Hugh Fiske joined us for three weeks at Flag Fen. What was the result of his first-ever experience with archaeology: was it life-changing or soul-destroying? Read on!
It’s Day 9 at Flag Fen…
“We’re here at Test Pit 3, it’s Tuesday, erm, we’re just cleaning up what fell in the hole during our day off yesterday and, um, taking back the last area of the surface to expose the timbers underneath. Once that’s all done and we’ve cleaned up the timbers it will all be recorded and photographed and lifted…”
Possibly not the greatest piece to camera ever recorded but something of a milestone for me personally. I was at Flag Fen in the summer of 2012, enjoying the opportunity to spend time indulging a lifetime’s interest in history and ‘old stuff’, and inadvertently joining the YouTube community into the bargain!
Up until then it had been just a nice daydream to be able to take part in a proper dig because that was for professionals, right? I had spent some time in my twenties wandering round ploughed fields, village greens and beaches with a metal detector finding pre-decimal coins and occasional personal items like keys, lighters and the odd bit of cheap jewellery, but it didn’t really get scratch the itch I had to get in amongst proper archaeology. As that was clearly never going to happen, I put it to the back of my mind and restricted myself to reading about it instead.
All that changed 30 or so years later when I found myself with time on my hands and redundancy money in my pocket. Having read about DigVentures’ bold new initiative I decided to dive in at the deep end and go to Flag Fen for two weeks full immersion, which turned into three weeks, and the rest, as they say, is history.
After that experience, or at least once I had got the knots out of my back (three weeks in a two-man tent plus copious mattocking) I was keen to continue in the same vein, so I straightaway joined the local archaeological society, for which I am now a serving committee member (Newsletter Editor, I think they were desperate for new blood!), and also started as a volunteer guide at Fishbourne Roman Palace which is only a couple of miles from where I live.
I spend two Saturdays out of four at Fishbourne and my main responsibility is artefact handling with members of the public – we have a selection of building materials found on site (including a small portion of mosaic, white marble, roof tile with dog pawprint, window glass, etc, and a selection of domestic pottery) which I pass round and talk about. I also have my eye on working in the Collections Discovery Centre on site which is where cataloguing and conservation work is carried out on both the Palace collection and that of the Chichester District Museum, and I’ve been told by the curator Dr Rob Symmons (much quoted in the national media recently concerning Roman gaming tokens that may actually have been significantly uncomfortable ‘toilet paper’, below right) that there should be an opportunity for me there before long.
The Chichester & District Archaeological Society is a very active group, and I’m looking forward to getting stuck into their on going excavations of Roman villa sites at Warblington, near Emsworth, and Watergate, near West Marden. They are also planning the excavation of a bastion on the Roman wall circuit at Chichester and there are various surveying projects planned including a very exciting collaboration with other local groups in geophysing the grounds of Petworth House to locate outbuildings and former wings demolished during the history of the house.
One further project I have volunteered to help with is the West Sussex County Council Great War Project, it is primarily concerned with record gathering and indexing in time for the centenary next year and the aim is to have a large amount of information online by then about how the First World War affected West Sussex and how its residents and businesses contributed towards the war effort.
Of course I am also looking forward very much to the first Dirty Weekend next month, hopefully it will prove (weather permitting) to be as rewarding and life-changing as Flag Fen was for me last summer.
DV Comment: Right on, Hugh! What a lovely guy, and how wonderful that he’s been able to satisfy that life-long curiosity. Of course we’re jealous of all his new BFFs at other archaeological organisations (sniff), but we’re really pleased he had such a good time being part of Flag Fen Lives. And we’ll see him soon on the foreshore!
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