On this Day of Archaeology I was actually at a wedding, a completely non archaeology wedding. I feel that this is important to point out because, like most jobs people do that a. they enjoy and b. are poorly funded and highly competitive many people dedicate their whole lives to their work.
I realised a while ago that this is not healthy and even though I am doing a PhD (the ultimate demand in time) study community archaeology (something that normally happens on weekends) I am doing my hardest to take time out. I am aware that this will not last and come writing up time I will spend every day in front of my computer but for now I am enjoying it whilst it lasts.
So, rather than writing about a Non-Day of Archaeology I thought I’d write about the nearest to the 11th that I worked. This was the 9th. It was a beautiful day and one that is perhaps not that normal for a PhD student however here it is…
My PhD is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund through the South Dorset Ridgeway Landscape Partnership Scheme. This is a whole series of events focused on understanding, conserving and enjoying the wildlife, landscape and heritage of the region. The South Dorset Ridgeway is a ridge of chalk hills between Dorchester and Weymouth which overlooks the Jurassic Coast. This amazingly complex geology underpins everything that defines that South Dorset Ridgeway.
This includes the archaeology and therefore I felt that it is important to understand it. Luckily I was not the only person who thought this and the Ridgeway management team have put together a series of walks around the landscape, led by various experts. These are currently reserved for the partners as it is important that we all have a good knowledge of the landscape so that we can build this into our individual projects.
The walk ran from a village at the foot of the hills (Abbotsbury), along a discussed railway line, to through Portesham where I joined the team. Did you know that in Porteshan there used to live a chap called William Weare? When he died his will stated that he wanted to be buried ‘neither in the church nor outside it’. Why he requested this is unknown, if it was an attempt to try to avoid a Christian burial he was thwarted- he was buried in the wall of the church!
The walk then continued up to Portesham Quarry, also known as Rocket Quarry or Portesham Farm Quarry. It was here that Sam Scriven from the Jurassic Coast WHS team started to enlighten us as to the geological history of the area. It’s complex and although I think I understand most of it you don’t want me to repeat it all here. It is sufficient to say that there are several different geological deposits between the ridgeway and the sea. The format that these take range from hard stones, such as Portland or Purbeck Stone, to clays, gravels and chalks. They have been twisted, molded and eroded over the years to form the landscape that we now see.
The nature of these deposits can significantly affect the archaeology on top. For example the Sarcen stones that are used for building monuments such as the Hell Stone or the Hampton Stone Circle (later stops on our walk) are only used near the Valley of the Stones, elsewhere wood was used a building material.
Another example of how a geological understanding is very important for archaeologists was pointed out on the descent to Abbotsbury when we passed through the largest unmapped landslide in the UK, and it did seem very big (but thankfully stable). Not that much is know about it, as mapping would greatly aid this process, but at least it has now been recognised. On the OS it is marked as Strip Lynchets. Although the slumps may have been used for agriculture it is clear when you look at them a bit closer that they are not man made, they are irregular, not actually that flat and really not that suitable for farming.
I know that this walk may sound like the perfect day of work and, yes it is amazing to be able to spend a day learning super interesting and useful things from experts in a beautiful surroundings but there was a purpose to it. Taking a couple of days away from thinking about it meant that when I came back this week I was able to reflect, to process and to engage creatively and intellectually with what I had learnt.
For more about the geology visit http://jurassiccoast.org/