Archaeology, Travel

Forest Archaeology: a love story

Two initials carved into a tree, lovers making promises they may or may not keep. We’ve all seen them.

A 💕 H forever..

N ♥ L..

We may have made our own, one dreamy-day gone by. But how many of us have done this? (see photo).

The photo below is of a tree in Friston Forest, on a hill above the meander of the river Cuckmere as it winds out to the English Channel.

A hefty iron chain and padlock tied to the trunk of a tall tree. The chain has been there so long that the tree has started absorbing it. The padlock is held fast in the tree bark, folds of bark have grown over the chain where it joins its twin trunk. The growing tree is squeezing its way out of the love-chain, squeezing up and out like a jeans-belt holding in a festive-seasons worth of indulgences. The tree has rolls.

One day, this tree will completely absorb the chain and carry on growing up and out, with a rusty chain of hopeful love nestled in its core. If the tree is ever chopped down for lumber, some curious soul will doubtless discover and ponder at the hidden message locked tight in the knots of the trunk.

On the outer rim of the padlock:


Scratched into the metal.

On the front face of the padlock:

B. G.

Their love story is older than the new growth of the tree. Has it endured, I wonder, as well as the chains of proclamation that are slowly disappearing as growth rings on the life of a Friston Forest tree?

Archaeology, Learning

Plumpton Roman villa: Archaeology in Sussex

It was a teaching day yesterday. I had a glorious day out at Plumpton working on the villa and teaching a new group of people about archaeology. There’s so much joy in teaching, learning and discovery.

It’ll never fail to fascinate me that I can touch with my hand something that hasn’t been touched by anyone else for nearly 2000 years; my fingers can trace the grooves made by the Potter or the tile-maker and finger print to finger print, the years fade away.

There’s a humanness to Archaeology that defies category.

We study the objects that humans made and used and left behind. We learn of people’s cultures and lives and find what’s left of their humanity. And in this fleeting passage of time that constitutes human life, we can pause and reflect on how lives were then and how lives are now and see the changes that time and ingenuity have wrought on humankind.

It’s not all prosaic, this gathering of artefacts and blisters. It’s searching for structures and features in the soil, it’s looking for the echoes of past civilisations in the soil; broken things and rusty things, shiny things and once-loved things. It’s hard, dusty work. It’s digging with trowels and mattocks, shovels, buckets and wheelbarrows. It’s sweating profusely in a 29 degree heatwave while teaching and remembering the joy that brought me here in the first place. The joy that set me on this journey 16 years ago.

In this blistering heat, the desire to feel connected to the past- to learn what has never been learned before – must outweigh the desire for human comfort. We spend the day outside of ourselves, learning how to see the past, how to record these echoes of humanity.

We learn of our own human-ness as we search for traces of past human-ness in the soil. We learn about ourselves and our essential natures.

We suspend our regular pattern of days and set aside our worldly concerns. We are – for a brief and precious time – aware of the importance of human life and we grant ourselves the perspective to view thousands of years of human life – generation upon generation of lives – without fear or pity of our own mortality but with reverence and awe.

There are days in each of our lives that remind us who we are. Yesterday was one of them.