Landscapes Forum > Reflections on the Colony dig

It's already been over a week since the conclusion of the dig, so I thought I would update the site with a little bit about what we think we've found, and a little on the nature of our co-production.

The dig was a big success. Not only did we discover some interesting archaeology, with a potentially big story behind it, but we came together in a real team effort. At Shepherds Lodge we discovered a discrete burning layer, which tallies with local histories about the eviction of the Littlejohn family and the subsequent burning of the croft by Bailiffs working for the Balquhain Estate. At the McDonald House we came down on loads of in-situ pottery (whole vessels), metal artefacts, and possibly a steamer trunk, which were crushed by falling gable ends, pushed over by estate workers. Complimenting the archaeology, Ken Ledingham, one of our Bailies archival researchers, came across estate records linked to the site and found that the McDonalds were eventually 'removed' due to rental arrears. Between the abandoned artefacts and the rentals it's starting to look like a smoking gun for a well-preserved eviction event!

While it’s easy to simply focus on the finds, and what they might mean, how we got there was all about community contributions. Some examples will hopefully help to explain this. We were immediately faced with the challenge of removing huge granite blocks from the inside of McDonald house, which had both gable ends pushed into the centre of the building. Because carrying and or rolling the stones away from the building was not an option – they were too heavy and there was far too much debris on the ground – Colin Miller and Barry Foster came to the rescue by building a ‘bier’, effectively a wooden stretcher of lashed poles, which is then lifted by four people: many hands make light work! There was also a good deal of community effort feeding into our initial interpretation of the evidence. For example, we came across a piece of leather with a metal rivet associated with the collapsed chimney. I had no idea what this might represent. Thankfully someone had seen something like this before and suggested it might be from the sole of a boot. The next day Barry and Chris foster brought in an old 19th-century boot, dug up in their neighbour’s garden. We inspected the sole and sure enough there was a close match. Our students also contributed. It was their constant questioning of the rounded stones they were excavating that made us realize we were digging a cobbled floor! Apart from the actual digging, all of our participants were involved in helping to give site tours. By the end of the first week we were all pretty knowledgeable about the site and its historical context.

So if I can just begin to summarize some of the benefits of co-production from the point of view of the dig. What is immediately apparent is that many of the contributions (though not all) were improvised, on the spot. People got stuck in with the project in various ways that would have been hard to plan for, but which were ultimately valuable in providing our experience with a range of different kinds of support - from know how, to ideas on interpretation. Furthermore, it is evident that our most significant contributions came from those members of our team who were able to afford a sustained engagement with the excavation. Learning on the job, so to speak, provided people with a detailed knowledge of the site and our working methods, which aided both in the practice of excavation and the practice of interpretation. A critic might point out that all good projects do this anyways. But what I would point out is that having the idea of co-production forefront in our minds has helped us to take possession of knowledge that might otherwise be overlooked. It will be interesting to hear what others think about these ideas.

July 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Oliver

I agree Jeff, not only a success but extremely educational and enjoyable too. To be able to join in an excavation and put into practice the theory I had learnt from the fieldwork course held earlier at the Bennachie Centre provided an excellent and unique opportunity to improve and increase my knowledge. It was fantastic to see the mix of field workers ranging from teenagers to pensioners, novices to experienced archaeologists, locals to overseas visitors, all joining in and helping each other. Discussing different theories as to what might have been the outcome at Hillside and then uncovering finds and features to help prove some of these theories were certainly the most exciting sides of the event, but throughout all this I feel I have learnt a number of new skills and a far better understanding of archaeological fieldwork. The number of visitors calling in to have a tour around the site and the amount of interest shown surprised me. I felt fairly nervous on the first occasion I did this, but it proved to be a good exercise. The visitors offered many ideas and suggestions of their own and it brought up one or two facts that made me go back and do a bit more research! All this and two weeks of incredible weather made a fantastic recipe for wanting to do more. I am now looking forward to joining in the post excavation side and examining the finds and theories.

Looking back over the two weeks the most striking aspect coming out of all this for me was “communication”. Much can be learned in our individual studies but so much more comes from talking to others – discussing theories, research results, experiences, and how to interpret what we have. By thrashing this knowledge around between both workers and visitors to the sites has produced far quicker results while at the same time creating a sense of union within the community concerned.

My thanks to everyone involved.

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChris Foster