Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Friday, July 23

The sky is only partly cloudy this morning and will improve all day. It will be easily the nicest day of digging we have had the whole month.

The still photographers, myself included, have a blast with the light. Over the course of the day I get maybe 90 minutes of digging in. Included in the digging will be the removal of the two stones that have been blocking my access to “My Thing”. I now have clear access to it. Of course, Peter shows up and decides I need to expand my work area AWAY from “My Thing” and I spend my 90 minutes cleaning the new area he wants me to work in.
A couple of the still photo projects I am working on are hands with tools and still life of tools. It is in the course of working on the former that it finally happens. I am walking around an area I worked in during the first couple of days I was here and has not been worked in since. I am trying to find the right place to take a photo of someone working a small area with her tools. I have to be careful about where I set my feet so as not to stand on an important piece of archeology (or “to not pull a Peter”).

Looking at my feet I see a large round green object. “No”, I think, “It can’t be that easy.” Bending down I pick it up and sure enough, it is – a large Roman coin.

After 3 weeks of carefully sifting endless mounds of dirt for the chance of finding even a small coin, I find mine lying on the surface, having been exposed by the recent rain. It is the size of a US half dollar and twice as thick. Given the size, it is likely to be from the early to mid Imperial period. The woman who I was about to take a picture of (a friend) is furious that it was lying just 10 feet from where she has been working for a week. The coin has some hard dirt adhering to it and will have to be carefully cleaned in the University’s lab to bring out the detail but I finally have my coin.

There are some folks who like to do Roman reenacting setting up onsite for a show that is going to happen this weekend and for a while the girls have a good time putting on helmets that are way too big and banging swords.

At the end of the day, Peter gets everyone together for one of his “What it all means” tours. He points out that both trenches have a number of “circular” features that seem to be similar in size and have a lot of animal bones in and around them. His thinking now is that we have been working in a medieval cattle-processing center, built with the material, and over the top of, the old Roman fort and vicus. While we have found lot of Roman things (coins and pottery) the current layer of stones seem to have been rearranged to support the cattle activity. This includes one stone circular pit that has a cattle skull buried, apparently deliberately, right in the center.
Friday night I spend handing out in the house kitchen just talking with some friends, letting the party crowd do their thing without my help.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Thursday, July 22

Today Gary wants the Multi-Period Mapping team in the lab to work on our project. At first, I’m a little disappointed given how close I am to digging out “My Thing”, but off I go.
We write a project definition, get all the video edited, add some still photography, and digitize all the maps from last years work. We get it all up on our wiki and call it a day. (You can see it at http://humanitieslab.stanford.edu/Binchester/456 . We have a LONG way to go, but it’s a start.)
We get back to the house about the time the rest of the team returns from the site. They are NOT happy. While there has only been a little rain, it has been cold and very windy and everyone is chilled to the bone. They are envious of us who have spent the day in lab, out of the weather.
For the first time in a couple of nights I decide to have dinner at St. Chad’s. A big mistake. The veggie option is Mushroom Stroganoff and it is simply disgusting. The Stroganoff is basically grey glop that congeals the moment it leaves the steam table.

Wednesday, July 21

After a night of heavy rain the site does not look as bad as I had feared. There is some standing water, but not much, the rain has stopped and by mid afternoon the sun will come out and begin to dry things out.
In the pit we have begun to make four separate pits into two, tearing down one of the (now large) walls that separated them. My pit is still not yielding as much as the others and we are somewhat puzzled. In the late afternoon, Peter comes by and begins throwing dirt around in my area. After a few minutes he thinks he has finally found what he is looking for – clay. It looks like we could be reaching the bottom of our structure.

