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Excavation Diary: Tea Duty at Barnham

Written by Sarah, a volunteer at the 2019 Barnham excavation.

Tea breaks are integral to field work at Barnham. In the mornings, team members shrug off yesterday’s aching muscle memory, cleaning up debris that has accumulated in the trenches overnight and picking up where we left off the day before. Morning tea break offers a circle of cushioned chairs beneath a sweeping sky of swirling grey and white clouds. Beside us, a rolling field of grass spreads out towards a horizon of tall trees. The grass veils tractors and equipment that remind us we are gracious guests trying to make sense of an ancient landscape on modern farmland.

The tea area in the Barnham site hut

As we are divided into different areas to work, first tea is the first opportunity to check in on everyone’s progress and exchange stories. Here we discuss small moments of interest, where things have not quite gone as planned, or someone has found something interesting. By afternoon, the team has broken into the prime vigour of progress for the day, and everyone has worked up a proper appetite. Lunch (with tea) is a welcome halfway mark to the day’s work. By afternoon, aches, pains, setbacks, and tedium begin to take their toll – broken by moments of surprise and laughter (or a bit of sarcasm). Afternoon tea is a final pause before the last push to meet goals, piece together the day’s big-picture puzzles about the site, and wrap up work.

The tea breaks lift morale and facilitates social health on site. Tea duty is therefore an important responsibility that rotates through each team member. Today was my day to make tea for the team. Being Mormon myself (a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), I don’t drink tea. Nevertheless, I was happy and excited to help. I was amused (and so were the kind staff members and fellow students checking on me) as, at first, I kept repeating my questions about the difference between the hot water “teapots” and the steeping kettles. Not to mention I spilled quite a bit of hot water and tea while preparing for morning break, trying to figure out how to pour out of typical teapot spots into kettles and mugs. It was immensely satisfying to serve my wonderful team members and help host these essential gatherings that punctuate our work day. And, according to my new friends, I made a mean cup of tea!