Interview 20th December: Neil Hawkins – PCA Senior Archaeologist

My expectations of the site? I think that due to its location, there are probably some interesting Roman remains. The main point is that the excavations are different due to the use of volunteers from the mosque: I didn’t know how the volunteers would respond to the work, or what their level of interest would be in what we were doing. I’ve actually found them to be very good. I saw them at the office in the early stages when they were doing the training course and many of them were clearly interested and were asking the right kind of questions about what we were doing, how we do it and why we do it and, equally, since we’ve been here on site they have been very into it, very interested and, in general, have just got on well with the work. Obviously, it’s quite a physical job and there is a lot of hand digging to be done and not all of them are used to this sort of physical work although some of them have worked on building sites or done labouring before but perhaps not for a while but they do just get stuck in. The weather has not been too bad so far but it could turn at any time.  As to the recent finds, cattle skeletons are always appear dramatic when uncovered buried and the reaction of the volunteers was interesting, they were quite excited about it when they first saw them – obviously, the size of the skeletons is impressive – the appearance of the skulls and the fact that they were quite intact. It certainly increased general interest levels for the volunteers. When they start finding things it brings it home why you’re doing what you’re doing, as opposed to just digging off a layer that has nothing in it. The discovery of the cattle skeletons was well timed – occurring early on – to maintain their enthusiasm. Also there was the discovery of the objects in the well – even though they were of 18th/19th century date – which were full of pottery and building material. Quite large pieces of pottery as well, where you could see the patterns on them, describe the original forms and tell them about their function etc. Even though they are in archaeological terms quite late, they certainly are of note and in general finding such things raises the level of interest even if you’re not used to doing this job. That got them motivated and keen to dig more to find more artefacts.

I hope that we can keep up the level of enthusiasm that has been built up to date as it potentially gets darker and rather colder, and that they do want to stay on board and see it through to the end.  The hope is that when we get down to the layers where there is the potential for Roman archaeology that interest will be stimulated, as we dig off other layers before that because we will be using metal detectors there will be the possibility of finding ‘small finds’, for instance, metal objects such as coins.

My impression is that they are all motivated to see the project through to the end. They almost immediately fell in with the camaraderie of an archaeological site and have joined in with and enjoyed the banter: considering we, the PCA staff, didn’t know the volunteers beforehand and they didn’t know all know each other, they have developed a very good rapport all round, even though we are from very different backgrounds. One of the most satisfying aspects of a physical job where you are all mucking in together, is that it can result in an instant kind of camaraderie and a bond is created because you are all ‘on the front line, digging together for a common cause, no one has an agenda, we all just want to do what needs to be done to get the site dug.

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