Undergraduate fieldwork bursaries 2015 - Del Pickup at the Poulton Project

The Department of Archaeology offers its undergraduate students fieldwork bursaries to help fund their participation in archaeological fieldwork or work experience within the heritage sector. Successful applicants report back to the department about their experience. In his own words, part-time BA Archaeology student Del Pickup writes about his experiences on the Poulton Research Project.

The Poulton Project is a very exciting and highly significant site in Cheshire, a few miles from Chester on the road to Wrexham. The site has produced evidence of occupation from the Mesolithic through to the Medieval and has remained largely undisturbed.

The site is potentially one of the largest Iron Age settlements discovered in Britain and will certainly have a significant impact on what we know about Iron Age Britain. An area that has previously thought to be an a cultural backwater in this period could be revealed to be of extreme importance.

I arrived for my first day on site in glorious sunshine, and after a tour of the site I was teamed up with a young student on her first dig to excavate a section on Roman ditch. We spent the week excavating our section and pulled out more finds in those 5 days than I have unearthed in the previous 4 years. Among it was some beautiful Roman Pottery including some Black Burnished ware, a lot of animal bone and a possible Roman gaming piece. Similar finds came from other sections of the ditch with some large fragments of Samian Ware as well as a Mesolithic Flint Core.

Mid-week the site director, Kevin Cootes, gave us a guided tour of Roman Chester and we had a go at some medieval archery courtesy of a local enthusiast. We also had a talk on identifying human bones, which I found to be very instructive.

Pottery fragment from the Poulton excavation

At the end of the week we were asked to give presentations on our sections to the visitors giving us a chance to share what we had learned through our excavations. I found this a very fruitful exercise and a useful skill to learn. I repeated my presentation on Saturday to the weekend volunteers, having myself volunteered to spend an extra day at the dig.

I was hooked on this site now and more than happy to spend every moment possible there, increasing my knowledge. I had already learned so much, in stark contrast to some excavations I have been on. The way the site is managed is fantastic, Kevin really involves his students in all aspects of work on the site, and his enthusiasm is contagious.

I learned a great deal, especially with regards to working with human bone

Del Pickup

Finds washing

The start of the following week was met with heavy rain, and so we spent much of the first two days washing finds. As I had not done this before it was a very constructive use of my time. I learned a great deal, especially with regards to working with human bone.

I had chosen this week to leave my Roman Ditch Section to spend some time in the Medieval graveyard, as I had never worked with human remains before. I worked with two osteologists and learned a great deal.

I found that I learned far more identifying bones in the field, hands on, than I ever did in the lab. By mid-week we had excavated, planned, recorded, lifted and bagged a human (partial) skeleton.

I had hoped to spend some of my time on the Iron Age roundhouses, but sadly that was not possible on this occasion. However I fully intend to return to Poulton as often as my circumstances will allow. I have been following developments closely as they have begun work on the Iron Age remains, and what the are uncovering is truly remarkable.

I highly recommend this site to any student, I don't think you could possibly get a better introduction to archaeological excavation in the UK, and I hope to get Kevin an invitation to University of Sheffield to present this remarkable site.

Excavations at Poulton