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Summer Archeologists: Queues and Callouses

Communal Life, Archeological Finds Make Winchester Project a Success

By Gwen Kinkead

Interested volunteers may write to the following addresses for information about 1972 summer digs:

1. An advance and incomplete Calendar of Excavations issued by the Council of British Archeology available for 40 cents in stamp or coin from Hunter Ross. 68 Wheatsheaf Lane, Princeton, N.J. 085-40. Discusses dates of excavations, brief description of the site, accommodations as are available, and supplies addresses for further inquiry or application. Otherwise, the complete Calendar of Excavations, available in March, from the Council of British Archeology, 8 St. Andrew's Place, London N.W. 1, England. Send an international money order or personal check for $3 ($5 air mail).

2. Applications: Association for Cultural Exchange, 539 West 112th St., New York, N.Y. 10025.

a. Britanny, Sept. 10-30, 1972, $425. Breton archeology and ecclesiastical architecture.

b. The Normans, July 23-August 13, 1972, $305. Archeology in Southern England and Norman France.

3. Brock University Archeology Practicums--address applications: Division of Continuing Education, Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada.

a. Argentomagus, a Gallo-Roman site near Argenton-sur-Creuse in Central France. Director: Professor G. Picard of the University of Paris.

b. Salamis, a Hellenistic Roman site near Famagusta, Cyprus. Director: Professor Vassos Karageorghis, Director of Antiguities, the National Museum of Cyprus.

Applications: at least the third year of university. Letters of reference from two professors.

THE SOME 300-500 volunteers who, for the past eight summers, have descended like locusts upon the Cathedral City of Winchester, England, to join the Winchester Archeological Excavations, have not endeared themselves to the local elderly ladies. As a unit, the diggers are young, dirty and loud. They look like hippies, and swagger about the ancient city with mud-caked trowels hanging from the hip pockets of their filthy jeans. They play soccer and picnic on the Green in front of the Winchester Cathedral, and perch on the tombstones at night.

Despite the apparent reasons for prejudice, however, little antagonism exists between the diggers and the townspeople. The townspeople are well aware of Winchester's heritage, and look upon the Winchester excavations with generous pride. The considerable cooperation from the townsfolk and the local government alike has been one key to the remarkable success of the Winchester project, for without amiable community relations, an excavation that is so visible, and on so large a scale, in the heart of a busy city, could not have continued.

The best measure of the project's success is an impressive fund of new knowledge contributed to a comparatively new emphasis in the study of antiquity, that of the more anthropologically oriented socio-urban archeology. In most respects, the dig is the most significant in British archeology at the present time.

WINCHESTER is a central city in British history. Located about 64 miles WSW of London, on the banks of the River Itchen, Winchester was the site of early permanent inhabitation. The chalk downs above the present city are believed to have been first occupied in the Iron Age, perhaps in the first century B.C.

Due to its position in the axis of a communication system of Roman roads, Winchester can certainly be judged an important Roman country town. Winchester's prominence in British history grew after the Anglo-Saxon invasions as Winchester became the capital city of the Kings of Wessex, and, in effect, the capital of England. The legends of King Arthur and his Round Table Knights are associated with sixth-century Winchester, and in the tenth century, Winchester prospered as a continentally known precinct of learning and education under Alfred the Great.

After the Norman conquest, Winchester maintained its historical distinction. William the Conqueror sat in state at the Winchester Castle every Easter. As the first center of the wool trade, the city gained in commercial importance. Early 12th century marked the apex of its prosperity, but as London eclipsed Winchester as a legislative and commercial focus, the city's political and industrial stature declined. Still, in 1971, Winchester is a lovely city of 30,000 inhabitants, and one of England's most historical and oldest Cathedral cities. As such, it is ideal for a comprehensive archeological study of urban advancement.

BEGUN IN 1961, the dig completed its twelfth and final season last year. The scope of its archeological focus was remarkable. Every season, under the tireless direction of Martin Biddle, who is widely acknowledged as Britain's foremost archeologist and highly esteemed on the Continent as well, the project examined four or five sites in which a variety of structural features dating from up to five distinct periods of settlement were stratified. The large number of sites required an annual average labor force of 200 volunteers and trained supervisors, an unusually large number.

In 1964, a collaboration with the University of North Carolina and Duke University changed the character of the project from an exclusively British one to an international one. American assistance, though variable, represented, at its height, 40 per cent of the budget. After 1967, the majority of the diggers were Americans, who could afford to spend $500-$600 to dig in dirt and rubbish for a summer. The widened scope attracted increased British and European attention, and it became customary for up to 20 nationalities to be represented each season. In recognition of its success, one of the Duke of Edinburgh's awards for International Cooperation was presented to the excavation.

