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Daily Dig 2011

Backfilling: heartfelt sadness and Ragnarök

The 2011 excavations at Cosmeston ended last week. With impressive archaeology and fantastic finds, this season was an amazing success. When we finish the dig we reinstate the land so people can continue to enjoy the field (which is regularly used for events hosted by the village) without falling into a big hole. Today we bring you a blog by Tom Durbin, who tells us what it’s like to watch weeks of hard graft be reburied: 

Backfill. The day we had all been dreading. Just as the battle of Ragnarök was to the Norse gods and the (quite frankly awful) last chapter was to Harry Potter nerds, backfill was a day we all knew would come, however much we didn’t want it to. It was inevitable.

I think you’ll all agree our heartfelt sadness was justified. In only a handful of hours, a dungaree-wearing farmer drives up in a toylike yellow JCB and dumps soil over 4 weeks of our lives. Annoying would be an understatement; I liken it to the destruction of Gromit’s impressive card sculpture in A Grand Day Out, or an obnoxious child kicking over a lovingly-made sand castle. 4 weeks spent meticulously excavating and recording context after context and uncovering some very interesting finds, then it all gets covered up by the very earth we spent so long removing.

The Big Yellow Trowel reverses a month of work

The Big Yellow Trowel reverses a month of work

But that’s archaeology. It’s a destructive process. Once everything has been drawn, photographed and recorded, there is no reason why it should remain. A prime example of this was when a certain Jon Madge and myself were asked to remove what we had interpreted to be a medieval path. After we had done everything that needed to be done, the path served no purpose and therefore ceased to be useful. I must admit, it did feel wrong to be so brutally destroying a path built by and walked upon the people of medieval Cosmeston. Rob was close to tears. On an important note, the largest stone from the path has been cleaned and kept as its shape indicates that it has been worked, unlike the majority of other stones present.

Once the JCB driver had done his dirty work (get it?), it was time to replace the turf. To start this was a relatively easy job, picking up sections of turf from the top of the pile and placing them in the trench. However, under this top layer, the soil had been compacted and the grass had died, making it more difficult to pick up and we had to resort to the classic combination of shovels and barrows to get the job done. We then needed to pack the turf down, which we achieved through a number of methods, including jumping up and down on it and using shovels. Whacking the ground with a shovel is not only very effective for this purpose, but it’s also rather fun, relieves stress and is a good way of trying to look awesome, even though the reality is that it really doesn’t.

Whacking down the turf on a freshly filled in trench

Whacking down the turf on a freshly filled in trench

And with that came the end of the dig. Yes, it’s all very sad. Cry about it if you must. But this year’s excavation will live on in our hearts and minds. And maybe, just maybe, in a few years time when someone asks you about the aquamanile, you can tell them it was me that found it. What’s that? You want me to appear on television? Oh, if I must… And thus endeth the word of Tom.

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About Cosmeston Students

We are the student labour at the Cardiff University excavations of Cosmeston Medieval Manor.

Discussion

2 thoughts on “Backfilling: heartfelt sadness and Ragnarök

  1. Oh the agonizing close of excavations. Does it ever get any less painful? I really feel for you wincing over taking up that medieval path. I remember when everybody hailed geophys as meaning we’d never have to destroy any archaeology again (because that’s bad! bad! -apparently..).. or excavate, for that matter… hmmmm. I wonder what happened to that idea

    Posted by Zam | July 30, 2011, 1:33 am
  2. Its quite sad backfilling a site after so much teamwork. When you look again its like nothing ever happened there.Much the same at Re enactments,when all the Medieval tents are taken down and our Medieval clothing is once again replaced with our modern clothes. Leaves you with a sort of empty feeling. But there is another site for you to look forward to excavating. Good Luck.
    Rita in Crete.

    Posted by ritaroberts | July 30, 2011, 12:44 pm

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A working shot of the 1980s excavation in the lower area of Cosmeston

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