“My thing” has become a minor tourist attraction and we are developing a list of suggestions as to what it could be but we are no closer to figuring it out. It is still too deep to remove but I have been slowly removing stuff around it to get a better look. Now I am only left with two small rocks just above it. If I can get rid of those I will have a clear, level surface to work on around it. Matt is only slowing me down a little so I am hopeful I may have it by the end of the week.
Today is Summer’s birthday (22) so we go out for dinner before our weekly lecture. Tonight’s lecture is by Michael Shanks and is going to be a treat. As I have taken several classes from him I know what we are in for. For most of the rest of the group, this will be a first.
Michael does not disappoint. He is off and running at break neck speed and as usual it requires some mental gymnastics to keep up. Tonight he has the use of a large chalkboard, which is soon covered with arrows running every which way. His style of lecturing is much like his diagramming. If you let your mind wander even briefly you find yourself wondering how we went from Roman Binchester to 16th century English literature. My favorite phrase of the evening is “the variability of variability”.
After the lecture a large group gathers in a pub to continue Summer’s birthday party. Gary’s email about spending more time in pubs than onsite is a topic of discussion, but doesn’t seem to have had much of an impact. (Indeed some of the folks will be out after 2am and not onsite the next morning. One of supervisors is leading the partying group. She has the room above mine and I hear her come in very late. It seems she has a Jekyll and Hyde personality when it comes to drinking. She is yelling at people and throwing things around her room. I am beginning to worry about her.)
One of the more interesting topics of gossip has been the development of “couples” during our time here. There were two already prior to arriving and we now seem to have three more, with potentially two others in the making. One of these potential couples is comprised of our two youngest full time members. He is a smart and very immature 17 year old (our next birthday, as he will be 18 next week. This has not kept him out of the pubs, though) and she an 18 year old in a huge hurry to prove herself. His intellect is very unfocused and his comic act is clearly covering up some attention issues at home. It is growing tiresome for some of us older folks but tonight she seems quite taken by it. My guess is it won’t last – despite her youth she is too smart to be taken in by it for long.
When the party gets ready to move on to the next pub I take my leave. I know where the partying is going to led to and I am not interested. Must Pace Myself.

About the images"
1. Lunch break onsite.
2. Matt's dog Magggie and the football she has destroyed while we have been here.
Monday, July 19

Back into the Land of Mystery, aka the Pit of Doom aka the Pit of Despair.
Actually we are finally beginning to make progress. One part of the grid is finally giving up rocks that might be the edge of a structure. The other grids are showing more form than mine. One of our local volunteers, Jonathon, has found a completely intact skull of a cow. He spent Friday meticulous cleaning around it and continues to do so today. By late afternoon he has about 80% of it exposed and is just waiting for permission to go a little deeper so he can remove it.
While he is working on that I have begun to uncover a large stone that has a clear curved shape to it. The more I work on it, the more interesting it gets. It is about 15 inches long, 4 inches wide and I still have not found the bottom of it. Clearly someone has put a lot of effort into shaping this rock and it is the first one I have found with a clearly defined worked shape.
At lunch I tell Matt he needs to come by and take a look. I know he is not going to let me remove it yet, it is still too deep, but it is unusual because of its shape. Matt comes by, looks at it for a while and say, “Well, it certainly is a thing.” I just love these highly technical terms. In other words, its purpose, at this point is a

mystery. I adapt it as “My Thing”.

Shortly thereafter, Peter comes along to check on our progress. At this point he is mostly interested in finding changes in the soil (specifically the presence of clay) that will indicate a purpose built floor of a structure. He looks over Jonathon’s trench, climbs in and begins to go at the walls very aggressively with a trowel. After a minute of this he doesn’t find what he is looking for and goes to climb out. Without looking around he places his foot squarely in the middle of the cow skull and climbs out. Jonathon has been kneeling behind Peter watching him and I am standing behind Jonathon. Peter’s foot smashes the skull into four pieces. Jonathon turns and looks at me with a mixture of horror and heartbreak in his eyes. Peter looks at us, sees the shock in our expressions, looks into the trench and seeing the now smashed skull, says, “Oh, did I step on that?” and then climbs into my trench like nothing has happened.
He then notices “my thing” and looks at me with a look that says, “Well, that is interesting!” He has no idea what it is either so he begins to throw dirt around in my very clean trench looking for any sign of clay. Finding none, he climbs out and says, “Dig deeper” and wanders off.
Poor Jonathon can only stand and stare at the smashed remains of his once perfect skull. Silently he pulls the remaining pieces out and packs them up and turns them over to the finds people.

