When you’re on a dig, you may get asked to excavate a post hole. This will be all that remains of an upright post – the sort of thing they once made buildings out of. A dig director or supervisor will generally see something on the ground that only a trained archaeological eye can spot, point and say “excavate that post hole!” I remember at the Minge last time, poor Tom excavated about 500 of them.
They show up on the ground as round (obviously) and a different colour to the surrounding soil. This is generally because the soil is made up of the rotted timber (among other things). So you half section it, which means you dig out one half. As you dig and trowel you collect finds (unless you’re me when it’s just going to be dirt and rocks) until you hit what you think is the ‘natural’.
At the bottom of really big post holes you are also likely to find the rocks that held the post in place before the hole was filled in and packed with earth.
Having completed excavating your half section, it is now time to draw your half post hole both in plan and in section, marking all the little bits of rock still stuck in the other half (or bits of pot if you’re not me). You then whack out the other half. Eventually you have a big round hole, slightly bigger than the post that originally stood in it.
Today I dug a post hole. It was three feet deep and extended about two inches into the ‘natural’ which, I discovered, is very solid clay. But this wasn’t your normal, garden variety wooden post hole. This one still had the post in it. And it was steel. And stuck very, very fast.
I was digging the ex-nettle patch bed, uprooting the nasty buggers and generally having a fine old time, when the tines of my fork struck what I thought was a rock. Using a small spade I attempted to find it. I found something but it wasn’t moving.
Generally I get a bit excited when this happens. I guess it’s the archaeological training. Anyway, I moved the earth away and found the top of the above-mentioned two inch pipe. I was already down about six inches. I figured it would be a good idea to dig it out, thinking it would only be a few inches long.
Three hours later I stood, triumphant, holding a three foot length of rusted pipe which had been bashed into the clay by two inches. It had taken a lot of effort and the introduction of the tools from my dig bag but I managed to dig it out. I have no idea what it was doing down there.
My best guess would be that it was left over from before the land was developed. It was agricultural land prior to 1900 and would have had a lot of earth spread over it before being subdivided into house plots. So this bar was either left over from the original farm (unlikely because they would probably have used timber fencing) or was a leftover field marker from when the original surveyors worked on it.
If the latter is the case (and I think it may be) then the line of our back yard is a bit off. The pipe was about two feet in from the boundary with next door. If it also marked the extent of the property then it was a good ten feet from the back fence.
All a bit mysterious but quite satisfying to be rid of it. Now, of course, the hole has been back filled and the post is standing against the compost heap waiting for me to show Mirinda.
After lunch (and as a break from post hole digging) I took the poodles to the park. Apart from Carmen repeating her antics from yesterday which resulted in her second bath in as many days, we wandered around the funfair to see what was happening. Here’s a shot of the Twister. I think it looks rather odd among the trees.
And here’s a photo of most of the hot border with the plants I put in yesterday.
One other thing archaeology related from today. Making History is a Radio 4 programme in which listeners ask questions about the past and the presenters find out more, talking to experts etc. This week it featured Matt Pope, an expert on the Mesolithic period and a really lovely guy I’ve had the pleasure of working under. He was talking about a fantastic causewayed enclosure called Whiteleaf near Brighton. This just happens to be the focus of Dawn’s PHD and sounded fascinating. She has offered to give me a guided tour of it one day. I’m going to hold her to that.
If you would like to listen to Matt Pope, you can hear him here on the Radio 4 site. You don’t have to listen to the entire programme as he is the first person interviewed by Fiona on today’s programme.