Volunteers, including myself in the '71 season, were annually lured with the chance to work six days a week, nine and a half hours a day, in return for 48 cents and two meals a day, showers, blankets, and a roof over their heads. As digs go, the conditions, though certainly rudimentary, were not as primitive as they might have been--Winchester wasn't in a desert, and plumbing was supplied, eliminating common inconveniences of classical field digs. For these attractions, applications poured in, forcing Caroline Raison, the coordinator for volunteer recruiting, to select only one out of four applicants. Personal enthusiasm but common sense were requisite, and as Raison explained, the project wanted "people with a realistic outlook, not you know, people who think they'll be looking for King Arthur's Round Table, or digging in Stonehenge. And we really don't want people with very specialized interests, say in the canonization of a certain saint, because they are just more trouble to us than they're worth."

DIGGERS WERE THE GUTS of the operation. Without their willingness to sacrifice, without what Martin Biddle bluntly called "a conviction that the dig is more important than their personal comfort or desires," nothing would have been accomplished. Several factors accounted for the generally cheerful complicity of the diggers, who were, in some senses, being exploited. The atmosphere of community was the strongest cohesive force. Diggers lived, ate, worked and relaxed together. Privacy was a rare commodity. The ratio of men to women was even, and the social life was another persuasive communal force. As one site supervisor remarked. "They (the diggers) don't come for the social life, because they don't know it's here, but they'd leave without it."

Friendships among diggers were quick to form. The community was mostly young, between the ages of 16 and 35, and abounded in good fellowship. Diggers made friends to go drinking with in one of Winchester's 72 pubs, to play soccer with, or to climb the chalk downs above Itchen and watch the sun set (or rise). Pleasures were few and primitive--cigarettes and cider were the staples of digger life. Romance was always available, although usually tenuous, but a handful of digger marriages, generally between male site supervisors and female diggers, have graced the dig's past.

Queueing (standing in line) was a distinctive feature of the dig. Diggers queued for everything of necessity--for showers (three for 150 people), sinks, toilets (about 1 per 25 people), meals and equipment. After scraping the ground, shovelling, dumping buckets of waste earth, and balancing precariously to avoid disfiguring the areas I'd already worked over, my, first instinct was to beat everyone else back to the dining room in order to avoid a queue. As I spent most of the summer digging in medieval leather tanning pits, wallowing amid the preserved medieval pig manure used to cure hides, I was generally quite dirty and smelly. Getting a shower before the hot water ran out was imperative. There was a vogue last summer to read Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, with great empathy for Ivan's enforced dependence upon his cunning to gauge the limits of his physical endurance.

AMERICANS WERE the most conspicuous diggers. They complained more than any other nationality about the hard work, long hours, and lack of privacy. As a composite personality, supervisors described American diggers as obsessed with personal cleanliness and an unwillingness to get dirty, less likely to submit to directions, and incapable of mastering the use of the English toilet. They remarked upon the inflexible American attitude of superiority, variously described as "acting like they own the place," "complacency," or the result of having been "spoiled." Martin Biddle looked upon American diggers as: "...an accurate reflection of student attitudes in general. In 1964 we got mostly clean-cut students, but all this has really changed since then, 1967 was a highly responsible, committed year. '68 was curious, with much unrest. '69 was dreadful--it was the year of American violence. Fifteen people from Berkeley had a sit-down strike for shorter working hours. They took direct action, something we had not experienced previously and got no support from the community. 1970 was again a year of commitment, when violence was out, and people were hardworking."

The labor of excavation itself proved, in varying degrees, exciting to diggers, although novices exported romantic notions about archeology which the dig pitilessly disillusioned. Every volunteer was instructed by his site supervisor in a crash course about field methods, and learned to dig by trial and error. Field work was really manual labor. At one site during the final season, diggers pick-axed for nine hours through modern street pavement and bedrock every day before they could begin the usual troweling, which was far less tiring, but more painstaking work. To dig well required patience and exactitude, imagination and endurance.

THE GOOD DIGGER, one supervisor explained, does not require constant attention. He learns quickly, can be trusted to recognize what he is looking for, and will not accidentally slice through a deeper layer while scraping the top off an earlier layer. Discipline on the sites was strict, and it was no easy trick to slough off. It could be done, and diggers were caught napping in deep graves or sunbathing in trenches. Those who were languid, or in some manner troublesome, were asked to leave town. Some volunteers never caught on, and the worst ones were legendary. One year a particularly hopeless digger was told to find the edge of a foundation but instead cut about three feet further into the boundary bank than necessary, causing the field house above him to collapse. Some sites gave awards to the most spastic digger in honor of one infamous digger whose ineptitude was legion.

