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October 2018

Posted by admin on October 4, 2018

This month Sophy tells us what she’s gained through participating in the Teffont project: the chance to meet a diverse range of people, the opportunity to get out of the lab and back into the field, and vital life skills such as knowing the best way to chase cows out of a trench...

My first experience of Teffont was in the summer of 2010 as a fresh-faced second year undergraduate, after replying to an email sent around the Archaeology Department at York. I had no clue what was in store when my Dad dutifully dropped me off at a farmyard in a gloriously picturesque village in deepest Wiltshire, with a few bags of camping gear and a trowel. To my delight, there followed two weeks filled with interesting archaeology, sunshine, laughter, flint knapping, camp fires, sleeping in a tent, eating in a barn and attempting to use a solar shower (note: in Wiltshire, these are without fail, always freezing). Never did I imagine I would still be digging there 7 years on!


Sophy (centre) at the 2013 season's excavation

Over the years I’ve returned to Teffont as both a fieldworker and a supervisor, and have gained both fieldwork experience and a number of fantastic friends. It’s also furnished me with some other, surprising, life skills, such as the best way to chase cows out of a trench, how best to motivate students when faced with excavating yet another cobbled surface, the nuances of Wiltshire-grown wines and home-brew sloe gin, and the bonding power of a packet of biscuits between hungry excavators.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to see the project grow year on year, not only in terms of the numbers of students participating in the fieldschool, and but also in the areas of the Teffont landscape which have been explored archaeologically. As the project has expanded, so too have the questions posed by the archaeology uncovered, and how this can be placed in the context of both the local landscape and also on a broader regional or national scale. For me, the range of questions thrown up by the archaeology each year is one of the reasons that has made Teffont such an interesting research project to be involved in, and has captured so many people’s interests for so long.

I now work as a research scientist in biomolecular archaeology, and as such, spend most of my time within a lab or analysing data in the office. Teffont therefore also provides me with the opportunity each year to get back into the field and get ‘hands-on’ with archaeology. As someone who spends her days looking at archaeological material on a molecular level, I find it hugely useful to take time to think about archaeology on a different scale and approaching it in a different way.


Sophy (left) in the lab

Beyond this however, one of the things which makes Teffont both special and enjoyable is, in my opinion, the mix of people it attracts and who are encouraged to participate every year. There is such a variety of experience and specialisms in the participants – and this means that everyone there contributes something different. Over the years I have shared a trench with commercial archaeologists, community volunteers, university students (doing degrees in various subjects!), sixth form students, senior academics, county archaeologists, doctors, school teachers, university lecturers, museum professionals, osteologists, zooarchaeologists, members of local archaeological societies… 2017 was no exception to this – I dug a large Roman boundary ditch with a primary school teacher, a former civil servant, a nano-physicist, a retired county archaeologist, and a commercial archaeologist! I truly believe it is of great benefit to have a mix of people excavating a site, and that the contributions this mix of fieldworkers can provide aids interpretation of the archaeology.

It also links to one of the project’s research aims, which is to study the archaeology of Teffont through inclusive interpretive discussions, and create holistic and plausible understandings. For me, the fantastic mix of people with diverse experiences at Teffont each year helps in achieving this aim. Frequently, the discussions we have about the archaeology are richer for the breadth of experience and specialisms the participants possess.

As for future seasons, I’d like to see the project continue to develop as it has done over the past 8 or more years – providing an inclusive, friendly and enjoyable place for people from all walks of life to gain experience of archaeological fieldwork. And if I’m there for #TEF29 Mike, here’s hoping my tent is still of palatial proportions, Tom is still cooking all our meals, the sun shines for us, and that the archaeology continues to be as interesting as ever!