The final dig begins!

It is Thursday of week 1 in the final season of digging on Tayne Field, Lyminge, and it’s time for the first round up! We’ve already got quite a bit to show you. As I explained in the previous blog post, we’re opening two trenches this year in order to try to answer some of the remaining questions we have about the Saxon settlement before we backfill for the last time.

On Thursday last week we brought in the plant and Neil broke ground on Trench 1, with Gabor carefully watching for anything sensitive and for the archaeological features recognisable from the geophysics.

In the distance the first sods are removed by Neil Mullins, our machine driver and campsite owner

In the distance the first sods are removed by Neil Mullins, our machine driver and campsite owner

Gabor watches the first strip of trench 1, keeping a look out for finds and features

Gabor watches the first strip of trench 1, keeping a look out for finds and features

Plenty of familiar faces are back for this year’s dig – Gabor of course, and Zoe and I all took part in the two days of intense machine watching in the blistering heat, that we had last week just before some intense thunderstorms.

Simon, Emily and Helen have begun organising their Environmental and Finds operations, with Helen and Emily having plenty of last year’s unwashed finds to get on with!

Simon, Helen and Emily get started

Simon, Helen and Emily get started

We can’t always get everything washed on site as it needs to dry before being bagged, so there are always a few crates from the previous season left over at the end of the dig. The finds team are whizzing through them though!

As well as Roo, Rosie and the usual suspects, we have one or two new faces on the team too, and I’ll introduce you to them as they arrive over the next few weeks.

LYM13 finds drying in the fabulous sunshine - better for finds drying than for the diggers!

LYM13 finds drying in the fabulous sunshine – better for finds drying than for the diggers!

First is our new Trainee assistant Field Supervisor Jack Smith, recently graduated with a degree in archaeology from the University of Reading. He took part in the dig last year and we’re really pleased to have him back to join the team.

Jack Smith, Trainee Assistant Field Supervisor

Jack Smith, Trainee Assistant Field Supervisor

We also have a brand new logistics manager, Niki Hunnisett, who is doing a fantastic job organising things that are very important for a dig to run smoothly, such as water, site cabins, loos, tools and all those bits that lots of us take for granted just ‘happen’ on site!

Niki Hunnisett

Niki Hunnisett on pot washing duty in a previous season before taking up the post of logistics manager

Things have been going very speedily so far this season – despite the incredibly hot weather that is quite tiring to dig in. After the trenches were opened by machine, the hand cleaning in began in earnest in Trench 1. This is the trench which has been positioned over a Bronze Age ring ditch containing several cremations, and which had several Saxon post holes cutting into it. We established this in our April Test Pit dig and we’ll be more fully excavating it this season. There is also a very interesting large dark patch with animal bone and pottery visible on the surface, in the south-eastern corner of this trench. This promises many Saxon finds – you’ll be hearing much more about this as the season progresses.

Here are our students and local volunteers in the photo below troweling over the whole trench to remove loose spoil and to clearly reveal the archaeology before we beging to dig into it. Because it is so dry we are also watering areas and covering them with black plastic, or the natural clay bakes solid in this hot weather and it is impossible to dig.

Cleaning on trench 1 begins

Cleaning on Trench 1 began on Monday

Progress made on Trench 1 by Wednesday - steaming ahead!

Progress made on Trench 1 by Wednesday – steaming ahead in the sweltering heat!

Trench 2, closer to Church Road, was a slightly different affair to begin with – we opened this trench over an area that included some of the previous season’s trench. The 15m extension of the main trench in 2013 was covered in black plastic and backfilled so that we could remove it this year – and that is exactly what we did! This was the trench in which we found part of a very large timber hall, so our excavations in this area will attempt to find more of it and any associated structures.

Removing the backfill covering part of a Saxon timber hall in last year's trench

Removing the backfill covering part of a Saxon timber hall in last year’s trench

Here you can see the protective plastic sheeting

Here you can see the protective plastic sheeting over the wall trenches that were excavated last year

Removing the backfill was extremely hard work, even though we had put plastic sheeting down to protect the archaeology. The team set with this task did a fantastic job and got it done in just over a day.

You can see in this next picture the sheer amount of soil that was shifted! While removing backfill isn’t archaeology as we all know it, having this area open means we can really accurately look for the continuing lines of wall trenches and other associated features.

Removing the backfill is completed and trench cleaning can begin

Removing the backfill is completed and trench cleaning can begin

We have already established that the World War II structures on Tayne Field – barracks and dining huts for soldiers training locally – were built on levelled terraces cutting into the natural chalk, but haven’t disturbed the earlier archaeology too much. These areas were first revealed in last year’s trench, and have produced finds from the war years including glass, broken crockery and pieces of tins of food and the like, showing us that these buildings were certainly used for eating in! The photo below is taken from Google Earth’s historic aerial photographs, and was taken just after the war. You can see where the buildings were in relation to Church Road, exactly matching the foundations we have found so far.

World War II buildings on Tayne Field, a photo from Google Earth's historical aerial photo archive

World War II buildings on Tayne Field, a photo from Google Earth’s historical aerial photo archive. The road runing from top to bottom is Church Road.

Cleaning back the footprint of one of the World War II mess huts

Cleaning back the footprint of one of the World War II mess huts

All that is left is the cinder block foundations of the structures, but they seem much more visible than much of our Saxon archaeology at first because of the construction materials used, although finds and features of Angl0-Saxon date and earlier are already being revealed in both trenches!

One early find was made at the very beginning of the week when hand troweling began in Trench 1. Roo has had a great start to his season almost immediately finding this lovely little copper alloy bird with ring and dot decoration. It’s an unusual object it would usually have a fixture or fitting on it somewhere to attach as a brooch or pendant perhaps. It doesn’t seem to have any obvious fitting for attachment to something, so perhaps is a decorative pin head or similar.

This lovely copper alloy bird was found in cleaning back Trench 1 - it only measures a few centimetres across

This lovely copper alloy bird was found in cleaning back Trench 1 – it only measures a few centimetres across

Another much earlier fascinating find was made this week, and suprisingly also by Roo! He seems to have the magic touch this week. This little object below came up when he was cleaning over the Bronze Age barrow, and although it needs a little clean-up, it’s very clearly a tanged chisel from the Late Bronze Age (perhaps around 1200-800 BC with the research we are able to do in the field).

A Bronze Age tanged chisel found in Trench 1

A Bronze Age tanged chisel found in Trench 1

These two artefacts are wonderful examples of what we hope will be the sort of objects we will find more of once we begin to excavate into the features we have been revealing all week long. So far things are looking positive and we will have lots to show those visitors who come to our first site tour of the dig at 2pm this Saturday. If you aren’t able to come, I’ll be updating the blog with all our exciting news as much as I can, so check back for more news!

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