During the day we have been teasing Cory, who is working in one of our four trenches, over the fact that today is his 20th birthday. Cory is somewhat depressed by this. Since this birthday does not afford him any new legal privileges (like being able to legally drink in the U.S.), Cory says this birthday simply makes him feel “old”. I have been barely able to contain fits of laughter at his thought of being “old” at 20!
About an hour before we are to stop working it starts to rain. Unlike the other days though, this time it does not stop and over the next 45 minutes gets progressively stronger. So it has finally come – steady rain. Dirt begins to turn to mud and everything gets heavier – buckets of dirt, wheelbarrows of dirt, soles of shoes with mud stuck to them.
After getting cleaned up I go out to dinner with the folks from the Pompeii trip that have come to Durham. We go to an Italian restaurant (of course) and we talk about everything that has been happening onsite and what they can expect when they get there.
Later, I stop in to say hello at Cory’s birthday dinner. They are headed back to the house for some drinking and self acknowledged “bad” movie watching. I pass and catch up with another group who is headed to a pub quiz. We get there near the end and can’t “officially” participate.
Several of the supervisors are there and I get a glimpse into some of the issues that are going on in the group. They are concerned that people are spending too much time in the pubs and not enough onsite and have asked Gary to say something about it. (The next day we get a mass email on several subjects, including this one. Several days later it is hard to say if this has had any effect.) I bite my tongue to refrain from saying that some the supervisors have been leading the “Night Out” group. In addition, there is some tension about how much attention some are getting towards their academic goals at the expense of the others.

About the images:

1 & 2. A couple of views of "my thing".
3. Before the rain, Miriam takes a nap while safeguarding her trowel.

Sunday, July 18, DURHAM

For the first time in over two weeks I have nowhere I need to be today. I sleep for 10.5 hours and lie around in bed for an hour or so before finally getting up. What a luxury!
I go out for a sandwich for lunch and then a food run to Tesco. On the way back to the house I run into the first of my Continuing Studies friends from last years trip to Pompeii. It is very cool to be far away from home and run into people you know. I give Drew a few tips on the town and the food situation so he can pass them along to the rest of the group, who will be arriving throughout the day. Reluctantly I pass on dinner - I am looking forward to a day of peace and quiet.
I spend the afternoon working on the words and images for my blog as I have gotten behind.
For dinner I go to The Fat Buddha, a restaurant serving a mix of different Asian foods. They have a tofu dish that is wonderful and for the first time in a week I feel like I have had a good meal.
Back at the house I get caught up on the blog. It has been the kind of day I needed, easy, productive and quiet.

About the images:
1. Moonrise over Durham Cathedral.
2. A view of the Cathedral Towers
3 & 4. Stainglass windows in Durham Cathedral from the outside as no photography is permitted inside.

Saturday, July 17

Today is our second field trip. We are off to visit Bamburgh Castle and the town of Lindisfarne on Holy Island.

Several hours on the bus brings us to Bamburgh Castle on the coast, home to the Kings of Northumberland. It stands on a rocky promenade over looking the sea, which today is grey, cold and foreboding. Our guide gives us a history of the site, a history of the area (basically everybody – Neolithic, Iron Age, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Normans) a history of Britannia in microcosm. There are two sites currently being excavated and the dig director gives a lengthy talk about digs that aren’t nearly as interesting as ours. The castle under went extensive renovations and modernizations at the turn of the last century and is now part museum and part private quarters. The museum part is full of the personal possessions of rich people, which I find extremely boring.

It is about this time I notice that my back is starting to act up. After taking a few more photos I walk back to the bus and await the arrival of the rest of the group. My back seems to respond to sitting so I’m hopeful I will get to walk around at our next stop.

The town of Lindisfarne is on Holy Island, which is only accessible at low tide. The tidal plane around the island is huge and the waterlogged sands only add to the grey feeling to the area.

We pay a visit to the ruined abbey (by Henry the VIII, of course) which was the original home of the order that eventually founded the church that is now at home in Durham Cathedral. In addition, there is a small castle out on a spit of land at the waters edge. I have to pass on the trek out there as my back in now really hurting. After a while the sky begins to clear a little and I try to get a few pictures with something other than a grey background.

The island is famous for its local variety of mead, so I stop in and try some. It is more like a light, slightly sweet white wine and I buy a small bottle.

In a little while a small group comes back from their walk and we go to a café to sit outside and have a coffee. By the time the coffee arrives it is raining again and we beat a hasty retreat to the bus.
Back in Durham I decide not to go out for a night on the town and instead rest my back (Must Pace Myself).

