February 1, 2016
by Lauren Nofi
In the third in a series of weekly blogs, IAFS/Learn intern Lauren Nofi writes about the arrival in Ireland of our Winter program students.
It’s the first week with students on-site!
Our first few days were spent mostly as an introduction. Several indoor sessions provided the basic background of the site, and the students were able to see maps, geophysical data, reconstructions, and analogues found on other sites. All of these things help to make both the visible and obscured bits of archaeology in our landscape make sense. It’s very difficult, even for a seasoned archaeologist, to visualize something in three-dimensions which has been compressed to only two. The very nature of our archaeological excavation process helps us figure out layer by layer the structures which once stood on site, and these visual aids make it much easier to comprehend just what we are looking at in the ground. Part of our introduction to the larger context of the site included a walking tour of Trim and Newtown Trim, where we examined the remnants of several related ecclesiastical sites, such as the Yellow Steeple in town and the cathedral and St. John’s priory in Newtown. We were able to walk amongst the standing structures, which really gave us a feel for scale of these various religious locations.
One thing I noticed which made me very happy is how thoughtful student questions were both in our lecture sessions and our outdoor excursions. If this is any indication of the rest of the season, I think we’re all going to learn a lot about this site and get some really good new data.
Cutting 6 is where most of our work this season will be focused. It’s a nice open trench area with some extant masonry. We’re keeping the parts of the trench we’re not working on covered, but we were able to get a good look at the cutting while completely uncovered and discuss the various walls and stonework. As the week went on, we spent time getting a first good clean of some of the surfaces in Cutting 6 where the chapter house would have stood. Friday morning, however, brought a bit of a surprise, as none of us expected Thursday’s snow to stick.
I tentatively pulled up the tarp (it’s not really technically “tarp;” it’s a much more complex material, but it’s still all called “tarp” in my experience). Where was I? Ah yes! The most tentative of tarp-lifting! I poked the ground a bit with my trowel, picked up some soil in my bare hand, and concluded we could still work this ground. The tarp had actually iced over, but spared the earth underneath from freezing, so we were able to get right to work cleaning the southeast corner with both mattocks and trowels. By the afternoon we had levelled most of our main working area. The day turned out to be absolutely lovely, so we took the students on a quick excursion to see the town illuminated by the winter sun.
Now that everyone is settled in and familiar with our site and its larger regional context, we can really begin the investigation for the season. We’ve been given tasks for our next bit of work in Cutting 6, and we are simultaneously undertaking post-excavation work, so busy is an understatement. But it’s definitely the kind of busy that puts a jump in your step!
What’s going to happen next week? Well archaeology sometimes surprises us, so maybe I’ll hold-off on any predictions. In the meantime, don’t forget you can come visit the site between 2pm and 4pm every Thursday of the season. That’s all from me, but I’ll check back in soon!