos. Only 1 week left of limited internet access (while writing this, I’m cursing the missing internet connection which should be there!)  Hence the at times irregular updates.

It’s a bittersweet thing I suppose. I enjoy my job. I enjoy the archaeology. I enjoy working with visitors. However I must admit there are things I miss. It is rather isolating to live in a field without your own internet access, without any bus service, without a car, and the only thing being within walking distance being farms, a church and two pubs. I also long to cook for myself again. To have access to a kitchen and ingredient. To bake. You don’t realise the luxuries you have at home, until your living in a field for seven weeks.

To break up the monotony of my weeks, my younger brother came for the day on Thursday. A Thursday which turned out to be torrential rain. He helped out in finds, washing artefacts and had great fun. While I sat in the visitors hut, perched on a chair, watching the visitors gate in case someone was mad enough to visit us in this weather. Only one person was, and luckily he didn’t want a tour.

Saturday was our second open day, which I spent again doing tablet-weaving and friendship bracelet braiding. I was split between moments when I was practically bored out of my mind with nothing to do, and moments where I was frantically cutting lengths of wool and giving instructions to ten different children at once. Visitors always seem to come at once in one large disconnected group. In the afternoon I sat on shop, convincing people to buy T-shirts and archaeological reports, and apologising that we only had white T-shirts with the Silchester horse on, and we only had them in M and XXL. We officially closed at 5pm, but I spent the twenty minutes after that chasing people down, politely informing them that we were closing, only to discover five minutes later that they had simply moved from the visitor’s cabin to the Roman garden and from the Roman garden to the walkway. Though slightly annoying, especially since I wanted my workday to end, I couldn’t help feeling slightly amused. It’s the kind of annoying thing my parents do with us when we visit museums, and which I’ve always found mortifyingly embarrassing, being chased round the museum by security as they desperately try to close. At last however, I shut the gate behind the last visitor.

Just one week left, and I’ve realised that I’m somehow going to have to transport all the stuff in my tent back home. It’s amazing the amount of clutter, food, clothes, magazines and books you can accumulate in a tent over the span of six weeks. I must admit I doubt it’s going to fit into my bags on the way home. My plan is to bring as much stuff as possible home on Thursday evening, and then bring the bags back empty Friday evening to I bring the rest of my stuff home. Even then, I have an idea I’m just going to stuff a load of stuff helter-skelter in a plastic bag. Oh the joys of living in a tent.

What do you think Archaeology is?

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Child on Open Day about archaeologists: Are they normal people?

Me on a school tour: What Do you think archaeology is?

Child: Treasurehunters!

Friend: So what did you study at University?

Me: Archaeology.

Friend: Oh, like Indiana Jones?

Visitor: All this scraping away looks awful. A JCB is much more my thing.

If there is one thing I’ve learned while working at an archaeological is that no one really gets what archaeology actually is, or what archaeologists actually do. When I do my tours for school groups, I always start by asking what they think archaeology actually is. Answers range from treasurehunters, to people who look for dinosaurs (that’s paleontology, which you get into through geology, not archaeology) and the most frequent answer “you dig and find stuff”.

I wonder if other professions get summed up in such a manner. I suppose we tend to do that to most professions, however few professions can really be summed up so shortly, and archaeology certainly cannot. Also, apart from the digging and finding stuff, people always seem to be confused with how we find out where this stuff is, and what we do with the stuff afterwards. So many questions from visitors revolve around “how did you know there was a Roman town here?” and various alternatives of “Do you get to keep the stuff you find?” and “Do you sell the stuff you find?”

The first question, “how did you know there was a Roman town here?” always stumps me a bit. Theres a huge stone wall encircling the whole site, plus the visible stone wall remains of the amphitheatre, how could we possibly have missed that there was something here unless we were blind? Of course I explain this in a much more polite manner to visitors.

The second also has me scrambling for answers. What do they think we do? That we are essentially raiders? Treasurehunters? I always explain that we certainly do not keep the stuff, or sell it, the university uses it for research.

Research? Archaeology involves research???

Yes it does. Lots of it. On my school tours I explain that the word ‘archaeology’ actually comes from two Ancient Greek words, ‘archaeo’ which means ancient, and ‘ology’ which means study, so the word ‘archaeology’ actually means ‘the study of ancient things’, and by things i mean civilisations, artefacts, buildings, cities, towns, villages, any sort of ancient deposit. We don’t just discover, find (or as in Indiana Jones’ case steal it), we study it. 

We research where there might be a site, what we might expect to find. The excavation at Silchester Roman Town is in fact a Research Excavation, we have specific research questions, and each season we have new questions and aims. We are not just digging a hole. We record artefacts, features, buildings etc. and after the summer season, specialists analyse things such as our small finds, metalwork, animal bones, pottery, soil samples, micromorphs (yes, archaeology involves scientific techniques as well) etc. Reports are written about our finds, and the professors analysis of the data. Rather then Treasurehunters, we’re more like detectives, peicing together any little scrap of information we can to form a picture of the lives, formation, society and events of the past.

Hence also why we don’t just take a JCB to it, it would kind of destroy all the clues that they left.

