Saturday dawned bright and beautiful as we all crawled out of our tents at the crack of dawn to start putting up the bunting for our very first open day. It was a scorcher – the hottest day this year, we were later to find out.
We were hot just getting some of the tables set up at 8.30 in the morning! We couldn’t have ordered in better weather, although one or two clouds might have helped our diggers a little, as there is no
shade on site until about 4pm, and by the end of the day everyone, including the public, were feeling the heat.
By opening at 10am we were ready with all the activities. Children could choose from trying on costumes, taking part in a community art project, designing a Saxon brooch or shield, or even having a go at excavating on a ‘little dig’ sand box.
Everyone could try their hand at finds washing and examine some of our latest finds with explanations from Helen and her team for
the day. Simon was also equipped sorting environmental residues, and explaining how this aspect of the excavation process worked to our interested public. The Saxons themselves had arrived bright and early and were a brilliant addition to our open day.
The ‘little dig’ was a popular activity with the children, giving them a chance to excavate genuine artefacts and go through the process of identifying them using the reference collection. Andy, one of our supervisors, and Annie, the Council for British Archaeology’s Community Archaeologist Training Placement, based at Canterbury Archaeological Trust, worked tirelessly on this all day, and even let the tiniest of visitors join in.
As well as the ‘little dig’ we also borrowed from CAT a stratigraphic wheelie bin, which was a surprise hit! Each drawer of the bin contains a different ‘layer’ of the past, from prehistory up until the present day, respresenting the way in which archaeological deposits often build up.
Cordelia, Matt and Stephen did a fantastic job explaining stratigraphy to everyone from the smallest children to our oldest villagers. And what was I up to? I was running back and forth all day making sure everything was running smoothly, and recording it all for you to enjoy here in handy bite-sized form! As you can tell I took it incredibly seriously…
One of the highlights of the day was the fantastic displays of Saxon craft and warfare, put on by re-enactors from Regia Anglorum. We had asked a few to come, but the call was heard far and wide, and around 30 re-enactors arrived to put on some wonderful and extremely knowledgable displays.
I had a great time chatting with the re-enactors who spin and weave, as I’m trying to get more ideas about some of the slightly ambiguous bone and lead artefacts we have found, and which look like the might relate to textile manufacture.
The Saxons were a really popular aspect of the day – although we certainly did feel for those who were wearing the full battle gear in 30 degree heat! We all cheered for our favourite to win the battles and I rather liked this splendid looking fellow.
Geoff Halliwell’s excellent flint knapping demonstrations were very well attended, and really put into perspective the Mesolithic evidence on site, and Keith did a fantastic job helping Geoff. As I walked around the open day I heard lots of compliments about the flint knapping.
Gabor put in a sterling effort with three epic 45 minute talks through the day in the hot sun! Give him a pointy stick and he can bring it all to life.
Lots of our visitor commented on how much they enjoyed Gabor’s talks.
We also had a book stall hosted by Canterbury Archaeological Trust, and a welcome table hosted by our local volunteers encouraging more volunteering and the signing of the all important visitors book!
Digging was going on all day too, although with a reduced team as lots of volunteers and students were on the rota for helping with the open day.
We were keen for the public to see the archaeology in action, and people certainly seemed to enjoy watching what was going on on site.
Our very first open day seems to have been a great success. Estimations puts our visitor numbers at around 300, which is fantastic. If you couldn’t make it this year put it in your diaries for the next season – we’ll put up a date as soon as we can. We do still have two further Saturday site tours (2pm), for those that want to continue to see the further progress of the excavation over the final two weeks.
At the end of the day, the re-enactors were packing up, and we put the plastic covers back over the site. The re-enactors from Regia Anglorum were very excited by the discovery of the hall building, particularly as they have their own
reconstruction at Wychurst, in Kent.
One of them, Matt Love, asked if he could recite some Beowulf in Old English, from the middle of the hall – the first poetry recited inside it for 1400 years. Here he is walking up and down the plastic, in his element – next time we’ll keep the plastic off to get more of an atmosphere!
The re-enactors brought extra an dimension to the open day, and we were able to give lots back to them with our discoveries, and we hope to visit their permanent site at Wychurst very soon. I want to thank everyone who participated in the open day, whose efforts made it such a success.
We have had lots of feedback already from locals and visitors from further afield, and we hope that it will get bigger and better in the years to come!
Of course, we’ve also had more fascinating finds in the last few days – I’ll be doing a separate blog post about these soon, so keep checking back for that.