100 Minories Project

Chiz, deep in a trench.

“Hi boss, sorry I’m late!”

After a month of woeful visa problems, I finally got on site at the 100 Minories Project with L – P Archaeology. We’re working on getting the website for the project up and running, but I’ve spent about half my time on site, down a fairly deep trench. I’m digging in a 4m deep 2x2m shored trench right next to a giant underground concrete wall that is part of the tube. There are a lot of disturbed post-medieval deposits that are, as I learned today, primarily poop. Never say that London archaeology is glamorous, I guess!

I’m working with Chiz Harward who is an absolutely incredible resource for London archaeology in particular and excavation methodology in general. He endures my questions about peg tiles and “cessy” deposits vs. midden deposits, how clay pipes are made and fired, and health and safety on archaeology sites with aplomb. As far as I can figure it, he’s trained a lot of the archaeologists that I deeply respect and I’m pretty chuffed to work with him.

I have to say that working in London is pretty humbling. Like I said, I turned up on the last week on site. As anyone who has ever worked on a developer-funded project knows, the last week is CRAZY. You are pushed to dig more and faster. FASTER. So I found myself the first day on site, trying to get my eye in, under the gaze of 5 construction workers (builders), someone from the planning commission, the dig director, and the most experienced London archaeologist ever. Since I am at the bottom of a deep trench, it’s probably the most horrible panopticon kaleidoscope ever. I actually felt a little lightheaded and made the most classic mistakes–working in circles, not cleaning things properly, and just getting frustrated and losing confidence. Absolutely deadly in field archaeology.

It’s humbling to work on new continents, on new projects, on new sites. I can see why academic archaeologists stick to one era or one area–you have to relearn site assemblages, deposits, and feel like an idiot as someone describes particulars of the stratigraphy that are known to even the most junior of hands on site. The thing that holds it together is, at heart, single context archaeology. Still your fears of overdigging or underdigging, quiet your interest in getting to exactly 10cm beneath that ┬álast “level” and trust your eyes and your hands and the change in the soil. It’s much harder to do than you think.

I have a million things to say, about how amazing it is to be on site where health and safety is first, obnoxiously first, and how great it feels when people actually understand the risks associated with our job and value me enough to insist that I know every nuance. How A-frame gantry hoists would have prevented the destruction of many large & lovely ashlars while trying to get them out of the trench in Dhiban. Dealing with deep site excavation while keeping your archaeologists safe. And as I said on Facebook, walking through an enormously rich part of one of the richest sites in the world, with people turning their noses up at you because you are essentially wearing the shit of their ancestors.

So, expect to hear more about 100 Minories. I’ve learned about peg tiles and hoggin (flinty gravels that serve as ballast) and how gas monitors work. We are digging pits that are essentially in the basement of a brutalist 1960s structure–the excavation will proceed after the building is demolished and we’ll clear away all of the archaeological deposits, down to seven meters in places. London commercial archaeology is where single context methodology began and it is fantastic to work at the source.

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