Monday, August 29, 2011

And We Come to an End (part 2)

Alright, I've got some more time to sit about and update you all on what went on for the past couple of weeks! I can't promise anything especially exciting, but we'll see what happens, I suppose.

Today's topic might be a little short. I hope you don't mind terribly, but I figured it was necessary, considering it's... ya know... the archaeology. Just what we did at the site and how we went about doing it. Pretty interesting stuff, I know. Try to contain yourself.

So, the archaeology that I was actually doing the whole time was mostly working on prehistoric standing structures, called hut circles. Pretty much, if you walked through this certain forest, you'd find all these random circles in the grass. They kinda look like a very small meteor hit and there's an impact zone there. They can be as many as 15 or so meters across. I think the largest one is... 50 meters? That might not be right at all. I might have totally made that number up. I didn't work on any that large anyway. Anyway, they're just circular stone walls that are left over from the huts that the native populations lived in/stored livestock in/did whatever else it was that needed to be done in them. They had wooden roofs where we were working, but they could also have thatched roofs further down south, I believe. The roofs were actually super high and probably contained a second story where the family actually lived, meaning the livestock was probably stored below. There'd be a hearth in the centre of the building that would be burning pretty much constantly, so we were looking especially for charcoal and whatnot near the centre of the rings.

Anyway, the site that I was working at was called Balbithan. It kind of comes from a bastardization of a pictish word; the land of Bithan or something. I don't rightly remember. But we had two hut circles to work in. The one that we all started on was in the thick of the trees and, frankly, created a nice muddy bog in the middle due to its bowl-like shape. Awesome. So, we laid out two trenches across the circle that met in the middle. They were off-set from each other, though, so it looked like a windmill that had lost two of its arms. Kind of confusing to picture, but if I were able to draw on this thing, you'd totally understand. Promise. We did this so that we could open up the pits into two quarter-circles if need be and they'd be opposite each other, giving a good interpretation of what was not uncovered yet. We didn't end up doing that, though we did extend one of the trenches a bit more to see if we found the entrance to the hut. We didn't. Bummer. But yeah, so we had to de-turf the trenches that we laid out, which is maybe not the most enjoyable job, but it's not too bad. We just had to rip up all the grass in long chunks so that it could be put back later. It got especially lame when we had to work around a tree stump, which happened rather frequently, unfortunately. After that was all done, we had to remove the top layer of soil, which was all recent stuff that wouldn't have any artifacts that were worth much to us in situ (Latin for "in position", if you didn't catch on) and would just be covering up all the features that we were really trying to get to. However, unlike my last dig, this couldn't be done quickly and easily with a shovel, because there were enormous rocks in the way. So we had to do it all by hand with a trowel. Not the most fun, I have to say, but alas.

Oh, all the while that this is being taken care of, there are other students and volunteers (they didn't get a mention in the last post because... well... because I didn't feel like it and I can't remember all of their names) digging test pits willy-nilly around the site. Well... not willy-nilly, I suppose. But it kinda seemed like it. Not necessarily up to the rigorous scientific standards set up by my last field school, that's for sure.

So, after the test pits are all dug and the trenches have been cleaned out, everything has to be surveyed and mapped and photographed and discussed, etc. This is kind of the real science of it. I'd never mapped the way we did it here, which was kind of interesting. We just laid a 1x1 meter grid down on the trench and used it as a reference to draw the trench on a 20 to 1 scale. You just draw what's within the square, then move the square up and keep going until you've filled in the entire trench. I'm really not much of an artist, however, so my maps might have been a little iffy. Meh.

By the way, I'm doing this all out of order. Heh. Kind of getting caught up in explaining certain parts and forgetting any sort of narrative structure to the weeks. I guess it doesn't really need it, but yeah. I feel as if I'm telling the story poorly. Well, I mean, I am, but that's just me being terrible at stories. I'll try to be more structured if I ever do this again. (I know, I know. You'll all feel lost without these updates, but it's ok. I'm sure you'll find a way to move on.) Anyway, before we actually got on with much of the mapping of the first trench, a couple of us were moved down to another hut circle further into the woods (this group was what became Delta Squad). This one was a bit more open, so there was a better view, at least... of a golf course. Heh. We also had a class of students come down to help us out. Apparently their teacher is a friend of Murray's and she started an archaeology club at the school. The kids were nice and everything, if not the most helpful. But what can you really expect from a couple of grade-school kids? For the experience that they had (not much at all), they were great little helpers! So we used child labor to open up two pits at the lower hut circle in the same manner that we did on the first one. This one was a little bit bigger and wasn't nearly as damp, thankfully. I ended up working on the second one for the rest of the dig, so I didn't see much of the top hut circle for the next week or so.

So, we got the bottom hut circle all worked out and managed to finish everything up quite quickly. Most of the artifacts that came out of the trenches were flint shards, quite a bit of rock quartz, stuff like that. However! I seemed to have all the luck, and possibly came up with two pieces of either bronze or iron age pottery. At least, that's what they think they were. It's possible. Heh. They hadn't been able to identify it on site and they hadn't done any diagnostic stuff before I left. I really do hope that's what they were. I'd be the only one on the site to find any sort of pottery if that's the case. Pretty cool stuff!

So... That's all, I think... At least that's how far we got. We never ended up finding any of the entrances, but we did track down a couple of other hut circles that we didn't open up. They're pretty much all over in that forest. It's pretty amazing when you think about it. I mean, the history in that one place is everywhere and spans so much time. It's incredible to think about.

Alright, probably just one more post to make. Maybe two? I dunno. I'm still trying to visit places around Edinburgh, so maybe that'll warrant a post. Who knows? Who wants to learn about Rosslyn Chapel? Anyone? I went there today. Pretty cool. Lots of bus confusion... Edinburgh Castle next, I believe. Exciting!

Until then!

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