Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Reaching the Natural

Section through a layer of burnt material in trench 1
Looking back over last week's community archaeological dig on the canal at Maesbury I realise again it was a very absorbing and satisfying experience. The term 'reaching the natural', I learned, refers to the point which, after digging through the layers of man-made activity, you reach the natural geology of the land. The depth at which you reach it varies, and can often be between 40cm and 1m down.

Still-life with bucket, trowel and clipboard
The dig took place in what is now someone's garden, on a site where there was originally a wharf on the canal. On the adjacent plot there are still buildings which were part of a bone-manure works that would have been operational during the 1800s, when the canal had it's heyday.

The chimney of the bone-manure works, adjacent to the canal wharf where the dig took place
I stayed digging on Trench 2 for two days. We went through the turf layer, followed by a layer of intentionally laid stone that could be 'old' or 'very old'. That layer was infiltrated with lots of pieces of melted dark glass. There was some excited speculation that this could mean glass had been produced on the site, but it later seemed more likely to have been brought in as part of an aggregate to fill in some ground. There were also some shards of Midland Blackware ceramic (dated between 16th and 19th century), and patches of orangey clay. 

Some of the finds from Trench 2, including the melted dark glass, some pipe stems and pottery shards

When I left the dig on Thursday, we had taken down one section of the trench as far as a uniform clay layer underneath. Whether or not there is further human activity beneath that layer will help determine how significant the remains are. 

Regardless of the outcome, the process of the dig is absorbing. As the little video below shows, it is quite cooperative and trance-like. It also feels quite interior and automatic, like shaping sand in a sand-pit, but you need to keep aware so you don't overlook something unusual. The video clip reminds me of filmed surgery, with gloved hands delving around and heads out of shot.


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