There has been great excitement in our little village this week; Time Team’s archaeologist Phil Harding and his hat have been here, excavating the old ruined church. Wessex Archaeology which coordinated the dig, seems to be all about involving communities in finding out their past. I’m sure they would have worked much more quickly and efficiently if they hadn’t kindly allowed us volunteers to have a go at some of the digging, and also stopped work to answer questions over and over again.
So what did I learn from my three days up on the hill? It can be jolly cold being an archaeologist; you have to be fit to tramp up or over to the dig site and then to spend hours squatting in a trench, leaning at uncomfortable angles so you don’t step on anything important; that what’s exciting is not finding things but seeing things – to have the different floor levels explained and pointed out so you can see them; that even experts don’t necessarily agree – ‘It’s not a human bone’, ‘yes it is’, no it’s not because it’s too thick the wrong shape and has been cut by a butcher…’, ‘oh, ok…’
I was amazed to find that things I learned also applied to me writing. If you imagine the plot of a novel is like a test pit. When you begin the novel or the test pit, everything is already there, the plot, setting, action, characters of the novel are contained within the cover but you can’t see them until you go through the whole thing. Everything is there in the test pit, but you can’t see what is there until you work your way through and reveal it. A good archaeologist works carefully and neatly, clearing as he goes, keeping everything tidy and clearly visible, before peeling off another layer and revealing more of the pit’s secrets… just as a writer should do, constructing the novel carefully so it can be ‘read’ like an archaeologist ‘reads’ his pit. At the end everything should be clear and revealed, and just like a dig might have some open questions for the digger to ponder on, so a novel can have possibilities for the reader to mull over.
My two passions, writing and finding out about the past!