About the photos:
1. Hey! How come our dig doesn't have a Tea Room?!?!
2. The town around Bamburgh Castle.
3. A small section of Bamburgh Castle.
4 & 5. A section of the ruins of the abbey on Holy Island.
6. Tilting grave stones outside the abbey.
7. The small castle on Holy Island.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Friday, July 16

The wind was blowing hard all night and is still at it this morning. At breakfast we discuss which is harder to work in - rain or high winds. The wind wins.
On the bus, we are maybe 30 today, the smallest group yet.
Back into the Land of Mystery. Everyone around me has now found the larger stones we have been looking for – everyone but me. Perhaps my spot is an entrance to whatever the structure is we have begun to uncover.

Again just before lunch I come up with an unusual find. This time it is a white piece of pottery. Everything I have found to date has been orange or black so I’m puzzled by this piece. It is explained to me that this type of pottery was usually a large bowl with a rough interior surface so you could grind up spices and whatnot for food.
After lunch we sit with Michael Shanks and discuss the other project I want to work on – documenting The Living Project or Archeology in Action. There are about a dozen of us who have been taking photographs of the work in progress and we discuss ways of capturing the work and showing it.
Late in the afternoon the weather begins to clear and the winds die down. Just in time too, as tonight is the football match between the field people and the academics at the University. The Stanford folks join both teams and much running around and kicking of the ball occurs. A few of the Americans try their hand at cricket and roundball – (an affront to the sport of baseball). I pass on the running around (must Pace Myself) and take lots of pictures. Pints are consumed and a go is made at B-B-Q.
One of the Durham folks tells us about some live music occurring nearby tonight. It turns out to be four doors down from my house, so off I go, in self-defense, if nothing else. Folks from the group wander in and out, most like me not carrying for the band which is trying its best to sound like Tom Waits, a sound best not recreated. A pub-crawl ensues but after some time spent in one place with LOUD thumpy-thumpy music I call it a night.

About the images:
1. Michael at work.
2. A lot of paperwork.
3. Even paperwork can draw a laugh.
4. Stone drawings.
5. Tools of the trade.
6. It takes a lot of institutions to make a dig like this happen: Durham University, Stanford University, Durham County Council, the Church (the landowners), English Heritage and Archeological Services of Durham University.

Thursday, July 15

Today the weather has taken a turn for the worse. It is cool, windy and we are getting some rain. At one point it rains hard enough to drive us from the trenches and into the shelter of the large storage units we have onsite. Although it will clear a little in the afternoon, the windy conditions will remain.
We start digging in our newly roped off areas and are going to be allowed to go deeper than we have been on the rest of the site. We are trying to find some large stones that would indicate some sort of structure in this part of the fort. Back to the Mattocks. We begin to move a lot of dirt, but are slowed by the need to comb it for useful stuff.

Late morning finds me on my knees with my trowel going over the area I have just cleared when something blue appears under my trowel. This is HIGHLY UNUSUAL and I catch my breath. The color alone is so unusual that for a few moments I am not sure my eyes are working right. (The color blue is the hardest color to reproduce. In the ancient world the only known way was to grind up a semiprecious stone know as lapis lazuli. The cost of the raw stone alone made anything blue in color a prized possession.) I begin to work around it very carefully and in a few minutes I can remove it. It is a piece of glass, medium blue in color, a half circle with decretive lines cut into it. It is clearly a piece of jewelry, probably part of a necklace.

All work around me stops and everyone comes to take a look. Climbing out of the trench I go in search of Matt. When he sees me coming he can tell just by the look on my face I have something cool. It is so different from the stuff we have been finding that everyone wants a look and at lunch I play show and tell.
As a result of my jewel I go slow in the afternoon, in case the rest of the necklace is hiding nearby. The rest of the guys are getting deeper (almost a foot!) and are finally beginning to find stones large enough to indicate the structure we have been in search of for the last week.

In the evening I take a walk about and wander by the local movie/concert hall. I notice that they are having a live music show in conjunction with the BRASS festival. Tonight is a couple of U.K. jazz bands and at 10 pounds I wander in to listen. While they are not going to change the course of modern music, it is nice to hear some “live” music as opposed to the “dead” music (as in anything in an MP3 format) I have been listening to for the last two weeks.

About the images:

1. Hauling dirt and drawing stones.
2. Signs of patterns in the rubble?
3. My blue glass jewel find.
4. Cleaning up at the end of the day.

