Historical meets archaeological

We bring you a guest post today from historian Rob Hebblethwaite, who came to Sedgeford as a brand-new archaeologist in 2016. He liked it so much he wrote the following piece about his time on SHARP's Basic Excavation and Recording Techniques (BERT) course for a recent Centre of East Anglian Studies (CEAS) newsletter.

CEAS is a department of the University of East Anglia with the aim of bringing together scholarship on the history and archaeology of the whole of East Anglia, including the fenland areas of Lincolnshire, Essex and Cambridgeshire. You can read more about CEAS here.

Since his adventure at SHARP, Rob has completed his MA in Medieval History, gaining firsts for his essays and producing a prize-winning dissertation on 'The Good, the Bad, and the Rotten: How the Living Dealt with the Dead in the Middle Ages'. He ascribes some of the inspiration for his interest in mortuary studies to his experience at SHARP.

You will agree that Rob had a particularly amazing experience! Though we can't guarantee that everyone who does BERT will find an ancient coin, we do know that everyone who comes to SHARP - BERTs and all - will have a great time. Find out more about our BERT courses here.

Over to Rob...

BERTs on Trench 22, 2016

Since I was a little boy, I've had a fascination with the past. When I was growing up, quality time was often spent with my father going around museums, reading books about myths and legends, or watching Time Team - a love that has been further realised and tempered through the fires of undergraduate and master's level historical study.

Thus, when I was lucky enough to be selected to receive a week of CEAS-funded archaeological experience at the Sedgeford Historical and Archaeological Research Project's 2016 season - SHARP 2016 for short - it was something of a dream come true.

I was to be enrolled on the Basic Excavation and Recording Techniques course, earning the affectionate title of a BERT. The course, being open to anyone and everyone, had attracted all sorts: my company was made up of sixth-formers considering archaeology at degree level, a PhD student from UEA, a property letting agent turned aspiring fiction writer, a mature archaeology student looking to further hone his craft, a retired GP who earned the nickname 'Ditch Doctor', and a fellow who drove underwater reconnaissance vehicles called 'Moonfish' for a living.

Nothing quite encapsulates the phrase 'learning on the job' than the first week of the course. On day one my fellow BERTs and I were on-trench, trowels and hoes in hand, preparing the site we would be working on for the next few days. The theory was knitted seamlessly into the practice, and the team of kind, patient and boundlessly knowledgeable volunteers - many of whom had come from across the world to partake in SHARP 2016 - were more than happy to lend a hand, shovel, or mattock wherever they were needed.

Watching a complex Anglo-Saxon world emerge from centuries-untouched dirt at the bottom of a Norfolk field is an experience I will never forget. What began as an unassuming stretch of agriculturally-scarred earth at the bottom of a large East Anglian field was, over a period of a few weeks, transformed into a map of the past. Ditches that charted where walls stood appeared; the ghosts of houses and out-buildings began to stretch away across the Norfolk hillside, whilst just beyond the rise, a collection of great ovens were slowly recovered from beneath the dirt of ages.

Gradually, as we worked, an intricate window into the lives of the middle Anglo-Saxons began to emerge. Great heaps of medieval rubbish were found: bones split to recover marrow; oyster shells no doubt from The Wash discarded in colossal quantities, their insides something of a staple in the local diet, it seems; horn-cores cast away once their exteriors had been stripped for drinking vessels or lampshades; even the near-intact skeleton of a dog was uncovered - a beloved pet, perhaps? With every movement of the trowel upon the Norfolk earth, more was learned about the Anglo-Saxons who once lived at Sedgeford - and just what finds did those trowels reveal.

It appears some archaeological deity was smiling down upon myself and the BERTs of SHARP 2016 week three. Every day one of us found something, be it a Roman bead, a lead ingot, or a ninth-century Anglo-Saxon key made of iron to name but a few. The unprecedented luck of our little party of newbies left more experienced jaws hanging in shock, much to the glee of my fellow BERTs and I. My own small find, however, caused something of a disturbance amongst the archaeologists present.