The Ice Age Island
On Saturday 27th I returned from working on the Ice Age Island Project. The project aims to study the traces of ancient human occupation and the geological record stretching back hundreds of thousands of years of the Channel Island of Jersey. It will deliver new understanding of the island’s deep past and share this research with scientists and the public, enhancing the presentation of Jersey’s already considerable heritage and natural history resources.
For two weeks we had amazing weather. There was bright sunshine nearly every day. A couple of days started a little overcast but that didn’t last and there was one thunder storm in the middle of the night and some brief heavy rain one evening. Other than that there was scorching heat the majority of the time.
Wonderful view from where we were camping
It was great to work with such an experienced and knowledgeable team. I hope I pulled my weight and didn’t get in the way. This is definitely the best project I have worked on. I may not be very experienced or knowledgeable of the period being excavated and investigated but I feel I learnt a lot. This is the first time I have worked on a project when everyone has stayed in the same area. Previously I have always gone home and there is a very different working atmosphere. There was a great atmosphere between everyone involved in the project.
Also the evening meals on the project were great. Cooking for that many people and it always being of a high standard is the sign of a very good cook.
I would like say a big thank you to everyone who welcomed me into the project and to Sam Griffiths for getting me involved and vouching for me. I would also like to thank Dr Matt Pope and to Dr Beccy Shaw for trusting Sam.
Hopefully I don’t make too many mistakes and provide dubious information in this post.
13th July 2013-Day 1
I arrived on Jersey feeling a little nervous. I had not done any formal archaeological work in over a year and I am nervous around new people and was going to work on a project where I only knew one person. It turns out I actually knew two people and that everyone on the project was very friendly and welcoming.
The day I arrived was a day off so we went to the beach and had a BBQ in the evening for everyone to get to know each other.
As well as a day at the beach I also went to see La Cotte de St Brelade. A site I knew little about but intend to learn more about as from what I have learnt it is incredibly interesting and a very impressive natural formation. It is often referred to as a cave but I understand it is better to describe it as a formation of dykes and fissures in an ancient valley system. Evidence recovered from the site suggests that it is an area of occupation by both Neanderthal and early modern man. It is also thought that it might have been used in hunting drives, though I think the likeness or feasibility of this is debated. Over 94,000 objects have been recovered from the site. This seems to be only a fraction of what could be recovered as there are still areas to excavate. There have been various excavations and work carried out at the site since the late 1800s. I will try not to go into any more detail as I don’t want to make mistake in discussing a site I still don’t know much about.
Heading into Le Cotte
14th July-Day 2
This was my first day on an archaeological site since September 2011. I was quite nervous as I had not worked on a Palaeolithic or Mesolithic site before and while I could remember digging and doing other excavation work such as planning I didn’t remember all the details of how to do all these things exactly.
The site I was working on was Col de la Rocque. The purpose of digging at the site was to find evidence of Mesolithic activity. We had permission from the National Trust to dig in two fields. Geophysics had been carried out in one field with more to be carried out in another field. This was to aid in were best to place the test pits. A couple of the pits were opened as pits to investigate the geology of the site to confirm results from the surveying. Other pits would be positioned to investigate anomalies in the geophysics results.
This was the first day the site was open so we were starting to open up test pits. I was handed a mattock and asked to dig a metre by metre test pit. I was happy with this as I could remember how to do this. The day on site was spent digging the test pits in areas based on geophysics carried out on the site. There were not too many objects coming out of the top soil and we didn’t have sieves so sieving the top soil needed to wait until the next day. There was evidence of worked flint coming out of some of the test pits so there was evidence of activity in the area.
Being able to go to the beach after a tiring day working in the heat was amazing.
15th July-Day 3
Day three involved a lot of sieving of the topsoil which I had dug up the day before from Test Pit 6. When I say a lot I mean the whole day. This was a little frustrating but a necessary part of excavation and again something which I could remember how to do. There was justification for this as we were finding worked flint from the topsoil. Not as much was coming out of the pit I was working on as there was from other but there was enough to justify the work.
After a day of sieving being able to go to the beach after work was a good way to finish work.