Wednesday, July 14

Back onsite today, we are going to focus on our project. I get to do the camera work, which is kind of funny, as I have avoided getting involved in the hand held digital video camera revolution and have to learn quickly. We get most of what we want in the morning.
Afterward, we take a long walk around the plateau the site sits on. It is kind of hard to imagine the scale of the site from were we are working. We walk along the river to see if we can locate the remains of the Roman bridge that once occupied the site. (The fort was built here for two reasons – to protect Dere Street, the main north/south road in the eastern part of the island and to regulate traffic crossing the river.) We do find some large pilings but can’t be sure they are Roman.

We finish up after lunch and then its back to digging. Our numbers have decreased significantly in the last couple of days. The Texas Tech people have gone home and the local volunteer numbers have dropped in half. Like the group I’m in, others are now working offsite on their projects and some are sick. (Some of this illness appears to be from folks working hard onsite during the day and working hard in the pubs at night. This combined with the cool weather has lower the resistance to colds and it’s going around. I have decided to work hard onsite and mostly skip the other part. These folks are, after all, half my age, so I have to Pace Myself.)

Back in the southeast corner of the fort, which I am calling the Land of Mystery, we have pulled out a lot of soil without much to show for it. We are going to try a new tact of roping off a cross-section through the area and digging out the four areas created by it. Just as I get the roping off completed, we call it a day.

This evening we are having a lecture on an Unknown Topic. Most of us walk over to the campus and assemble in a lecture hall. The talk begins and we are to spend the next hour listening to a discussion of Isotope Analysis of Tooth Enamel for Migration Studies during the Crusades. (I kid you not. Academic archeology studies some weird things.) These folks have developed a significant methodology for this kind of work but it is just too much minutia for me.
After the lecture some of us head out to the pubs. We sit talking for a while and the group grows larger. Unfortunately, a number of the young women have yet to outgrow the giggly, screechy phase of girlhood and the noise is hard on the ears. Some of “older” folks (a relative phrase, given the group) find a quieter place popular with the locals for some conversation and a pint.

About the images:

1. A view looking west from the plateau.
2. Some of the animal bones yet to be removed.
3. Cleaning the stones.
4. Drawing every stone.
Tuesday, July 13

Today was spent working on one of the two research programs I signed up for. This one is the Living Project team for the Multi-Period Binchester Research Program. The purpose is to develop a mapping methodology to show the various periods of use of the site. Four other people have signed up for this and we go to the Binchester lab at the University to begin our work.
The first thing we do is to go thru the existing literature and review what is known about the history of the site. Pretty soon we have a good list of about 1000 years of history at the site, from the arrival of the Romans to the middle ages and a bibliography of sources.
Next we develop plans for documenting the layers on site as we reveal them. We pick out five areas that so far are giving us a decent picture of multi-period use and plan to do some video and still photography recording of these areas.
After spending some time reviewing secondary sources we go off to the library to see if we can find the primary sources. We get a tutorial in how to use a British library and go off into the stacks. As a result of having such a great archeology program at the University they also have a great archeology library and we find what we are looking for.
We also get a presentation of just what Archeological Services is. A for profit company setup inside the University, it purpose is to leverage the vast archeological skill sets within the University. They have a contract from both Durham and Stanford for complete site management. This includes on site supervision, processing of finds and full use of their extensive laboratories. It is quite a nice setup.
It should be noted here that the weather today is the nicest we have had since we started and of course we have been indoors all day. So it goes.
Monday, July 12, DURHAM

