Monday, 10 October 2016

The remains of the day

I don't like Mondays - normally.

However, today I managed to escape the early morning management meeting for a meeting with Dr. Clive Waddington to look at the Low Hauxley excavation site we completed two years ago. 

Despite the forecast, Hauxley reserve was bathed in sunlight for most of the day and the bushes were full of robins, goldfinch and lots of redwing, song thrush and blackbirds, obviously newly arrived. I was surprised when a chiffchaff started to call from the rosa rugosa thicket, creating the feel of spring rather than autumn. 

The new path through the reserve gives the visitor a much greater range of habitats including reeds and scrub woodland and new screens provide opportunities for views into bits that were previously out of sight. This rewarded me with a great view of a group of 20+ oystercatchers lurking at the edge of new scrape. The light was excellent and the birds were quite close. This group were all perched on one leg and it was hilarious watching them jostle for position without putting the second leg to the floor. It was as if they were iron filings on paper with a magnet beneath! When the music stopped, the bird without a chair proved to be a Grey Plover which had been hidden by the throng. Nice!

On reaching the beach, it was apparent that the erosion of the dunes (and the dig site) was severe and the peat's that had been revealed was stripping back faster than expected. However, the visit proved useful as Clive found some in situ stones within the peat layer which suggest the presence of a man-made structure, probably a fire hearth. Having excavated a similar feature with Clive and a few volunteers, it was exciting to think another relic from the neolithic ages was tantalisingly close but could be gone with a single high tide or storm. 

Whilst chatting I asked Clive about what looked like a piece of metal in the peat. On examination this transpired to be a nodule of ironstone within the peat, ochreous enough to be visible. Clive was excited with the find as this material has shown up in excavations as a residue on flints and it is a component of the material mixed with tree resin that waterproofed animal skins used in the construction of boats. Wow!!!

The peat is a perfect record of the local environment after the last ice age and the erosion is stripping back the pages to reveal some of its secrets, in this case a perfectly preserved silver birch trunk with the paperlike bark as good as the day it formed. Every little bit recorded makes the picture clearer and its brilliant to be able to use this to add structure to tell the story. 

It was also amazing to look at the new visitor centre, build by volunteers from straw, clay, wood and stone only to think these techniques would have been utilised by the residents who arrived in this area after the glaciers had retreated. The only difference is probably health and safety. And chocolate biscuits.

Just to add more sugar, I found a well preserved vertebrae from a cetacean, possibly a small neonatal porpoise, to add to my growing collection. 

I think Mondays should be optional if they are not like this.

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