1st Open Day

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A bit late with this post due to a couple of days off going to Sweden, and lack of access to internet, but updates with hopefully become more regular again. 🙂

Saturday, 23rd July. Our first Open Day of the season. Open Days are always good fun. We dress up, we dress the kids up, we paint ourselves with blue facepaint, we paint the children with blue facepaint etc. Mike and Amanda do tours (with fancy-pants Madonna headsets) we do children’s tours, we have colouring in for the children, we make Bulla’s with the children etc. and it’s always really good fun. For this particular open day the BBC are also doing some activities, as are Reading Museum.

I’m doing my demonstrations of tabletweaving, a craft which they would have practiced during the Roman times to make belts, trimmings for cloaks and clothes, etc. Since its complicated I can’t teach it to the children, but what I do do is teach them to make friendship bracelets (I’ll type up the instructions when I have time and post them on here). The basic idea is that you have a cardboard circle with a hole in the middle, and eight cuts in it, which you use to braid seven threads of wool together. It’s hugely popular among the children and I quickly swamped with children sitting around me, needing me to cut this and this and that colour of wool for them and explain to them how to do it. Occasionally they also need fixing, encouragement, and detangling of their wool.

Lunch is a stolen commodity when I spot a gap in my trickle of braiding children and hastily pack up, and grab lunch just before they call seconds.

As the afternoon goes on, various archaeologists notice the kids walking around doing this colourful little braiding thingies, and come to investigate. Two of the women working with the BBC also come over before they leave, and I help them get wool, cardboard circles, and teach them how to do it.

At the end of the day, I’ve helped about 50 children (and a couple of adults and archaeologists) how to do these little friendship bracelets. Somehow the weather has held up beautifully, despite the earlier weather forecast promising rain. We’ve had about 850 visitors. It’s been a very successful day. I’m going to have to cut more of the cardboard circles for our next open day. Which… oh wait! Is already on next Saturday, on the 6th August. I’m feeling exhausted and excited again already.

Surprise, Surprise!

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Every week we have a schedule, informing us of when we have schools, the age of school groups, group sizes, when important people are arriving, when we can expect pre-booked groups, when we have open days, when we have TV crews filming, or Radio shows recording, etc. Its all very useful, and its of life-&-death importance to us on the visitors management team so that we know what we’re doing when, when we need to have extra volunteers, when we need to have certain activities prepared etc.

Monday was blank. Fine by us, we have some prep stuff we have to do at some point anyway, for our open day next Saturday, so the plan was to relax, take care of the occasional visitors, get ready for Saturday etc. SO imagine my surprise when at (very promptly) 10 O’clock a school troops in through our gate, and the teacher introduces herself to me, looking at me expectantly.

What do I say? What do I do? I’m sure I must have looked like a panicked deer in the headlights of a monster truck. She assures me that they are a prearranged group, and they had booked a time this morning, and they expect to be entertained until lunchtime.

Apologising profusely to the teacher that they are not on their schedule, I get Laura’s attention and inform her of the crisis. We’re both in panic mode. It doesn’t help that it is Monday morning, so the sie has just received a large group of first-years who have various introduction talks this morning, meaning our space and resources are slightly more limited than normal. Finds is currently using both artefact teaching collections, however we arrange with them that if the school has their finds and artefacts talk now then they can spare a teaching collection for them.

Hastily we adapt, Laura gives her health and safety talk, and we bundle off the children and teachers to the marque to have a finds talk. This gives us an approx. 25min breather to plan the rest of their visit. Luckily the school class is small, only 16 children, so we decide to keep them together for the majority of the activities. After their finds talk I give them a tour of the site, which luckily I’ve by now given to so many schools that I rattle it off confidently, involving the children, answering their questions, and making the tour a bit longer than normal, despite being completely stressed out by the whole experience. We then set them to doing activity sheets with Charlie for about twenty minutes. After that we split them into two groups, which swap between dressing up and acting led by me, and the dig-pit led by Charlie. With both groups I do both plays, Perseus & Andromeda and Theseus & the Minotaur, in an attempt to keep them entertained for as long as possible.

While we in our second rotation, another large school group turns up. What is wrong with this Monday morning! At least this school does not stress that they have pre-booked, and all they ask for is a quick tour of the site, which Laura handles, as well as showing them some of the artefacts we have in the visitors cabin.

Finally we wave goodbye to both schools and collapse in the visitors cabin, exhausted. It’s not the fact that it’s a school on Monday morning that has us stressed, it’s a small, nice, polite local yr four. It’s not that we can’t handle them. Once we got going we did pretty well, and hopefully made up for the fact that they weren’t on our calendar. It’s the fact that we weren’t prepared for them. It makes all the difference in the world to our stress level.

The rest of the day is blessedly quiet after our busy morning. We get some of the preparation for open day done. We get another surprise when someone turns up asking for Amanda Clarke (our field school director) another pre-booked arrangement not on our list, but that is ironed out as well. We have a couple of other visitors, in couples and small groups, though the majority of them are happy to go around looking by themselves once we’ve given them a site guide. Though its cloudy, and drizzles occasionally, the weather holds until approx 3.10pm, where we get a sudden burst of torrential rain. But  about twenty minutes later it has cleared up, and we have a fair number of visitors for the last hour of our opening time. Hopefully we’ll have no more of those kinds of surprises this week (or this year even).

