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The school's dig, and what they found

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posted on Jul, 6 2019 @ 08:09 AM
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A few decades ago, a village primary school in the Isle of Ely fens was doing some amateur archaeology in a local field. The word “amateur” needs to be emphasised, to avoid raising false expectations.

The geographical setting; Like others in the Fenland, this village grew up on a small island, which became (once the fens were drained) a low hill overlooking the flat plain. The field in question lay on a slope leading down from the central street.

This was a small school, containing only two classes.
On official documents, they were the Juniors (ages 8 to 10+) and the Infants (ages 5 to 7+).
In school usage, they were the Big’Uns and the Littl’Uns, housed respectively in the Big Room and the Little Room.
This account is narrated by the college-vacation son of the teaching staff.
If I add that I am the narrator, I think that tells you everything you need to know.

Wednesday June 30th

Today Mum organised an archaeological dig with the infants on a round, symmetrical dome of earth which is standing in the middle of one of John Fife’s fields. She has been getting interested in archaeology, and he offered this mound, for which there is no obvious reason. They both discount the idea that it’s the material dug out from the pond in the corner of the field, because of the distance. Mum’s hope is that it is some kind of ancient burial mound. Lester Winters and Nigel Broker, from the Big Room, had been brought along to help make up the deficiency in manpower. Their attitude was ambivalent. “There might be anything there or there might be nothing”, said the worldly-wise Lester. What they had in mind was not pottery and prehistoric artefacts but gold and silver treasure trove. Mum doubted that we would find valuables of this kind. “You don’t know”, said Nigel, with an air of challenge.

The expedition set off for the field concerned immediately after playtime in the morning. “We’ve got a man coming with us”, they said as I joined them. Teresa, Shan and Anne Lipman dropped back with me
as we went over. The tractor was going round the perimeter of the field beginning to cut the grass. The first thing Mum did on arriving at the site was to pick a spot at the crown of the mound and get them to tear the grass off it. John Fife stopped his tractor nearby and came over to point out how close to perfectly round the mound was, and to offer to remove the grass immediately. We retired while he did so, after which, as he said, it looked much more conspicuous. When they began to cut into the mound, there wasn’t at first much for the smaller infants to do. Mum set them to wander out of the way and “see how many different kinds of grass they could find”. Before long they had re-interpreted the order into something more familiar, collecting piles of cut grass in their hands and dumping it on a spot close to the mound, until Mum rounded on them and told them to put it down.

Mr. Fife had provided a heavy-handed tool with a sharp, oblong, and inwardly curving blade, basically for ditch-cutting and useful for biting into the clay which we had reached, and also a pick-axe which the natives called a “peck”. Lester became the expert on the first, and Nigel wielded the “peck” with casual disregard of his own safety and the safety of those around him. The younger ones were working diligently with their trowels at the top end of the growing ditch. Apart from the beetles, worms and ants, they also found a couple of modern-looking glazed pottery fragments and some stones. They announced at one stage that they had found a piece of stone with some pottery attached to it. “I should think that’s all we’ve got,” said Lester, the natural Fen instinct for contradiction putting him at that stage into a cynical mood. The infants should have replied “You don’t know”, but they’re not experienced enough at this kind of verbal warfare.

We downed tools for dinner and returned afterwards for an hour of work until it was time for playtime and “sewing”. On the way back to the field, Teresa wondered aloud whether she should “tell him”, was urged by Anne to do so, and then confided to me “Do you know what that girl with the blue ribbons [Shan] is going to do? She’s going to marry you.” The main object now was to make the slash wider and deeper. Lester was largely responsible for giving the trench definitive sides. Every now and then everybody else downed tools and got out of the way while Nigel loosened another patch of earth, sweating and throwing down the pick with heated ferocity. Once Mum could prevail upon him to admit that enough had been done (he would never admit to being tired), we all set to again with spades and trowels. There was a marked preference for digging out the soil instead of carrying it away, so those working in the middle would simply push earth further down the trench, which met with great indignation from the trowel workers at the bottom.

Thursday July 1st

This morning we went out to the field again. On each journey over, the infants had great rivalry about who was going to shut the gate, and on one occasion four of them were hanging on it jointly. Lester and Nigel debated over when they were going to let the others in their class have a go. Lester said they could not come immediately after playtime because of “spellings”, but added magnanimously “You can come straight after playtime if you like, Miss’Melton.” In the event they were both detained because of their mistakes, and could only return after a long interval. [I have a suspicion that “spelling” was on Thursday in my own time as well.] Nevertheless the cut was satisfyingly deep and wide. The first thing that Mum did when she got in at twelve o’clock yesterday was to start laughing at the mere thought of what it must look like to an outside observer.

