Don's Diary

September 8, 2000


I've yet to find a practical benefit to camping. After escaping from a tent coated in dew, the success of the day depends entirely on whether the generator has struggled on through the night to make that all-important first cup of coffee. At such a time I can see why Heinrich Schliemann chose to quest for Troy rather than to work in Wiltshire, where we are investigating the prehistoric monument complex at Avebury.


Excavations attract a range of visitors, some supportive, some a hindrance and some just bizarre. Visited by a party of druids, who kindly give the site their official blessing. But only after forcing their interpretation of the archaeology on us, trying to get one of us drunk on a mixture of milk, vodka and peppermint oil, and offering to increase the fertility of another member of the digging team.


Excavations are proceeding apace and results are proving as interesting and unexpected as ever in Avebury. There is a rather battered copy of Cosmopolitan that has been fluttering around the van for days. It contains an article on women who believe they are fairies. This prompted the entire excavation team to demand to be treated like fairies, too. Outcomes are a fairy wedding tomorrow and my new name of "Snugglewort".


As fairy weddings go it was a good one, complicated only by a tour party led by the head of Wessex Archaeology. Faced by a team of excavators clad for the most part in clip-on fairy wings, they did their best to focus questions on the dig. Inevitable questions arose as to why the students were dressed in fairy garb. I assured them we practised an equal opportunities policy. "Fairies? You see fairies?" Thursday

The logistics of archaeological excavation can be ferociously complicated. For days you need all hands removing the dirt, then you slow to a crawl to make meticulous drawn records of all that has been uncovered. Keeping people profitably occupied can be tricky.

The endless cycle of torrential rain and sun that characterises Wiltshire in summer serves to weather out a number of features on the surface of the trench that had been invisible. Most alarming of all are the large number of prehistoric stake holes that have "appeared" - the remains of ephemeral Neolithic structures and fence lines.


Our largest excavation trench contains features relating to vast prehistoric stone settings. Today it also contains hundreds of stake holes. A colleague full of zeal forces them out of hiding and tests them with his long-handled teaspoon. A disturbing sight.

The excavation nears its end. Though having suffered the rigours of fieldwork, with aching back and a longing to return to a house and warm bed, the thought of facing routine university life begins to knot my stomach. Fieldwork can be hard, but it is certainly eventful and, thankfully, rewarding.

Mark Gillings is lecturer in archaeology at the University of Leicester.

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