There are a number of us at Rubicon who, as the years have progressed, have found to our horror that we have become ‘desk bound’. We had once soldiered in the trenches as young, fit and healthy field archaeologists, but nowadays we find ourselves listening to the clack of tapping keyboards and ping of email alerts rather than the ring of mattock on stone and the scrape of trowel on natural. None of us are quite sure how this happened, and unfortunately we have amassed quite a few years where the only wheels we are accustomed to are those on a mouse, rather than the somewhat larger examples to be found on a site barrow.
We decided it was long past time we once again entered the fray, and showed the world of archaeology how it should be done. Ignoring the stifled laughter and mocking comments from some of our erstwhile colleagues who remain familiar with the joys of fieldwork, a group of us set off to conquer a Bronze Age burnt mound in Co. Kerry. We felt sure that our combined experience would compensate for any protests our bodies might be inclined to make as a result of this decision. Thus it was that the ‘Legion of the Damned’, consisting of the Managing Director, two Company Directors, Graphics Manager and Survey Manager set off for the front. We were joined by a number of our ‘still in the field’ colleagues, although there were indications that they might have had ulterior motives for joining us. We have no direct evidence to support this, but certain comments such as ‘this is going to be the funniest thing I have ever seen!’ and ‘I can’t wait to see this, you are all going to collapse!’ did raise suspicions amongst some of the more untrusting members of our band.
Nerves began to set in on the night of our arrival in Kerry, when, with the surrounding hills engulfed in flames, some took it as a portent of what lay ahead. Things went still further downhill, when, on the advice of the buoyantly optimistic Graphics Manager, we elected to drink Tennents as a preparation for what was to come in the morning. Needless to say this strategy backfired. Despite our headaches we gamely hit the site on the morning of Day 1, as each of the Legion enthusiastically reacquainted themselves with mattock, shovel, wheelbarrow and trowel.
The first two hours went surprisingly well, after which some murmurings in the ranks suggested a tough time lay ahead. Cries reverberated around site: ‘Thats it, the backs gone now’, ‘my hands are destroyed’ and ‘I’m not so optimistic anymore, I really thought this would be easy’ (the last from the now not so buoyant Graphics Manager). We soldiered on through the pain, and even made some good progress. There was discontent within the Legion when the Survey Manager was selected by the Site Director to excavate the Lime Kiln discovered on site, as this was seen as a plum job. The stirrings of jealously among those of us who remained consigned to mattock and barrow duty receded somewhat as we concentrated on the agony our bodies found themselves in.
Exhaustion at the end of Day 1 ensured there was no risk of a late night to affect our performance on Day 2. Sitting through the ‘riveting’ Ireland v Macedonia match on television also helped to lull us to sleep. We emerged the next morning resembling a group of octogenarian arthritis sufferers, but, determined to do our duty, we set off for site once more. Even more mattocking, shovelling and barrowing followed as we desperately sought to maintain a dignified showing in front of our ‘still in the field’ colleagues.The jury is still out as to whether or not this was achieved.
Happily we pushed through the pain during the weekend and actually managed to get some archaeology done. Without a doubt the greatest relief for the members this somewhat unique ‘Legion of the Damned’ was when we could traipse/crawl off site for the final time, and retreat to the safety of our desks. We have learned a valuable lesson regarding field archaeology: lack of practice leads to catastrophic body failure. We have decided to make our forays into the field a more regular occurrence, in a desperate effort to at least achieve a level of ‘dig fitness’ that will make the pain more bearable. We will alert you to the Legion’s future forays into the outside world, stay tuned to see if we all make it…