My first week could have qualified for such commendation. Being new and eager, I offered to work my first Sunday, the only free day of the week, on a rescue dig. Bulldozers excavating for the foundations of a modern office building had unearthed important remains of the southern gate into the town, and a mercy period of several weeks was granted for an excavation to exhaust the site before modern construction destroyed it forever. Under the pressure of a deadline, some ten diggers worked at a fast pace in the cold and rain all day. I barely knew what I was doing, but by the week's end, I could "read" a plot of soil and follow the edge of a pit or foundation.

Field archeology consists simply of tracing layers of occupational remains. The key to recognizing changes in the settlement or function of an area is differentiating between the various soil levels according to their color, composition, texture and topographical location. Complications are frequent, and disturbances of a lower level by a subsequent occupation are extremely common. For instance, medieval house foundations or wells may cut through underlying Saxon or even Roman levels to complicate the dating of all three inhabitations. Or materials of early civilizations might be robbed by later ones, and it is not unusual to find Roman tiles worked into medieval floors. The goal of any excavation is to reach natural, undisturbed soil levels, which, depending on the regional topography, may be anywhere from five to twenty feet below modern surface levels.

INTERPRETATION of the Winchester sites involved three processes fundamental to any excavation. The first consists of making a complete record of an individual site. At critical or conclusive stages, the site was photographed for documentation of the evidence. Actual digging produced finds for phasing. A phase is a group of layers which belong together chronologically. The relationship of these finds to a layer helps date the layer and suggests the chronological development of that structure or area being investigated.

Next, finds are studied to establish the date of their origin. Finds include animal and human bones, worked stones, bits of metal, coins, glass, trading tokens and pottery. Although metal, unlike the other objects, encrusts with soil as it degenerates, it is identifiable by its density and bright color in the soil. If the soil is damp enough, organic material--leather, insects and their eggs, seeds, rope, wood, flesh, grass and flowers, cloth, animal and human feces--remains fresh and preserved. Non-organic finds, pottery and bones, are washed by the diggers, who quickly learned that potwashing with a toothbrush and cold water is no privilege. Organic finds are cleaned, repaired and otherwise conserved by the research unit's laboratory. For every object the soil yields, there exists an expert who can identify and date it. The Winchester excavations frequently relied upon scholars in such fields as hemonthology, the study of parasite eggs, to analyze their finds. After the date and any compositional, structural or functional development has been established, finds are then related to the area in which they were discovered. Collaboration of such a relation with documentary evidence can provide data on the occupation and social group of the inhabitants of the area in which the object was found.

THE FINAL PROCESS is to correlate the first two types of evidence, and by doing so, further refine the chronological framework of the entire area under excavation. Every supervisor's study of his particular area is pooled to recognize the general layout and development of the whole site. The site is phased chronologically. This stage involves the most interpretation, and is left to professional supervisors. Evidence suggests theories and conclusions about historical occupation. Based on a complicated combination of topographical, documentary and archeological evidence, the findings and their interpretation are periodically prepared for publication. Biddle's seasonal reports have been, for the past eight years, a constant feature of Britain's leading archeological journal.

The Winchester sites chosen for excavation--an urban medieval area, Wolvesey Palace, the Norman Bishop's palace, William the Conqueror's Castle, the Saxon Old Minister, and several sites dealing with evidence of pre-Roman Iron Age settlement--have enabled an almost complete archeological prospectus of the city to be advanced. The implications of this prodigious feat are numerous. On the basis of new dating, the time phases of occupation and their relation to one another can be more accurately projected. Significantly, it is now possible to reconstruct what earliest Winchester looked like and how it grew throughout its history. The goal of the excavations is the publication of a 13-volume history of Winchester by the Oxford Press, the first volume of which is forthcoming. Martin Biddle estimates the project will take his researchers and himself until 1976 to complete. After its publication, I believe it will constitute the most extensive knowledge available as yet on the archeological history of a major British city.

CERTAIN IMPORTANT specific insights yielded by the dig may be summarized. The Iron Age community's perimeter was defined, and its size and character computed. Biddle estimates it probably did not last longer than the beginning of the first century A.D. Evidence of Belgic settlement is still subject to doubt, but the character of the Roman town is fairly well understood. The town's fourth century A.D. Roman burial ground produced evidence, substantiated by other data of the 1969 season, to suggest that a garrison of foreign soldiers, distinct from the rest of the population, defended late Roman Winchester.

The city's first church was dated, and remains the only Anglo-Saxon cathedral of first-rank importance about which anything conclusive is known. Biddle has been able to determine that the rectilinear layout of Winchester's Saxon streets did not follow the Roman street alignment. This suggests they were part of planned urban development, designed to reconstruct Winchester as a fortified burh, rather than the effect of casual growth. He concludes that late Saxon Winchester was larger and more densely occupied than the fifth-largest city in Roman Britain.

The structural progression of two

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