“I have had a fascination for the past since I was a child, but I came late to archaeology, after I retired. For the past three years I have enjoyed the opportunities for community digging that were never available when I was young. I find every dig fun – scrabbling to find things hidden in the ground like in the old bran-tubs at fairs and piecing together clues like a detective story to learn about people in the past (helped by the archaeologists, of course).
So I was keen to take part in the Troutbeck dig when the opportunity was offered, even though the period of the excavation was relatively recent, just because I love digging. But this one was different, and I was surprised by how it was different, in more ways than the obvious.
I had known about the Holocaust project from the earliest days of the exhibition in Windermere Library, and had huge respect for the enterprise. I wasn’t expecting the conversations that took place around me, from staff, diggers, visitors, on the most profound of subjects: humanity, inhumanity, the conflict between publicising to prevent evil recurring, and not feeding those who relish that evil – all while scraping away at bits of drainpipe or drinking tea to recover before the next stint. It so happened that I was digging while significant political events were happening nationally, and I found it striking that the feelings being expressed around me on these current, very different, issues, were yet the same: humanity, inhumanity, concern about how things could go wrong. I was also pleased that the general opinions of the younger people coincided with my own!
This was another difference I wasn’t expecting – the majority of the diggers being students of an age to be my grandchildren. Most community digs are full of retired people like me, and it was refreshing to be with young adults, courteous, friendly and with a lot more muscle than me. I also enjoyed feeling that on most important topics we felt very much the same. I was a bit flabbergasted to discover that they didn’t know ring-pulls on drinks cans are a recent (in my opinion) invention, as they had been invented long before they were born. We found a great many ring-pulls. But I had to resort to Wikipedia to prove that they couldn’t have been from the time that the children were at Calgarth.
The third difference about this dig for me was the opportunity to learn some new skills. It was the first time I had done sieving, labelling and washing finds – these activities to date had always been done by other people (students, or special teams). Yet I felt I had plenty of time doing the actual digging. All credit to the archaeologists who managed us expertly while being really, really nice!
So I am grateful for the chance I had to dig at Troutbeck, done for purely selfish reasons, and very grateful that I got a lot more than I bargained for… Thank you.”