OMG What happened? Archaeology happened!

I am fairly new to twitter but recently delighted in the twitter exchange above when Dr Matt Pope posted a picture of the dig site at Les Varines, Jersey. As you can see for yourself below, it’s pretty impressive!

20140705-173402.jpgThis is my first proper archaeology dig from start to finish. I’ve helped out for a few hours here and there on the recent dig at St Clement with Robert Waterhouse, the field archaeologist for the Societe Jersiaise where we uncovered an Iron Age house and associated pottery, and lots of pieces of Roman pottery. But my heart lies in prehistory – Neolithic, Mesolithic, Palaeolithic and I’m luckily enough to have been allowed to gatecrash the #iceageisland excavation on the Magdalenian culture site of Les Varines.

20140706-074107.jpg This is some of the current team – and don’t we all look clean and fresh. Don’t worry, that didn’t last very long! The numbers seem to be a half and half split between students (mainly UCL in this group) and staff, with the majority students here for 2 week batches and the rest of us in it for the whole 5 weeks.

20140706-075749.jpgAlthough the lovely digger-man from A.A.Langlois did an exceptional job on the trench, our first job was operation tidy-up. We lopped the brambles and roots from the surrounding platform to minimise trip hazards, clod picked and then cleared loose dirt to stop it being blown or washed down into our trench. And just a little bit of wanting it to look aesthetically pleasing.

20140706-214258.jpg Next stage was to clean the sections, the upright faces on the edges of the trench. Once these are troweled back the underlying stratigraphy can be recorded by drawing and photography.

20140706-211039.jpgAnd finally, mattocks at the ready, we got down to the floor of the trench. I learned the hard way how to distinguish the the rock hard granitic sand from the butter-soft loess.

20140706-220236.jpg Each bucketful of soil that comes out of the bottom of the trench is meticulously sieved to make sure that we haven’t missed any artifacts with over exuberant groundwork. We have hand sieves a plenty, but it’s much more fun using our Boy Scout version.

20140706-221233.jpg Once the hard work on the surface of the trench was completed it was all trowels on deck to clean back the surface once more ready for some readings from the theodolite, which allows Sarah to make 3D models of the site – see an example here.

20140707-072227.jpg Even at this level we were beginning to see the odd artefact. This is a Mesolithic blade made from flint. The blue/white patination on the surface is normal for this site, believed to be a Mesolithic hunting camp at the base of a small granite cliff. It sits beside a small valley and looks down over the land to the south east.

20140707-074936.jpgThe last step for our first week was the siting of the test pits. We have planning permission for six pits, but have started with four, the other two can be placed once we have more information about the site following excavation of the first four. Each pit is 2m by 2m and allows four trowellers to work together in one pit. Well, at this level anyway – not so when we are a metre down!

20140707-075714.jpg There is a pop up museum on the site which consists of 5 Mash-style tents. Tabitha uses one as an artefacts processing area so that this can be completed on site, but also it allows the visiting public to see and handle some of the finds. The Hautlieu GCSE students have painted lots of panels to adorn the canvas sides, and Jersey Heritage have organised information boards with background and interpretation of the site. But Ed is always on hand to give a more detailed overview. Come and visit us! (See Jersey Heritage for visitor information and background.)

Week one is done, and I have never been so dusty, grubby and happy!

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  1. Great post (and blog). I was at Les Varines for a little while on Sunday. Very interesting trip 🙂

    1. Thanks Darren 🙂 We’re there until the end of the month so if you live on island do try and come up again! It changes so much on a daily basis.

        1. We have an open day on Sunday. James Dilly from Ancientcraft will be there flint knapping and lots of experts on site to talk to. There is parking in JCG car park and you can walk down – but no parking on Ivystill Lane. If you come before 1.30 I’ll be there so make sure you say hi!