Working Week

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It was a busy week last week, both work-wise and socially. Monday I give several tours, and in the evening we go down to the Calleva Arms pub to watch the Morris Men dancing (which is hilarious, I recommend seeing them, and joining in).

Tuesday, two schools in the morning, one of forty children and one of thirty, so we have to make sure everything works perfectly logistically, as we split each school into three groups and rotate them all through six different workshops. It all works out nicely, and we are pleased (if also quite exhausted) when we wave goodbye to them. Disadvantage of six workshops? It means i have to give my tour of the site to the children six times. In a loud voice as I attempt to make sure they can all hear me, and all pay attention. My throat hurts so badly. Add to that that its cold and windy, and yes I am beginning to feel slightly miserable. In the evening, some friends and I go down to the Calleva Arms, following the luring promise of desserts. Dessert makes everything better! The Calleva Arms has some amazing deserts, I strongly recommend their chocolate fudge cake with mint ice cream and their sticky toffee ice cream cake if you ever go by there.

Wednesday we just have the one school, so rather than six workshops, I give one tour with all of them to start with, and we then rotate them through four different workshops. I myself am in charge of the dressing up/acting out a play. I explain how the Romans thought the Greeks were really clever, and a lot of their teachers were Greek. Therefore we are going to act out a Greek play, Perseus and Andromeda. I am pleasantly surprised when all the children eagerly tell me that they’ve been learning about Greek mythology in school, and they all take to the dressing up and acting with great gusto.

Since my workshop is a bit shorter than the others, we usually play games until the others are done, however one of the groups enthusiastically ask if they can act out the play again. I suggest we act a different play, and since they are all happy little experts in Greek mythology, they ask for Theseus and the Minotaur. Good thing then that I happen to have a Minotaur mask, and know the story by heart. You never know when you might need to recount a Greek mythological story! I happen to know the story of Theseus and the Minotaur quite well as when I did beginners Ancient Greek in my first year at university, Theseus and the Minotaur was one of the stories we had to translate from Ancient Greek into English. I can assure you that when you’ve haltingly translated a story from Ancient Greek into English three or four times, you know it fairly well.

Also on Wednesday I get to use my amazing Danish skills again as a hiking couple come in through the gates. You know, when I wrote on my CV that I was fluent in Danish, I really hadn’t expected to actually use it.

Thursday is much of the same, another class from the same school as Tuesday and Wednesday, so I do my big tour of the site, we split them into four groups, and I do my dressing up and acting thing. Its sunny and beautiful, and all the children, though energetic and difficult to get to sit still, and enthusiastic, polite and eager to join in. Today I do both Perseus and Andromeda and Theseus and the Minotaur with all the groups, which they all enjoy, particularly as they know the story of Theseus and the Minotaur (except for one boy who must have been either ill or not paid attention the day they were learning Greek mythology in school).

Thursday afternoon I also get to go home. Friday, our day off, is full of all the things I can’t get done the rest of the week, including shopping for trainers, since my old pair got destroyed while I was jogging Wednesday evening. Friday is over too soon as I spend the day taking our dog for walks, taking my sister to school, picking her and her friend up from school, packing the things I need to bring back with me to Silchester (like waterproof trousers since its supposed to rain all weekend). Too soon I’m back at Silchester, unpacking my things in my tent. Where do these days off disappear off to?

Saturday, we’re all prepped for a busy weekend. Except it rains. Not just a drizzle. Torrential rain. (don’t you love how English has so many words to describe rain?) We have some prearranged groups which arrive, however they are all groups which Amanda Clarke and Mike Fulford are taking care of, so there isn’t much for us to do, apart from greet them as they come in, and prepare some information packs for the Dig4MS group which Amanda is talking to. Some few brave souls have ventured into the rain, so we give a few tours, hand out some of our children’s Silchester Bingo’s, reward stickers, and indentify children’s finds in the dig-pit. But these are usually short, wet and cold visits. We end up closing early, just after lunch. And what then, but glorious sunshine? (though still with the occasional downpour of rain) a couple of us go down to the Calleva Arms, and enjoy the warmth and comfort it offers on such a cold and wet day.

Sunday… well it looks sort of alright when we wake up. Certainly its cloudy and cold, but it’s not raining… yet. As work commences its begins to alternate between a light drizzle, and a proper downpour. Oh how I love our cosy dry visitors cabin on such days. There were many intrepid explorers out in the rain, and in the morning alone we have approx. 70 visitors. However at around 2 O’clock, the downpour turns into a rainstorm. We close early again. My faithful tent, having been battered by wind and rain for so long has got a tear. It’s in the porch part of my tent, so there’s not need to panic yet. I attempt to stitch it, which works along the seem at the bottom, however higher up, all it does is further tear the fabric. I knew I should have brough duct tape.

Heres to hoping that week three will have better weather. And that my tent will survive this year without me and my stuff getting wet.