On January 1st 2011 we opened the applications for the 15th season of excavation at Silchester Roman Town. Now, almost 6 months to the day, we are ready to wield our trowels once again. The last 6 months have been a whirl of preparation; it would be wrong to give the impression that the excavation springs fully formed from the ground on Day 1. For me, January is teaching and applications, February is teaching, applications and planning, March is teaching, applications, planning and ordering – wheelbarrows, portakabins, portaloos, 6H pencils and permatrace, April is budgets and staffing, meetings with HR and letters of appointment, May is exams and preparation, preparation, preparation and June is finalising and packing….the last minute panics – has the grass round the excavation been cut and the fences taken down and stowed away, has the farmer changed the padlock on the gate to the excavation, will the portakabins arrive on the right day?
Fianlly, on Sunday June 27th I collected the keys to our Departmental minibus, loaded up 2 fire extinguishers, 6 hard hats and a 1st aid kit – and headed out to site, the dry droveway through the Roman Town sending up spurts of dust behind my car wheels. The official ‘start’ time for Setting-Up week is 3pm on Sunday 27th….however, when I arrive, the drove track through the Roman town is awash with vehicles of all sizes and shapes as my staff keenly queue for access to the field and the prime spot for their tents. This year I have 61 members of staff working with me – although half of these are 2nd and 3rd year students doing employability placements with me on the project, it is still a lot of people with their own little bit of responsibility! It takes a long, long time to meet and greet them all, to catch up with those who have been in archaeological employment since I last saw them, to congratulate those with new jobs, new qualifications to their names, a marriage or engagement under their belts! Most of my old crowd are back – but with a couple of new faces – Felicia is a Durham graduate (my old stamping ground) who has dug with us for the last 5 years; this year she is joining us as an Assistant Supervisor. Natalie, Sarah, Emily and Nick have been (and still are) working for Oxford Archaeology, Rob is employed by Archaeology South East, based in Brighton, Marie has been with Wessex Archaeology, Dan has been digging in Qatar and Nadia was on an aborted survey project in Libya……we have lots to catch up on, and although commercail archaeology has been hard hit by the recession, most of Silchester’s staff have managed to keep working throughout the intervening months.
I greet Jon, my Site Manager, back again – the 10 months since he and I closed the site last August have telescoped into nothing….it is as if we were never away. As the tents go up, our marquee arrives……hired from Tentorium through Ernie an Archaeology graduate of years gone by (keeping it in the family!)….we are a stopoff on their way to Glastonbury to take down their hired marquees. I think we have many things in common with that most famous of outdoor events – the numbers, the tents, the portaloos…but without the music of course – and so far, the mud. By the time I leave site in the quiet of an early Silchester summer evening – and it is the quiet before the storm – I am struck yet again by the beauty of this place. The green fields and the golden limestone, the blue sky split by red kites…..and our trench open and ready for work to begin. We are back and our 15th season starts! I am excited – but also nervous – this is such a large undertaking, and if I think about it too much I would lose my nerve. Far better to just get on with it!