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Chester Amphitheatre Project Blog

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Tuesday, August 17

Diary Week Four

Rain! The story of the week.

It has been a tremendous effort to keep things moving on site as one heavy shower after another passed over and dumped on us. Even on the web site the curiosity was reflected in a message – What do archaeologists do when it rains?

There are two reasons not to continue work on site, and the safety of the workers is the most important. Wheelbarrow planks become muddy and slippery, and very quickly it becomes impossible to dispose of excavated soil safely. With so many deep holes on the site a slip could result in serious injury. The other consideration is the damage that can be done to the site. The mud which sticks to boot soles is actually the archaeology of the site, and the damage caused by an afternoon of trampling on site can take a week of clearing up and a great deal of lost information.

There are a lot of off-site tasks which need to be performed. The essence of archaeology is to record what is excavated. When a site is excavated it is effectively destroyed. The process of excavation has been compared with reading a priceless manuscript once, copying it, and burning it, so the original can never be consulted again. This means that the written, drawn and photographic records have to be very accurately codified, and this generates complex, interrelated work on both paper and computer, which ensures that the records are in good shape for future analysis and publication. The pressures of work on site and to maximise the weather conditions to continue to dig, means that sorting out the records can become evening work for the directors and supervisors. Wet days are often the time when these records can be completed, properly understood and filed.

In the finds processing room, the trays of objects have to be washed, dried, and then marked with their own unique identifying numbers. This ensures that the finds can be directly related to the place on site from which they came. The work is very laborious and painstaking. Although there are always a number of people doing this work, a rainy day – or week –allows us to bring the work up to date. Similarly, the soil samples taken on site are sieved through the wet-sieving unit on site. These samples need to be dried, and then sorted. Samples from our medieval cess pits are demonstrating aspects of the environment, health and diet of the medieval population of Chester. This is shown through the presence of small animal bones, fish bones, and even the egg cases of intestinal parasites. Sample sorting requires concentration and the ability to distinguish between tiny particles. This is probably the most painstaking job which occurs on site, and is also a useful way of using labour on rainy days.

So what do archaeologists do when it rains and they cannot dig? The answer is that they concentrate on the rest of the multifaceted and multiskilled job which is described by the general heading of "archaeologist".

From the Chester Chronicle, August 13


posted by Archaeologists at 11:30

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