Mist at the start of a day at Col de le Rocque
16th July-Day 4
Day 4 started the same as day 3 had ended with sieving. The odd find came from the sieving. By lunch time we had sieved through the topsoil of Test Pit 6. I started work on Test Pit 2 in the afternoon. TP 2 was positioned over part of an anomaly with a 5 metre diameter. The topsoil in this area of the field seemed to be deeper. TP 6 was near the top of the field while TP 2 was in the lowest part of the field so a lot of soil would have subsided to this area.
TP2 was about 50cm deep and there was still topsoil so it was decided to start taking down the base of the pit in 2cm spits. I was familiar with this technique though I had not done it in a very long time and think I had only done it once before. If any artefacts were revealed they were to be plotted in position with a total station.
The evening involved going to The Airport Social Club or Flight Club as it is popularly known. I seemed to make an impression on people by having a lot of random music on my iPod which we were allowed to connect to their PA system.
17th July-Day 5
I was continuing with working on digging 2cm spits at Col de la Rocque, I think I was working on TP 5. After the mid-morning break there were some A-Level students who came to work on the site. I worked on opening up a new pit, I can’t remember which number this was. After opening it up the section edges needed a lot of cleaning and neatening as I had been a bit vigorous in digging down. From what I remember not much was coming out of the top soil of this pit as it was being sieved. This pit was positioned towards the top of the field like TP 6.
18th July-Day 6
Today was my first day at Les Varines. This was and is a confusing site. It was dug in a slightly unorthodox way but to dig it in a more conventional way would have been very time consuming a probably ended up even more confusing and the site would have been harder to understand. Les Varines involved very careful and attentive work. There were a lot of flint artefacts coming out of some of the layers and in later days there were artefacts coming out of layers which it was thought were sterile.
There had been different trenches opened up at Les Varines in previous years. The trench this year was to help with understanding the information and evidence gained from the previous trenches.
From what I understand it is thought that there is a Palaeolithic settlement at the site but that it has been affected by subsidence so the artefacts are not always in situ.
There was a main layer which flint artefacts were coming from. As with Col de la Rocque these were being planned in using a total station. Through this information it was possible to gain a better understanding of the site and see how the trenches relate to each other. It is possible to construct 3D models to show the distribution of the artefacts over the site.
After work this day some of us went kayaking. This was a great experience, though it was very tiring. The views of the Jersey coast line were amazing. Wish I had a water proof camera so I could have taken some pictures.
19th July-Day 7
My second day at Les Varines and I was feeling like I understood the site a bit better. This involved more careful excavation. As of yet we had not started to uncover flints from layers which were thought to be sterile which would lead to reinterpretations of the trench. Reinterpretation is not a bad thing. It is always better to change a theory or idea based on evidence than to ignore or manipulate evidence to stick to a theory.
Les Varines was always an interesting site to work on as there were often in depth conversations about what might be going on in the trench and the different events which may have caused the lay out of the layers and artefacts in the trench.
The evening meal today was fish and chips which we ate at Flight Club. This was a very fun evening as the next day was a day off so most people stayed up until Flight Club shut at 2am. The barman was very kind and seemed to enjoy the company of a lot of drunken archaeologists. Thinking about it most bar staff should be used to the sight of drunken archaeologists.
20th July-Day 8
A day off when I carried out some much needed laundry!
I wandered around St. Helier in the afternoon and had dinner with some of the other students on the dig at a restaurant in the evening.
I passed out at about 9 o’clock in the evening when we got back to site. I don’t think I was the only person to go to sleep pretty early.
At about 2am there was a thunder storm and this was the first significant rain we had had since I arrived. There wasn’t much evidence of the rain in the morning from what I remember.
21st July-Day 9
Work at Les Varines involved wet sieving and excavating today. The wet sieving revealed quite a few flint flakes some quite small.
There was a bit more rain this evening which coincided with a BBQ. I think this was also the night when people were dressed as narwhals and woolly mammoths. I was very tired this evening so I completely missed this.
22nd July-Day 10
Today I went to work in the stores to help with the repacking of some of the 94,000 objects that have been recovered from Le Cotte. So far through the work of students and PhD students Sam Griffiths and Andy Needham about 20,000 objects have been repacked.
There were more unusual events back at the camp in the evening which again I missed because I was so tired and had gone to bed. It seems there was court inquiry into an apparent tent violation.