In the morning the little light is out. I try turning it on. Nothing. I plug it back in and wait a minute. I try turning it on. It springs back to life. Oh joy! Apparently it locked up and the only way to clear it was to allow the battery to run down to empty. When power was reapplied it forced the machine to do a hard boot and now it is working.
The bad news comes when I check my email. A message from Alex says she is sick, feeling similar to how I did right before I left. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Another message says that one of our traveling companions in France this May hasn’t been feeling well and has gone to the doctor. They have diagnosed stage 4 cancer and she is rapidly dying. It is hard to believe she was so full of life and having a great time in France and will be dead in a matter of weeks.
I sit thru breakfast too shell-shocked to notice if I’m eating. This is way too much of an emotional rollercoaster for the first half hour of the day.
On site, it is much cooler, completely overcast with a possibility of rain. The Texas Tech people have gone home and most of the local volunteers of last week have been replaced by new ones.
The area we were digging in on Friday needs to have yet another layer removed. I pass. I have proved to myself that I can keep up that kind of work with folks half my age. I don’t need to prove it again. I go back to troweling. Over the last 4 days we have cleared a huge area and are now close to joining up with the guys who have been fruitlessly search for rocks behind us. A good days work and we will likely have closed the gap.
We seem to have worked our way clear of the in-fill that so frustrated us last week and are back into moderate sized rocks. These are much easier to work around. We start finding the usual stuff right away – small bits of pottery, animal bones, and nails. After a little while I find a small piece of a jawbone – with teeth still in it. The teeth are much smaller than the ones we have found previously and I am a little freaked until one of the supervisors takes a look and decides its not human. Whew!
A little later I find a piece of pottery different than those I have found before. Its big (and getting bigger), black in color and has a clear curved shape to it. About 45 minutes of work leaves a four inch long by two inch deep piece exposed. Matt comes to take a look and likes what he sees. We both think it is still buried too deep to remove (we can’t violate the layer we are working just for an interesting find. They have to wait until we get to that layer before we can remove them). Still he says to clear the surrounding material a little deeper and see if that gives us better access to it. It doesn’t and we break for lunch with it still firmly embedded in the ground.
Just before lunch comes the moment we have all been dreading – it starts to rain. Its only a light rain but it has been made clear to us we don’t stop working because of the rain. (As this is England, if we did, we would never get anything done!)
After lunch I get some training on how to use the surveying equipment. Everything is measured to depth and for a while we take depth measurements. (For the last couple of days some folks have been recording the location of all the rocks we have exposed. Every single rock must be hand drawn for location and size. I have passed on this work, as I have no drawing skills at all.) Now we take measurements to tell us at what height relative to sea level the rocks are located.

Finishing that, its back to troweling. Shortly after restarting I expose a small piece of orange pottery. We have found lots of small fragments of this high quality pottery over the last week. I keep working it and it keeps getting bigger. I am on to something. My neighbors notice and begin to watch. The supervisors notice and stop to watch. It is clearly the bottom of a bowl, mostly intact. Folks are getting excited.
After 20 minutes of work I have cleared all around it. I give it a few gentle nudges with my trowel and feel it move. It is not buried too deep and I’m going to get to remove it. Very carefully I pull it out and take a look. And there is the one thing that turns it into gold – the maker’s stamp; nearly as legible as the day it was stamped into it. Everyone gets very excited. A maker’s stamp means that we can identify where it was made, when it was made and develop ideas about how it got here. Pure archeological gold. Matt tells me this is the best find we have had in several weeks’ worth of work in the fort. (Despite the two coins that were pulled out a hour or so ago. They are the first coins we have gotten out of the fort. So far, all the others have come from the vicus.) I take my precious find to Janet, an expert in things pottery. I get to wash it, bringing the stamp out a little more clearly. I have to stop right away though as I realize that the act of washing it is beginning to rub away the stamp. Later it will be scanned by a laser so we can be sure we are reading it correctly. In the meantime, I write down what I can read – VICTORINV (?) (the last character is not completely clear.)
We process the paperwork to record the find and put it in a special place and then it is back to work. I simply float back to the trench. This is one of the cool things about archeology – how 20 minutes of work can wash away a weeks frustration. The day ends shortly thereafter.
At dinner tonight I notice we have some newbie’s. I laugh to myself thinking about how one week’s work has made us such seasoned veterans.

About the images:
1. A close up of my pottery find. The makers stamp is a little hard to read in this photo.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Today is the first of our weekend field trips. We get on our bus and head out. The first stop is a hill fort that predates the arrival of the Romans. There is a raging debate in British archeology these days as to what was the state of pre-Roman British society and technology. The writings we have from the Romans say it was very primitive (barely iron age). However, the last 20 years or so of fieldwork are beginning to paint a picture of a more advanced society than what was previously believed.

Our first stop is one of these hill forts, in Stanwick. Today, it is nothing but a lumpy field. Our guest speaker can be barely heard above the howling wind. We walk out into the field to see one of the walls. Standing on the wall we are all nearly blow off into the accompanying ditch. We beat a hasty retreat to the bus.

The second stop is to a rebuilt wall. Very tall, not very interesting. Back to the bus.

