Posted by admin on June 21, 2018
This month Beccy takes us on a tour of post-ex, from finds processing on site through to completion of reports by the specialists, whilst not forgetting the vital importance of making sure there’s plenty of tea and cake!
My experience with the Teffont Archaeology Project began in 2009, when I was in the midst of my second-year undergraduate degree. Nine years later and I work as a freelance osteoarchaeologist, Roman pottery specialist, and post-excavation manager on projects predominantly in Wiltshire and Yorkshire, including the Teffont Archaeology Project. I have analysed all the pottery from the site, as well as the skeletal remains we recovered from a shrine wall in 2012. By far the most consuming element of my work for Teffont, however, is the post-excavation management, which I have done for all the seasons excluding 2017, when I took time off to write my master’s thesis.
Just as Teffont began small and grew organically, so did post-excavation. On-site post-excavation was initially run by Keith Scholes and then Phil Showell, who was assisted by excavators, particularly towards the end of digging. Over the years, the group of post-excavation volunteers has grown and stabilised so that there is a permanent team on site from the start of excavation, something I am always grateful for by the end of dig when we are almost overrun by finds!
The post-excavation team includes interested university students from undergraduate to PhD level, local people interested in the history of the area or in archaeology in general, as well as people who volunteer for Richard Henry at the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Many volunteers come back year after year, some of whom train in particular finds and then return as project specialists. People come back to Teffont for several reasons. Teffont is an unusual site with a wide range of material culture recovered from complex range of activities undertaken in a relatively small area. Finds can come from domestic contexts such as a pair of dolphin brooches recovered from a roadside structure or from ‘ritual’ contexts like the purported cenotaph which included a jar laid on its side and burnt in association with animal bones and other finds.
Above: The jar in situ within the cenotaph
Above: 3D reconstruction of the jar from the cenotaph, which can be found here
The experience of on-site post-excavation – which includes site tours and often rotation between the post-ex and digging teams - is also valuable in that it provides the volunteers with an opportunity to truly appreciate the importance of the archaeological context to interpretation. I strongly believe that everyone involved in finds archaeology should have some experience of this, and that excavators should understand what happens to their finds after they bring them to post-ex.
I suspect, however, that one of the main reasons for people returning is the atmosphere. Post-excavation at Teffont starts before the digging team reach site, but not until everyone has a cup of tea. We stop regularly for top-ups and cake, while lunch can include treats from the tuck shop as well as mini board games or mind puzzles. Interested members of the public frequently pop into the farm to see what the Project is up to at that moment and there is always someone pleased to provide a tour of the finds and explain what post-excavation entails. Everyone gets on really well, and the post-ex barn is generally filled with happy chatter and music or podcasts through the day. It is this serenity I am always grateful of when the excavators return carrying the days finds, filling up the only recently emptied drying trays and causing well-meaning chaos in the hunt for their star find of the previous day.
TEF15 Post-Excavation Pod (L-R: Arwen James, Roger Ayers, Lesley Ayers, Laura Pearson, and Clara Asher)
This state of affairs does not continue forever however, and soon the excavation period is over. Slightly more frazzled but hopefully happy post-excavation volunteers head home while I head back to York with another mass of boxes and bags to finish processing. This means finishing cleaning, cataloguing and marking the finds ready for boxing to go to specialists. This is largely done on my own but there is sometimes a second phase of volunteering to deal with this work, often hosted at my small terraced house, where my giant flat-coated retriever likes to help post-excavation by stealing anything left on the floor. Very quickly people have realised not to keep boxes of loose bags and Tyvek labels on the ground. Once the processing is finished my role becomes intensely administrative. There are hundreds of emails and phone calls to specialists and couriers to arrange delivery and return of finds, although the slow trickle of reports coming in after months makes this eminently worthwhile. This element of post-excavation constantly reinforces to me how incredibly grateful I am for the opportunity to work with an exceptional group of specialists, all of whom are engaged with the site and project and who continue to provide fascinating results and interpretations.
Above: Beccy undertaking some off-site post-ex
If the volunteers, specialists and I have worked hard, and the post-excavation gods are kind, the reports and finds are returned to me before preparation for the next season begins in earnest, although the nature of post-excavation means that this is rare! As you can tell then, Teffont post-excavation overruns my house and life but it also forms an invaluable bridge between on-site and off-site archaeology which allows combination of data from stratigraphy and finds in a considered way. As to the future of the Project, while I can’t claim to know whether Teffont will continue until 2029, I am, however, confident that the spirit (and much of the personnel) of the project will continue in associated projects in the area like the PASt Landscapes Project. My only hope is that if, and when, TEF29 happens, my house will be larger - I am tired of having worked stone sitting in my hallway and pottery in my bedroom!