GamArch’s first formal piece of archaeological work, a field walking exercise, has been completed. Hats off to all involved, it wasn’t an easy one this – rough ploughed ground made it hard to walk and the bitterly cold wind didn’t help.
So, what is a field walking exercise? Well, there’s a lot more to it than simply wandering around a field! Always with the landowner’s permission and having done a bit of background research as to what we might expect to find, we arrive at a site – usually a recently cropped field – to walk the field in a systematic manner.
On the right is a plan of the area of the field we investigated. It shows numbered 20m squares within a grid and we walked each of the grid squares. Whilst walking we look for anything lying on the surface of the field. If there’s any hint of such surface finds being archaeology they’re bagged and at the end of the walk we pack up everything and store the bagged finds for later processing.
Processing of our finds was a kindlier affair than was the the field walk. We had the good fortune to be able to wash, clean and dry our finds in the comfort of the Gamlingay Eco Hub. To the left you can see 7 finds drying on newspaper after cleaning. The label in the photo to the left allows us to keep track of where finds came from in the field, grid square 12 in this case.
Once dry the labelled finds can be repacked, and stored pending further analysis. On this occasion we had only 30 finds to process and so we managed to do the cleaning and the initial analysis of the finds on the same day. Some field walks can produce hundreds or more finds but whatever the quantity they’re all processed in the same systematic way.
The initial analysis of our finds was led by Jemima Wolverton, a Community Archaeologist from Cambridgeshire’s Jigsaw project and it was Jemima who steered us through all aspects of the field walk from the laying out of the grid on the field and on through cleaning and processing of the finds to the writing up of a report of the walk and its results. Here, on the right, is a photo of Jemima helping us with our tea drinking. Oh, and the analysis of the finds!
For finds analysis, as with all stages of a field walk, there’s a systematic and standardised way to go about things. Broadly – and this is what we did – the finds can be divided up into types according to what they’re made from, what form or kind of an object kind they are (a coin or part of a pottery vessel for example), their date or archaeological period (Roman, Medieval etc.). Having done that it becomes possible to make maps of the distributions and densities of finds across the field by type, archaeological period and so on. We didn’t need a set of maps because we only had 30 finds on the day and only half-a-dozen or so of these were ‘proper’ archaeology – making maps of so few finds would have been overkill on our part. Instead we simply used a spreadsheet to replicate the field grid and tallied numbers of finds and so on using Excel software.
Not that we didn’t try and squeeze out every last possible bit of use from our finds but that takes us into the next stage of this and any other field walking project, interpretation of the finds in terms of how they add to our knowledge and understanding of the local archaeology. You can read all of that in full in the report but very briefly how we interpreted the finds is that they fit well with the field as being on the fringe or outskirts of known local archaeology situated within a range of a hundred to two hundred meters away to the south-west, south and south-east of the allotment field and that the finds reflect the field’s intermittent light use throughout time.
Writing up of the final report was the last stage of the field walking exercise and when finished it was sent off to the County Archaeology Department where it will be added to the Cambridgeshire Historic Environment Record (CHER).
All of the GamArch members learned a lot from this exercise and we’re already looking forward to more field walking over the winter months. Thanks go to Jemima Wolverton, James Fairbairn and Peter Dight for making this, our first field walk, a happy and valuable learning experience – thanks!