The next stop is a Roman fort in Piercebridge. The modern hamlet of Piercebridge sits entirely inside the walls of the old fort, a very rare example of a fort that is still occupied in some way. We walk out to the foundations of a bridge that used to cross the river. They are huge. Those Romans sure knew how to build bridges. (Unfortunately they weren’t any better at controlling rivers than we are. The river moved and the bridge fell into disuse.)

Our last stop is a ruined medieval castle at Barnard. Seen one you’ve seen them all.
The trip is a disappointment but the sights we will be visiting on the others will be far more interesting.

Back at the house, nearly everyone takes a nap. We are all still pretty tired from the hard work of the first week.
After dinner some of us gather in the main house to watch the World Cup final. Some go out to The Varsity but it seems a good idea to stay out of the pubs tonight. I’m routing for the Dutch and am disappointed when Spain wins 1-0 in extra time. Well, its only soccer!
I go back to the room with the intension of getting some work done on the computer before turning in. I turn it on and nothing happens. Try again, same result. And again. And again. It is completely unresponsive. OMG. If it is dead it will be a complete disaster. I freak out. There is no way to do a power reset on this computer, as the battery is not removable.
I spend the rest of the evening locating the nearest Apple store (in Newcastle, about 45 minutes by train) figuring out how to get there, worrying about what I will lose if it can’t be prepared and stressing about the work time I will miss.
Before I turn in I notice a small light that is on all the time. If the machine were completely dead that light should not be on. I unplug it and leave it for the night.

About the images:
1. In the English countryside. A manor home and grounds.
2. The foundations of a Roman bridge over the rives Tees near the fort at Piercebridge.
3 & 4. View of the ruins of the medieval castle at Barnard.

Saturday, July 11 DURHAM

Today is a big day in Durham and it gets off to an early start. It is the 126th annual Miners Day Gala. For over one hundred years Durham County was a huge coal-mining region and has had a very strong Union presence, with strong Socialists leanings. On the second Saturday of July the various unions come to Durham to march in a parade and attend a political rally. At its height in the 1950s the parade attracted over 250,000 people.
The coalmines were already starting to fade when the evil Maggie came to power in the early 1980s and declared war on the coal miners unions. (She won.) The last coal mine in Durham County closed in the mid-1990’s. The end to a way of life, which has yet to be replaced.

However the parade goes on. It starts at 8.00am sharp. Each union is represented by a large banner and hires a small marching band to march in front of the banner. As my room faces the river and this is the beginning of the parade route, it sounds like they are marching thru my room. I was actually ready for this, so I grab my camera and join in. Its mostly sunny today and the streets are quickly filling with people come to watch the parade.

Watching the passing banners one thing quickly becomes clear. The unions are dying. No mines = no jobs = no new union members = dying unions. Some of the banners have more band members in front of them than union members behind them.
I am reminded of a song by Mark Knopfler (who grew up around here) that I have not been able to get out of my head for a while now. It’s called “5.15 am” and includes the following:

“Seams blew up or cracked
Black diamonds came hard won
Generations toiled and hacked
For a pittance and black lung.
Crushed by tub or stone
Together and alone
How the young and old
Paid the price for coal.”

Nothing remains now but the dead and dying.

About 10.00am the pubs open and the day’s second favorite activity begins – drinking. Coffee cups disappear, replaced by pints.
I get the idea and go back to the house. Time for another challenge – laundry. The only laundry facilities are back at the main house. Three washers and three dryers for all the house linen as well as the personal clothing of all the guests. Oh boy. I manage to get everything done with destroying anything.

On my way back to the house I can see that the marching goes on – on and on. Eventually they will make their way to the cathedral where there will be a blessing. I don’t go but those who do say the priest made a speech whose socialist leanings shocked them. They have never heard something like that coming from a pulpit. (The day I arrived in country the new government told all government ministries to prepare new budgets reflecting 40% cuts. If that happens the social service programs that areas like Durham depend on will be devastated and the region as well.)
I wander around town for a while watching the non-Gala activities then go back to the house for a nap. I leave the house at 7pm to get some dinner. I get 15 feet down the street where I find people have taken to sitting in the street and drinking. I can see it is going to be one of those nights – a night best stayed indoors away from the drunks and trouble.

