Archaeology and me: My first Dig.
by, 01-30-2008 at 06:35 PM (925 Views)
Way back in 2003, I was hired for my first excavation. It was a Beautiful summer and i was very lucky to get employed on an Early Neolithic settlement site located at Carraigmacross in Co.Monaghan. We spent the first few weeks clearing the site, trowelling back the natural surface after the topsoil was removed and etching out any discolourations or changes in the soils composition in search of archaeological features. This isnt the best of jobs but it does bring a certain thrill, especially when things start to form on the surface, like pits and furrows and above all else, the foundations of the neolithic settlements themselves!
The First thing we had to excavate where the Furrows. These are just basicly imprints left in the gound by hundreds of years of ploughing. With them removed we got to move on to the main things. The first structure was ready to be excavated. Alas! I was unforunate enough to not get to work on it, as myself and two of the lads, Eamonn my housemate, and Alan, got landed with the large Fulacht Fia which was located in the shade of some trees by the small river. This was horrendous work. Trust me its very hard to excavate layers of tightly compacted burnt stones and charcoal. We spent a few weeks excavating it, constantly getting covered in charcoal, but we past the time telling each other jokes. The lads found it funny to play tricks on me while my back was turned tossing stones into the river behind (quite skillfully i might add as you couldnt even see their hands twitching!) and making it sound like there was something on the other side of the trees, jumping in and out of the water. I got a bit freaked out, as they had more or less convinced me there was a rat in the bushes behind me. They eventually told me and well! They got a nice kick in the shins i can tell ya!
Excavating the Fulacht Fia ended up being worth while. When we got our section done and had almost reached the bottom we discovered there was a horse shoe shaped trough and in it was a plank of wood with knife marks on the surface. This was our gem! It was almost 4000 years old and had been more or less the surface our prehistoric ansestors would have placed, cut and cooked their food on. The trough would have been filled with water, which naturally surfaced as it was below the water level of the river (hence the good preservation of the wood) and the hot stones, which would have been heated in a fire, would have been tossed in to boil the water to cook the meat! The only other things we really found were animal bones; boar and sheep things like that.
When we were finished with that, the first house (house A) had been more or less excavated, as had a shallow burial that had been discovered. (dont worry! Medieval burial not modern!) So we were moved on the House B. I was excited by this as i was getting the chance to work on one of the structures. I was given my section, which was thankfully beside one of the site supervisors, who was a great help with advising me how to excate the section and everything that needed to be done with it. I didnt find much in mine. Just a couple of carbonised hazelnuts some burnt bone and charcoal. One of the girls Fiona had discovered a polished stone axehead in hers. (i'm not jealous honest! ) The foundations where amazing! The house is one of the largest to be discovered in Ireland, and was divided into two halves, obviously living quarters and sleeping quarters. I thing it was about 30 odd metres in length, which is impressive for a structure dating around 6000 years old! We were about a month and a half excavating it.
After that, it was on to House C. Now this was my favourite of all. Why you ask? well, because the structure had obviously burnt down, and you could see the burning throughout the foundations, even teh orientation the the house fell when it had collapsed! It was very impressive. We found things like burnt bone, carbonised hazelnuts, flint scrapings, burnt posts, the list goes on!
I had found myself once again working by the trickster Alan, but thankfully he had learnt his lesson about playing jokes on me. Instead, he moved on to my other housemate, and friend from college Tracy. Tracy had done something to the tendents in her ankle. (repetitive injury caused by tripping over a stone while we were on top of a mountain in the Cooleys visiting a Prehistoric Tomb. She likes to tell people she fell down the tomb, which sounds better than saying "I tripped over a stone!) So Tracy ended up working in the finds office and was very rarely on site. One day Alan discovered a decaying rock shaped like a clog and decided it would be funny to bag it up, give it a finds number and send it up to the finds office to Tracy. The look of confusion on her face was classic! Very gullible our Tracy. When she realised that it was a joke, she laughed with the rest of us. But the fact she didnt, well, kick him like i had, meant she'd be the but of more trcks. And she was! The last one had everyone doubled up. Alan decide it would be funny to give her a ring. So he did. He gets on the Phone and tells her that he's lost the bubble from his line level and could she find him a new bubble, that there should be a box of them under the drawing desk in the finds hut. She went and looked for them and rang him back to tell him there was none. Now anyone whos ever seen a level of any kind (spirit level for example) knows that you cant replace a bubble in a level!
We spent around four months on the site. It was four of the best months of my life! We had a great social life, going out almost every second night, swimming in Lake Crevy and we even challenged Monaghan county council to a few football matches! (which we lost miserably!) But soon it was time to move on, and move on we did. Tracy went in to the sites post excavation stage because she had spent most of her time in the finds office and i went off on my tobler to another site in Westmeath. I got to work with a few of the people from the site again later on in my archaeology career, but no site lives on in my memory like Monnany, Carraigmacross Co.Monaghan.