23rd July-Day 11
Back to work excavating at Les Varines. I don’t mind archiving work but I prefer to get out and dig if I get the opportunity, though I am glad that I got to see other aspects of the work that was being carried out as part of the Ice Age Island project.
I think this was the day when in the process of trying to start getting as much work done on the trench as possible in the hope of finishing some things off we started to uncover flints in areas and layers which we had not been expecting to. Thus leading to more discussions as to what on earth was going on in the trench.
24th July-Day 12
Today I started the day doing finds processing in the morning.
I went to Col de le Rocque for the afternoon to work on a new test pit which had been opened up in the second field which we had permission to dig in. I was working on TP 9. Three pits were opened in the second field. Some geophysics had been carried out in the field to help with the placing of the pits. I can’t remember what the results revealed in relation to the other two pits but the pit I was working on was thought that there might be a collapsed wall which could be covering some Mesolithic archaeology.
Child labor at Col de le Rocque
By the end of the day there it was hoped and seemed to be some indication that there may be a collapsed wall in the pit due to the amount of rock. There was a lot of granite rock in the pit, some of which was quite lose and seemed like rubble. However there were other bits that seemed to be too big to be rubble. After continuing to excavate the pit the next morning it became clear that we had come down onto bed rock rather than a collapsed wall. Though disappointing from an archaeological perspective it provided a better understanding of the geophysics survey results of the site.
Though TP 9 did not have any features and came down on bedrock there were a lot of flint objects which came out of the first 6 inches of topsoil.
Not TP 9 but an example of bed rock from another trench. I can’t remember which number this pit is. For some reason I don’t have a picture from TP 9.
I can’t remember the numbers of the other pits in the field. One of them had a modern feature which was dug into it. The other pit which I think was TP 8 also came down onto bed rock but had a bevelled stone tool (I think that was how it was referred to). I can’t remember the specific significance of this as I am not a lithics specialist but it was a very beautiful object to come out of a pit which seemed to be very hard to dig and other than this tool not very rewarding.
Today also had the End of Dig Party. The dig wasn’t ending till Friday 26th July and everyone was leaving on 27th July. It was decided to have the end of dig party on this day so people weren’t very hung over and tired on the day which a lot of recording and packing up of the excavation sites was required. The party was a lot of fun and there was a very delicious meal and lots of crazy dancing at Flight Club. Some of which involved one team member being spun around in a shopping trolley.
25th July-Day 13
Continuing work at Col de le Rocque revealing that the possible rubble was definitely granite bedrock. Cleaning up the pit for recording was quite arduous due to conditions and it seeming that every time dirt and bits of grass were removed more would appear. The photo and section drawing should not have taken me as long as it did as these were some of the excavations techniques which I was a little hazy on. I remember photographing pits/trenches/sections and sometimes drawing quite complicated sections but I couldn’t necessarily remember how to.
26th July-Day 14
pop up museum
The last day of the project started with me back filling a couple of pits at Col de le Rocque before going to work in the pop up museum nearby. I volunteered for this which I regret as I would have much rather been excavating/backfilling/recording. I did get some great photos on the walk to the museum but I spent most of my time reading a book about mammoths (as it turned out a very interesting book) as not that many people turned up. When there were people I tried to give as much information about the project as possible but I think I may have given some confusing info as I didn’t present enough of a general over view of the work and period being looked into.
Model of Neanderthal skull
The evening after work was very enjoyable. The whole team went to a site called La Houge Bie. This has a prehistoric tomb, a medieval church and a World War II German prison camp. I forgot to take my camera with me so don’t have any pictures from here. This is an interesting site and somewhere else I would like to find out more about.
27th July-Day 15
The day when most people were going to be making the journey home. The morning was spent packing up tents and cleaning up the site and area we were staying.
I was getting a flight in the late afternoon. I went down to the sand dunes near the area we were staying with a few other people. After two weeks of almost constant sunshine this was the day it decided to rain. The walk to the airport was not too much fun though I was glad that I had decided to wear all my water proofs for the walk. The rain seemed to follow me to London where there was thunder and lightning as well. Though I am pretty sure the rain was covering most of England. Apart from a slight delay to my flight the journey home was largely uneventful.
It is a shame that it had to come to an end. The past two weeks have been some of the fun days I have had in the past few years.
I am still not a fan of Abba…