About the images:
The flags and marching bands that repersent the various coal mining unions.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Friday, July 10

On site today we are looking to expand the work going on directly behind us, as the total lack of anything but dirt has become a growing puzzle. As I am a little frustrated with troweling thru small rocks, I volunteer to help. This work involves digging up soil with a Mattock, shoveling it into a wheel barrel and dumping said wheel barrel on the spoils heap. Simply put, it is hard physical labour. Four local volunteers and myself get to it. We quickly fall into a rhythm, dig, shovel, dump, repeat. We are actually finding a lot of stuff, small bits of pottery, animal bones and other stray things. What we are not finding is the layer of rock that should be here.
We clear three inches over a large area. Matt comes by, is puzzled and says, “Do it again”. Dig, shovel, dump, and repeat. We have now cleared the area a second time with still no rocks to show for it.
We break for lunch. I notice that we are beginning to form into groups. People with similar interest or personalities are beginning to coalesce together. Someone could write a thesis on how 40 strangers arrange themselves into groups in such a short period of time.
Back to the fort. Matt is becoming increasing mystified as to why the expected layer of rocks is not appearing. We begin a third pass. One of our group is spending more time talking than working and is beginning to annoy me. (Probably because every muscle in my back is aching and he is yakking.) I really wish he would shut up.

We complete the third pass with still no luck. By this time several layers of site management are watching our progress (or lack thereof) equally mystified. Matt asks for one more pass. At this point I can’t lift my arms much less a Mattock and I take a pass. I get my camera and do some shooting. The wind has really picked up and is blowing dust all over the site. Everyone is very tired and wants to call it a week.
At the end of the day, Peter gives us a site tour, starting in the fort. Much of his discussion is on the area we have been working in and the missing layer of rocks. He gets to the “what it all means” bit and delivers a shocker. He says that the thinking now is that the layer we have been working on all week could be a medieval reuse of the original Roman fort. The Romans may have shaped the rocks but their current configuration is medieval.
The bus ride home is a quieter than normal. Everyone is tired and those of us working in the fort are more than a little frustrated.

Tonight I skip dinner at St. Chad’s and go to an Indian restaurant across the street for some real food and some peace and quiet. I order and am brought some chutney and papadams. I put the first bite in my mouth and it explodes in flavour. Oh joy! The first decent food I have had in a week. I devour it all.
The day’s work has really worn me out and tomorrow is an early morning. Crash.

About the images:

1. Every single rock has to be drawn on paper.
2. Drawing rocks.
3. Lunch time.

Thursday, July 8

Before breakfast, I stop by the office to remind the gentleman about my mattress. He says he will see to it today. A hopeful sign.
The weather today is the same as it has been since we started, cool and mostly cloudy. This is good weather for digging, although the wind will pick up in the afternoon and blow a lot of dust around. (As if we weren’t getting dirty enough already!)
Each morning Peter Carne gives a talk in one trench about what has been accomplished, any interesting finds and today’s definition of “what it all means”. The same group picks up where we left off. We have covered a lot of ground but have very little that is interesting to show for it. Additional folks are added to the group and we spread out even further. We are now covering more ground than any group in either trench.

I sense some puzzlement from the supervisors as to why we are not finding more substantial stuff. There are three guys working behind us who have spent every day with the Mattocks, clearing a large area that received little attention by the people on site before us. While they are pulling up lots of pottery bits and animal bones, they also are not finding any large rocks, in patterns or just scattered about.

Over in the other trench they have uncovered some human bones. Just a few, but they are very surprised. In one of Peter’s morning talks, he says that in the Middle Ages it was not uncommon when digging a new grave to find an older one and take the remains out and just chuck them into a field. The folks over there have named the remains “Jimbo”. They have also found more animal remains (most of which are cattle) and so have decided that Jimbo was buried with his cow. Clearly, they have too much time on their hands.

In our trench, all of the groups are making slow progress. No names given to what we are finding. We are working too hard for such things. At the end of the day we have covered an impressive amount of ground, none of which leads to a clearer picture of “what it all means”.
When I return to the house I anxiously put my key in the lock. Will there be new mattress joy? YES! While it is not one of the new ones that were being delivered it is in very good condition and I am happy. No air mattress tonight!
After dinner, I take my laptop to a pub and begin to work on the pictures I have taken. I need to start making some choices as to what to post on this blog as well as on Facebook. It is a long process but I make a good start.

About the images:
1. Working with trowels.
2. Working with Mattocks and shovels.
3. Eleri, my house mother.
4. Some of the animal bone finds.