Friday July 2nd

We continued today with the help of Carol Freeman and Denise Sandford in the morning. I lost count of the number of times Lester and Nigel said before their arrival “I don’t suppose them girls will do much.”
“We’ve found a worm, Miss’Melton.”
“Oh, very good.”
“Look, here’s another one, Miss’Melton.”
“I expect there are several around.”
We are now getting below the level of the clay to ancient sand and stones mixed in the soil underneath, providing a lesson in elementary geology, if nothing else. Lester and Nigel had assured Mum that last night’s rain would make digging in the clay more difficult. In fact it made it easier to get the clay out in enormous lumps. The trench is now nearly down to the level of the main field, outside the mound.

Monday July 5th

There was more digging between playtime and dinnertime on what is by now quite a respectable trench.

Tuesday July 6th

From playtime to playtime we worked. There was found half a hollow bone (a small one), and an alleged tooth, from a very small animal. The pit near the centre of the mound is now undeniably lower than the level of the ground around it

(continued)




posted on Jul, 6 2019 @ 08:10 AM
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Wednesday July 7th

We did more work from the early morning. Mervyn and Stewart Hare cleared assiduously and got in each other’s way. Nigel complained about what a boss and a telltale Teresa was, and how “snouty” her mother was, “Ru’erford isn’t doing nothing hardly, just standing there looking…Covell isn’t doing much.” Mum explained patiently that it didn’t matter as long as they kept quiet and didn’t get in the way. After she stopped for a rest, three bones (backbone, I think) and some alleged pottery fragments were found in the corner where she had been working. “Mrs. Melton’s mad because she didn’t find it herself,” said Lester. Before playtime she did hit on something, which has been partly revealed after we spent all day clearing away from it. It appears to be some kind of pipe made out of a crumbling pottery framework, with a curved top but flat sides, with a brick supporting it at each of the joins between the short lengths. The work is difficult because the pipe in both directions is leading off into the sheer deep sides of the trench, so these have to be cut away from the top. However, Mum got the boys digging another hole where a theoretical extension of the pipe would reach the edge of the mound. Nigel insists that it is “only a drainpipe”, leading from the Fife house to another further into the fen. The idea of an ancient pipe does not appeal to him. Because they were thinking in terms of stone sepulchres and/or gold and silver, the find of a drainpipe of whatever age automatically nullifies it. Nigel even convinced himself that he was being soiled by touching sewage within the broken pipe, now completely clogged up with earth. Dad brought the Big’Uns to see just before the afternoon playtime, and left the big girls there, while taking everybody else back with him.

Thursday July 8th

The infants worked before playtime, the Big’Uns after dinner, and Mum and a select band in the evening. Teresa’s dad thought it was a hundred and fifty year old drain. Michael Freeman’s dad thought it was a flood-drain pipe.

Friday July 9th

The infants were left behind after dinner while Mum got the older ones exploring further. Keeping a previous promise, she’s rung up Mrs. Duffield [friend and local Ely Standard correspondent] to tell her about the developments. John Fife thinks it’s a tile drain and brought down his father-in-law to see it. Mum now intends to stop digging, thinking the infants have had enough, so he intends to dig up a tile or two to send them to a museum before the hole gets filled in.

Monday July 12th

After playtime, Nigel, Lester and I went to clear the surface of the pipe for the benefit of a photographer who rang up more than once during the day, to say that he was coming, “any time now”, “this afternoon”, and finally that he could not make it until tomorrow.

Tuesday July 13th

The photographer from the Ely Standard arrived with a girl to take notes, and we all trooped down to the field concerned. He arranged them around the pit as if they were working, in appropriate attitudes. He stood on a bale of hay to take the picture.

Saturday July 17th

[Account of annual church fete omitted]

Monday July 19th

Today the school had a holiday. Mum and I went out in the morning to try to extract a complete section of pipe. Last week Mrs. Fife saw three older boys throwing stones into the pit, and the exposed pipe is now smashed. Exactly what was to be expected in this village. We dug in further and got out some pieces of pipe and a tile cracked into six equal parts. We met an old man on the way up who said “What are you looking for? You won’t find anything there, I could have told you that before you started. I remember them carting that up from the pond.”



posted on Jul, 6 2019 @ 08:11 AM
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Footnotes;

It may be noticed that the word “lunch” had not yet reached that part of the provinces.

The school holiday on the 19th would relate to the Feast of the Dedication- i.e. the foundation anniversary of the local church, which was also the excuse for the church fete.

A decade before these events, builders digging the foundations of a new school building had made a genuine discovery, a small assortment of dinosaur bones. I seem to have inherited one of them, a 3-inch diameter backbone disc, which must have found its way into School House at some stage.



posted on Jul, 6 2019 @ 11:29 AM
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Shaggy Dog story.



posted on Jul, 6 2019 @ 12:51 PM
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a reply to: schuyler
There's also a theology thread going on, if you prefer one of those for a Saturday.



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