Monday, 20 July 2015

Prologue (Part 1)

It's just about that time of year again when the Liverpool Archaeology Field School (LAFS) welcomes students from the University of Liverpool and from around the world to learn the practical methods of archaeological excavation and prehistory at the site of Penycloddiau; the largest hillfort in Wales.

This year LAFS 2015 welcomes 38 students over the course of four intense weeks of excavation. You'll be hearing from several of these students soon enough but in the meantime this post gives voice to the supervisory and trainee supervisory teams of LAFS 2015. In many ways these people, several of whom were former University of Liverpool students, are the backbone of the team as they directly interact with students on a one-to-one basis. Over the years students have used LAFS to develop their archaeological skills. In their own words, this is what they're looking forward to in the coming weeks...

Some of our lovely supervisors (L-R): Josh, Karl, Morgan, Hans, Morgan and Julian


"My first season and my first day at #PyC15 basecamp and I've met all of my lovely supervisor and assistant pals who have all been involved with Penycloddiau for some time. Which is nice. I'm anticipating meeting with students and hopefully the weather will be with us this year. 

This site is just class (sorry for the slang but this is how I roll), because it's so close to the landscape in which I grew up in and give me that 'sense of place' buzz - a connection between the archaeology and my own history. Lame: maybe. Exciting: definitely. I was working on Bodfari, Moel y Gaer last year and it's going to be fun to compare and contrast the archaeology between these two forts. Yes, dear reader this site is the metaphorical whetstone upon which to sharpen our archaeological skills! Bring it on."

Karl aka 'Rambo'

"Our fourth year at Penycloddiau begins and I can't wait to get last year's backfill off so we can start excavating. It was only at the end of last year that we uncovered part of the original rampart construction, so this year we're ready to hit the ground - the Iron Age ground - running. Compared to exploring sheep scrapes and tractor cuts, excavating the rest of the rampart will be very exciting. Come to think of it, it's pretty exciting all on its own.

This year I'm in charge of supervising planning and sectioning on-site, the same job I did last year. This year we've got a higher supervisor / student ratio, and we're reducing the area under excavation. This will hopefully help us work at a faster pace, which will mean more planning to coordinate and check. I can only imagine what the final plans will look like in four weeks, and I can't wait to find out!"

Morgan aka 'He-Morgan'

"This will the second year I will be a supervisor at #PyC15 and even though Rach and Rich increase my roles and responsibilities every year I am looking forward to carrying on the work I started last year. One thing you can always count on is that you will meet some amazing people and have some great times. Not only do I have the opportunity to gain archaeological experience but I have the chance to train new students and pass the knowledge and skills I have developed since beginning my active fieldwork in 2012.

The drive to and from site every day is probably what I am least looking forward to; however, this is a chance to have a cheeky power nap so even this has it's perks. The thing that draws me back, besides the archaeology, is probably the friends I have made whilst digging on Penycloddiau. Many of these people live in different countries and there this is the only time we all get to meet up and have a few laughs whilst doing some good, hard archaeology."


"Arriving at the Penycloddiau base camp for a second season is an exciting moment. The aroma of Jenn's cooking is the variety that lifts hobos in cartoons and I had been waiting for a year to enjoy it again. Penycloddiau boasts the best dig facilities I have ever experienced.

Our training session helped to build excitement for more than meals and grassy fields. Teaching field archaeology is a daunting task, especially as a student, but luckily Dr. Pope has already had a month to fashion me into a proper trowel wielder. It's an honor to be involved with instructing this time around. I hope to spend a career in the field teaching, and this is the best place to be. 

Field archaeology attracts a special breed, but I can only hope we make a few converts. My enthusiasm for the fine art of deturfing will hopefully be infectious. Students arrive soon, so I've got time to perfect my answers to all the difficult questions like "When's lunch?"

Morgan aka 'She-Morgan' aka 'Feet'

"As a returning student to Penycloddiau I'm mostly looking forward to expanding my skills and ability to interpret archaeological landscapes. Second to that is spreading my love for the archaeology to the students starting their education in archaeology. 

My first day back not as a student but as a trainee supervisor was vastly different from 2014. Rather than being excited but slightly scared as I entered unfamiliar territory (actual field archaeology, not theory) I feel confident in my knowledge and my future roll as a mentor and role model! As a university student interested in prehistoric Britain it's an amazing privilege working with Dr. Pope and her team on the Clwydian Range. Particularly excavating and leaning beside a broad a hope of academic minds."  

