4 Days in the trenches!

I’ve long been interested in Archaeology, but despite Saudi Arabia being an area with so much potential in this field very little has been done to uncover it’s past. I was lucky enough to be at home on holiday a couple of years ago when a local dig was being held and so managed to get my first ever experience ‘in the trenches’. Despite only finding a couple of cows’ teeth – one of the archaeologists did console me with the thought that it was probably from an Iron Age cow- but I think he was probably just trying to keep me interested, I loved it!.

Last winter we heard there was to be a third year of a dig at Cromarty, on The Black Isle, north of Inverness. I had no doubt that  I’d somehow manage a few days up there digging. As time got nearer I was pleasantly surprised by my husband when he said he wanted to volunteer as well- so we ‘bit the bullet’ and officially committed ourselves to 3 days at the site.

Me with the official sign.

Me with the official sign.

The dig is investigating an area of the Royal Burgh of Cromarty that was occupied from 1266AD – 1880AD.

This was the 3rd year of the dig so some areas were well into the Medieval layer.

A large part of the dig.

A large part of the dig.

Being situated close to the sea it shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise that some of the areas being dug had thick layers of seashells. Mixed through were fish bones and other animal bones. They are assumed to be the remains of middens and possibly the shellfish were more used as bait rather than a source of food.

My husband was lucky to find a spindle whorl and a broken stone which was probably a weight from a loom.

Paul found a spindle whorl.

Paul found a loom weight.

As well as digging there were other activities to get involved with. One morning I helped with washing and sorting some of the finds. Pottery, glass and bone are scrubbed with a damp toothbrush, whereas metal objects are brushed with a dry toothbrush.

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Trays of finds.

Another day we had a chance to reconstruct some of the pottery finds from the 2013 dig.

Archaeology jigsaws!

Archaeology jigsaws!

I ended up working on large white porcelain pieces – definitely not medieval but I still had a great sense of achievement at finding how they fitted together and discovering that it had probably been a soup tureen!

My partially reconstructed soup tureen!

My partially reconstructed soup tureen!

Another day we had a talk from the local potter about how the medieval pottery would have been constructed. Really interesting, as although I did some ceramics at college I hadn’t realised there were different ways to make a handle.

Demonstrating how to 'pull' a handle.

Demonstrating how to ‘pull’ a handle.

One of the ‘mysteries’ of the dig is the prolific number of quernstones that have been found. Some are complete but many broken. It could be that the local landowner had them destroyed in order that the people would have to use his mill or……..? One thing that becomes quickly apparent in archaeology- until there’s absolute proof there is always a plethora of theories!

A broken quernstone.

A broken quernstone.

We certainly had a very enjoyable and educational time. So much so that we stayed an extra day. We are also hoping that enough money will be found to continue the dig next summer as we’re both truly hooked on digging around in the trenches!

For more background and info on the project go to http://www.medievalcromarty.org

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