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Our first trip to the continent


Excavating at Canterbury: learning basic skills
Colin Renfrew Archaeologist
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I think it is very fascinating, the sensation that you're digging and so you're revealing information all the time and although I didn't know very much about what I was finding, one - if one's working on the sites a while, one knows one's looking for post holes or something, and of course on a Roman site then one's finding stuff all the time, it's not like some prehistoric sites where you find one flint a day or something, you're digging up pottery all the time, nice Samian ware and so on, and the occasional coin which is naturally a highlight if you're digging, and so I enjoyed that very much and certainly the sensation that you're trowelling and you're being asked by the supervisor to try and follow this layer and then you find there is a floor and you can, if you do it the right way, you can uncover the whole floor rather successfully, the actual materiality, the quality of the soil, I think, is, is something one gets to have a feel of. I don't think at that time I learned to be a very wonderful excavator but there is, in many ways in archaeology, I think the physicality of the subject is attractive, that you do things and you're digging and then you're - sometimes you're using a pickaxe and shovelling it away and so you're actually actively involved and so I enjoyed it very much but I don't think I was, particularly, I wasn't given any huge responsibility. I wasn't drawing many sections at that time or, I suppose I was keeping a notebook but I think there was another site supervisor but I was still quite young, sort of 13 or 14, 15. It wasn't until rather later that while I was up at Cambridge, I went down to Wroxeter, to the field school there, and that was much more systematic where one was keeping notebooks and writing them up in the evening and drawing sections, that's when I learned to draw section properly and so on. And I think it is helpful to have those basics because it's nice to know how the recording system works, but certainly being in the excavation trench seemed very natural after- I was at Canterbury for several years in succession, a couple of weeks at Easter and usually a couple of weeks in the summer. I think Sheppard Frere put up with me very well. I'm not sure I was a great deal of use but they were all very nice, and certainly one does do things. I remember finding individual grains of corn and thinking that's rather interesting, is that interesting? No, that's of no interest, throw it away at once, and in later years, of course, opinions change on these matters but it was - it was a very good experience.

Baron Renfrew of Kaimsthorn is a British archaeologist known for his work on the dispersal of the Proto-Indo-Europeans and the prehistory of PIE languages. He has been Disney Professor of Archaeology at Cambridge as well as Master of Jesus College and Director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.

Listeners: Paul Bahn

Paul Bahn studied archaeology at Cambridge where he did his doctoral thesis on the prehistory of the French Pyrenees. He is now Britain's foremost specialist on Ice Age art and on Easter Island, and led the team which discovered Britain's first Ice Age cave art at Creswell Crags, Nottinghamshire, in 2003. He has authored and edited numerous books, including Journey Through the Ice Age, The Enigmas of Easter Island, Mammoths, The Cambridge Illustrated History of Prehistoric Art, and, with Colin Renfrew, Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice which was published in its 5th edition in 2008.

Duration: 2 minutes, 56 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2008

Date story went live: 14 May 2009