by Harry Rumfitt
Harry is a sixth form student at Oundle School. One of his A level subjects is Classical Civilisation which is why he was particularly interested to take part in the Nassington dig.
Aerial view of the site with the village of Nassington in the distance
During the summer holidays, before starting in the sixth form at Oundle School, I decided to volunteer at the Nassington Archaeological Dig. On my first day, which was very dry and very sunny, as evidenced by my sunburnt face at the end of the day, I was introduced to the pit where I discovered I was born to be the wielder of a mattock!
We were tasked with cutting through the levels of earth surrounding an ancient Roman furnace. After we had cut through a layer of earth we would then sift our way through the fine soil trying to differentiate between stones and bits of Roman pottery. The work itself was rather repetitive with the same on and off, mattocking, sifting and clearing away of the excess dirt but we soon fell into a rhythm.
The day itself was sprinkled with leisurely tea breaks and the odd excitement of finding a piece of ancient glass or bone amongst what we had dug up. Initially we spent a lot time deciding what was important or significant but by the end we were more confident and efficient. At the end of my first day my arms and legs were exhausted but I was raring to go on day two only to find that we were met with torrential rain all day. However with every cloud comes a silver lining, we found ourselves cleaning up trays of bone, pottery and all sorts of weird and wonderful objects.
On day three were back to the digging and thanks to the previous day’s rainfall the soil was a lot softer and therefore easier to dig up. On this day we found ourselves driven by Derek’s (the site manager) deadline of trying to get our hole down to the level where we could finally make out what would either be Roman plaster or even a bit of Roman floor from one of the many houses that have stood upon this site over the course of nearly two millennia. The site is made up of layers of Roman farmhouses.
The deadline itself was driven by the fact that the dig could only last for a few weeks every year due to the need of the farmer, on whose land it is, to continue with his crop production. My group was like a well-oiled machine by the end of the day, with each of us taking turns at mattocking, sifting and shovelling the extracted earth onto wheelbarrows and away to the communal mounds where it would be gone over with a metal detector.
On days one and two we had the added bonus of a short lecture given by an experienced team member. The first was a fascinating geology talk informing us about the wide variety of rock in the Northamptonshire area and the second a lecture on how to determine a skeleton’s gender and age.
Although a low key dig, the Nassington site is incredibly important because it gives a physical insight into Roman Britain and makes you realise what an important historical county Northamptonshire is. I strongly recommend anyone interested in history or archaeology to take part.