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Excavation Diary: 50 Shades of Clay

Tuesday was our first full day on site and a buzz of excitement filled the air, with eager faces and an intrigue to learn. We started by fully uncovering Area III, the largest and deepest trench on the site, and prepared for this season’s excavation by cleaning what has been buried for over a year, battling creepy crawlies and the warm weather.

Area I at Barnham, previously excavated during the 1990s

Once this was completed, I and a team led by Claire and Anne-Lyse began work on Area I. This area had been excavated previously in the 1990s and again last year, but the hillside had partially collapsed revealing more of the Palaeolithic deposits. We secured the unstable edge and removed the backfill from previous excavations, neatened out the sections and began trowelling off the topsoil, eager to find the palaeosol and any potential finds. This was surprisingly strenuous and time-consuming, but we supported each other through chatter, banter and occasional jokes about rocks.

We continued on Wednesday, after sponging out the rainfall from the stormy night, but we were getting desperate to reach the palaeosol as our wrists were strained and concentration was wavering. Our morale was boosted by the occasional flint flake and burnt flint find. After working through what felt like 50 shades of clay – brown, reddish brown, black, and so on – we finally hit it and a mixture of elation and relief was mutually felt; I have never been so happy to see another layer of sediment! However, this excitement was cut short as the heavens opened and we had to pack up quickly before the site got too slippery. We covered the site to protect our work and headed home early for a well-deserved shower and a sit down.