By 2.30pm we had all gathered in the Burger King car park at the Braehead retail park. Our problem now was the exact location of the dig. Douglas, the only one of our number to have made a previous visit, was no longer with us. We knew where Ikea was, but it’s a huge construction site - where was the excavation?
Fortunately at that moment some construction workers appeared for their lunch and Lorraine volunteered to quiz them. They were in a hurry, but they pointed out the general direction and told us to look out for portacabins. So off we set. It was drizzling, but we were in good spirits. After about 10 minutes we saw some more workmen, one of whom was much taken with my Manchester United shirt! Eventually we realised that we were only a few yards from the entrance to the dig, and we carried on into the enclosure.
We were met by a large red-haired digger who directed us into the nearest portacabin where we were invited to view the display panels whilst we waited for our tour of the site.
Amy and Siobhan immediately wanted to know why he had bits of plastic attached to each of his knees! He patiently explained to them that they were to protect his knees when kneeling to dig, because it could get very sore otherwise!! The display panels explained something of the background to the site and also showed a timeline which the youngsters could use to work out their answer to the competition. This asked the younger visitors to put down what they thought was the date of the site. The prize will not be awarded until all the post-excavation work has been done in order to establish an accurate date band. This will probably be some time next year.
At this point our guide for the afternoon arrived, having just finished with the previous tour group. His name was Andrew, and he typified everyone’s idea of an archaeologist. He was about six miles tall, wore gold rimmed glasses and had dreadlocks that he can probably sit on, tied back with a bright red scarf!! Well, perhaps not everyone’s idea of an archaeologist (Alison was particularly taken with the red-haired guy who had first greeted us, and now wants to get him a job on Time Team!) but he was certainly my stereotype!
Andrew began by explaining how the site had been discovered as a cropmark on one of the RAF’s aerial survey photographs, but that nothing had initially been done about it because there was no threat to the site. That threat had eventually emerged with the proposed construction of the new Ikea superstore. As part of the planning process, Glasgow City Council had insisted that an archaeological investigation should take place. First examinations were to establish whether there was in fact a site to investigate since, as Andrew explained, hundreds of years of ploughing can cause cropmarks to creep, meaning that the actual archaeology is not necessarily directly underneath the soil markings!
However, in this case a star shape of trial trenches proved that everything was still in place. The shopping centre management then put the contract for the excavation out to tender, and eventually appointed AOC Archaeology to do the work. They made the decision to spend the amount of money allocated on employing as many diggers as possible. This recognized the fact that they had only a limited number of weeks in which to completely strip what was physically a very large site, as well as acknowledging that finds were likely to be few and far between - given the very acidic soil (it eats archaeology was Andrew’s considered opinion), so employing pottery and bone experts to sit and drink tea for weeks on end would probably be counterproductive!
Andrew then took us out to the viewing platform which allowed us to climb about 10 feet (about 3m to the imperially illiterate amongst you - I know, you’re young, it’s not your fault) above the site to give a panoramic view of the whole area.
Suffice it to say that we could not have had a better guide to explain the site and bring it life before our eyes. Andrew, if you are reading this, you are a star!
He explained to us that the ditches could never have been truly defensive, and that a site of this size would have taken about 60 people to build but could never have been home to more than about 15.
This posed the question of who had built it and why? The answer was that someone pretty wealthy had built it, -and why - simply because they could!!
Despite the fact that it was raining again by this time we listened spellbound.
Andrew even got in a dig about Time Team and the 'ability' of the pottery experts in identifying an amphora dated AD53 which contained Olive Oil from a tiny shard of pottery ! Andrew said they should get out more:-)
When we had thoroughly inspected the site, Andrew took us into a tent behind the portacabin to show us the flotation system which was filtering the soil from the site in order to sift out any plant material bigger than pollen grains. This material will be analysed at a later date to provide information on what was growing in the area at the time, and therefore possible food sources.
We were all sorry when the tour came to an end and Andrew went of to show another group around. We began to walk back to the cars pondering one of Andrew’s statements - that he had trained as long as, and as hard as, an architect, to get where he was in the profession of archaeology - doing short term contract work for £6 an hour!! Not much of an incentive to young people to take up digging!
By the time we got back to Burger King a warm drink was the order of the day - not the most salubrious surroundings, but the younger element appreciated it!
We parted company in the late afternoon having experienced yet another enjoyable outing, and promising to do it again before too long.
Author Valerie Reilly
photos by Corinne Mills
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