The Mingary Castle restoration blog was written by Jon Haylett, who lives in the local village of Kilchoan. Now that restoration is almost complete Holly and Chris Bull will take over to report on bringing the Castle back to life.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Learning the Art of Archaeology - 1

The amateurs who've been helping at the Mingary Castle excavation have been taught a huge amount in the short time we've been there.  We started with excavating in the courtyard, mostly the cobbled areas, and were told we hadn't done too badly with that, so we were moved to more sensitive areas - always under the watchful eye of Tom Addyman, Ross Cameron, or one of the other team members.

So I started work on one of the quadrants in the west range.  The picture shows it, with the tools we had to use - trowel, shovel, bucket, a pair of gloves, a brush, a camera and, because working on one's knees for hours can be painful, a cushion covered in polythene.  Some work had already been done on this quadrant, so Ross was able to point out the different 'contexts' - that is, the different types of deposit.   Basically, there were two....

 ....which can be seen in this vertical view of the finished result.  At top left there was a brown, clayey, soil-like material, and the rest was cobbles, though the neat arrangement of the stones seen at bottom left was severely disrupted over the rest of the area.

The next skill we were taught was drawing.  A one-metre wooden frame, divided into 20cm sections with string, is laid across the area to be drawn, and the archaeology is then transferred onto thick tracing paper laid on graph paper, the scale being 1:20.  A 6H pencil is used, and the outline of every feature is marked on the map, with the help of a minimal key such as S = Slate.  It looks easy: it isn't!  And, because one has to draw the archaeology from vertically above, some contorted positions have to be attempted.  Also, when I did it, it rained.... a lot.

This is my feeble first attempt.  Matters weren't helped by the fact that, however hard one tried, mud seemed to transfer itself onto the precious drawing.  To make matters worse, the tracing paper had another meticulously completed drawing in the bottom corner, which I was terrified of messing up.

We were then taught to use a dumpy, a surveying instrument used to record the levels of the excavated area.  If Dale Meegan looks worried, I can't blame her, as she was asked to do an actual survey as a fast way of learning.  Ross, seen at left, was patience personified.  The man would make a superb schoolmaster.

Even with this mass of learning under our belt, there is still loads more.  Each part of the excavation has to be recorded in a file, all the specimens bagged and labelled, photographs taken, and much else besides.  The picture shows Tanja Romankiewicz doing the hard work, and the second of these two blogs will describe how we fared.

Many thanks indeed to the team at Addyman Archaeology, and especially Ross and Tom, for giving us so much of their time and patience.

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