The team is ready. The archaeology is waiting. The students are on their way. LAFS15 and the excavations at #PyC15 are just around the corner.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Prologue (Part 2)

They're here. The first group. 24 students raring to go and develop their skills as archaeologists. Within this group we have Archaeologists & Ancient Historians, Evolutionary Anthropologists, a Civil Engineer, an Egyptian Archaeologist and of course...Archaeological students themselves.  It's a mixed bag to be sure but over the next two weeks (and in the instance of the IFR students four weeks) they will all bond over their excavation of the hillfort of Penycloddiau. De-turfing and excavation begins in a matter of hours but before the equipment him, before the creation of a turf wall and before the they experience the presence of constant dirt under the fingernails the students have their own aspirations for this season. Here they are in their own words...


"On this trip, I am looking forward to experiencing archaeology first hand with the help of an enthusiastic team. This is my first time doing practical work so I'm looking forward to putting my first year lectures and theoretical knowledge to the test!

I'm also looking forward to learning more about the variety of archaeological skill such as environmental archaeology and illustration in order to gain a good idea on what life as an archaeologist is like (including the pub...)"


"In the coming two weeks we'll be excavating a roundhouse as well as a rampart and hoping to find answers on who occupied Penycloddiau and during which seasons. Aside from excavating everyday we'll be trying new things such as a geomagnetic survey, landscape surveying and sketching the archaeological materials. 

Since I am a BSc student I am most looking to the science side of the excavation, like the geophysics, and hopefully this may lead to some lab work in the future. I'm looking forward to using the scientific equipment and learning about how it all works, as well as being a good archaeologist and visiting the pub! 

Something that interests me about hillforts is that no one truely knows their real purpose, originally we thought they were occupied all year round and were used for defense. This has been proven incorrect, possibly they were occupied in times of desperation, or occupied during certain months as a form of communal gathering. Maybe we'll get closer to the answer in the next fortnight? So far the field school has provided me with confidence as well as an interesting insight into the American, Canadian, and Australian schools of thought."


"As the typical math nerd and a civil engineering major, I am slightly out of my comfort zone here at Penycloddiau. However, I have never been more excited for an educational experience. Archaeology has become more of a passion for me, something I study simply because I find it incredibly interesting. I am hoping to learn new skills so radically different from my regular studies, yet still applicable. I was ecstatic to learn that we would not be digging at the site every day, but rather learning all aspects of the field. To me, the "behind-the-scenes" lab work on soil samples seems just as fun as digging with my trowel (I will get back to you later on whether I still believe that is true or not). That could just be the engineering nerd in me coming out. 

In an effort to encompass both engineering and archaeology in the same project, I recently completed a research project within the anthropology department of my university. Although it was related to an archaeological dig in a local cave, most of the work was on the computer and rarely in the field. It will be refreshing to go abroad in order to actually get my hands dirty on a site and, what's more, learn from the experts.

In the end, I am just hoping to have a learning experience that I would not be able to get back at home, and it is already off to a great start!"


"Within the nest two weeks I'm hoping to develop some proper digging skills. At this current skill level I am an archaeology student who has real experience 'archaeologising'

We will be excavating the Penycloddiau hillfort, and I hope to gain a real proficiency in actual archaeology from excavating the site. Coming from North East Wales, I am quite accustomed to seeing Iron Age hillforts about the place, so it will be very interesting to investigate them firsthand, as close as you can get; trowel in hand. 

The fieldwork experience is vital for a future in archaeological excavation, so I hope that these two weeks provide me with the proper know-how to engage in excavations in any terrain or climate. So these two weeks are key, I reckon. I hope to begin building a skill set that will develop over the next few decades hopefully."


"I've always been a hands-on kind of a person; one who is fascinated by experimental archaeology and the combination of practical experience and academic study. I study Fine Art with a background in Textiles and I've been interested in the archaeological textiles for  a  long time. I'm used to working with my hands but not in these conditions so I'm very excited (and a little bit nervous) to get started. It's been a bit of a journey to get to Wales from Canada but that is a huge part of the reason why I chose to come here.

I'm really looking forward to have this fully inclusive archaeological experience in the beautiful surrounding of North Wales and it's Iron Age heritage. It's been great meeting the team and the fellow students and I can tell from this early stage that the next four weeks will be fill of great conversations and experiences. 

I don't completely know what I'm in for but I'm sure it will be fantastic!"

You can hear it in the dorms. You can hear it in the tents. You can hear it in the buzz whilst breakfast is being served. The students are excited. They're ready to take to the put their lecture-based theoretical knowledge to the test. It's going to be hard but it's also going to be so much fun. 

We're ready. Shall we begin?