• Louise

Digventures: How to do Archaeology course - Chapter 1

As soon as I heard digventures were making one of their online courses free I signed up quicker than you could say "time team." I thought I would do a review of everything I've learnt in the last week (it is a lot).

Before I start though I would like to a MASSIVE thank you to digventures. Since my work experience got cancelled due to COVID-19, I had been rather worried I wouldn't be able to beef up my personal statement for university to really show how much I love my subject. This course provided me with the perfect opportunity to try and get some archaeology experience and it has really helped me in deciding what I need to look for in a university course. So, THANK YOU DIGVENTURES!

Topic 1 - Why and when do we dig?

The first part of Topic 1 was about why archaeology matter, and I'd actually never considered some of the reasons before. Of course, it is super interesting fun and adds to our historical understanding but it also made me consider how archaeology can (and will) challenge historical and social assumptions. Everything in history is basically just a theory until you have the archaeology. Also, archaeology can just make an absolute mess over things we thought were for certain, which honestly just makes it more fun. Another new point I had not considered is how archaeology can help us understand more about the present. This went straight over my head at first; how does what a group of Romans were doing in some random field in Britain affect us today? Then I pondered it a bit more and came up with many reasons as to why it does. It can be quite comforting to know what people have been going through similar, if not the same, struggles for all of the time and if they have survived, we can too! I don't know about anyone else but I like that thought, especially more so at the moment when you can feel so confused and puzzled and lost. History has always had pandemics and we have gotten through them, and we can get through this.

The next part moved onto where to start researching before we dig and this is where feeling like a time-travelling detective kicks in.

Number one was to compare historic maps and boy looking they are addictive! It is incredible to see how the landscapes have changed and if you get into the really old ones admire the craftsmanship that went into them. Does anyone want to start an old-looking version of google maps with me?

Map of near where I am from the 1896, unfortunately where I live is pretty new so none of the super old ones for me.

If I got a modern map of my area and I would do map regression (compare them) and see if I can spot any clue or see any impacts of changes.

Next was to take a trip to the local archives. I've never actually been to any archives and I am definitely wanting to take a trip. I definitely thing working in the archives would be a job for me, I just love old documents. Then it was to explore the Historic Environment Record, again something fun to get lost in and also, find out about previous discoveries. To do this I looked on the Online Access to the Index of Archaeological Investigations and unfortunately nothing much for my small town, other than an icehouse was find! Sadly, I am very likely to be finding the Romans in my garden. Finally, it was metal detecting! I used to have a small children's one when I was younger (which I don't think actually worked) but it something I have wanted to make an investment in and get doing.

Section 4 was all about Archaeology and Ethics - "To dig or not to dig?" (A+ for the puns digventures, whoever said learning can't have a joke in)

In this section, there were 7 vital questions that need to be asked and it is honestly great to see such a focus being made on these issues. So many archaeological artifacts have been lost through careless digging throughout the centuries, my mind jumps to some of the earliest excavations of Pompeii as an example (a blog post may be coming soon.)

Topic 2 - Project Planning

The first part of topic 2 talked about the Archaeological Project Design. This was something I presumed existed but had never actually learnt about. I have learnt that it is a formal stage in most project types, it an essential part of the justification to undertake fieldwork, Historic England recommends it follows 'MORPHE' (Management of Research Projects in the Historic Environment) framework and they can run up to 40 pages long!!

Section 2 was ways you can of investigating archaeological sites. I have watched enough time team know about the intrusive method of test pits and the non-intrusive methods of geophysical surveys, crop marks and fieldwalking. I had also come across boreholes in a book, but the non-intrusive methods not so much. I am fascinated by how technology is changing archaeology and it is leading to more and more non-intrusive methods. I spent lots of time looking at the LiDar (light detecting and ranging) maps, they are just fascinating.

The next part was Safety first! which is also a great thing to see thrown in, no one falling into any trenches, please.

Topic 3 - Setting up the site

Section 1 was location, location, location all about grid references! I really need to learn how to do these as it would honestly make a really fun game - grid reference races anyone?

The levels for precision of each grid reference are:

  • 0 figure [TL] = 100 kilometre square

  • 2 figure [TL77] = 10 kilometre square

  • 4 figure [TL 75 74] = 1 kilometre square

  • 6 figure [TL 753 741] = 100 metre square

  • 8 figure [TL 7534 7416] = 10 metre square

  • 10 figure [TL 75341 74169] = 1 metre square

  • 12 figure [TL 753412 741691] = 10 centimetre square

Section 2 got us ever closer to breaking soil all about laying out our trench. This one took me back to GCSE maths with good ol' pythagorus and his theorem.

And to end the week in section 3 it was all about tools from your trowel to your matlock to your bucket - and don't forget your kettle!

Week 1 of digventures' how to do archaeology course really blew away my expectations. I have never learnt so much practical archaeology so easily and in a super entertaining way! I cannot wait to do week 2, let me say once again THANK YOU DIGVENTURES!

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