In July 2017 I ran a small excavation for families at the Chiltern Open Air Museum. We debated where it would be safe and interesting to open a trench and decided on the site of the first replica Iron Age roundhouse that was built at the museum at the end of the 1970s. The current version is a 21st century construction, and the house platform for the first is clearly visible next to it.
I was lucky that there were extensive photographs (those old square slightly brown-tinged 1970s style – see right) of the original build which helped to prepare the families for what we might find including the remains of a turf wall and some big post-holes. What is also really useful is having some of the original builders of the house still working at the museum, though they couldn’t remember whether we would find a cobble or rammed chalk floor, as have been used in the new roundhouse.
A small trench was opened over the area where I thought the turf wall might have been, and I hope to hit at least one post-hole, and over a lump that would be inside the house. We found a wooden post under the surface, not big enough to be an abandoned post from the house, and the lump was a small dump of flint cobbles – which also housed an ant’s nest to was abandoned immediately. John Hyde-Trutch, the buildings manager at the museum, remembered leaving a heap of flint cobbles behind after the dismantling of the old house, and that a fence was built along the line of the old turf wall – the source of the wooden post.
Dating evidence for the house was found in the interior, in the form of a twenty pence piece from 1994 and a Stella Artois bottle cap! A broken pencil and pencil lead that refitted, and a stray plastic gemstone also gave us an idea that the house might have been used for educational and family activities.
Parents often asked if the ground had been seeded with objects, which it hadn’t. Children and adults alike loved being able to do ‘proper’ archaeology, and everyone thought the finds were very funny. The Aylesbury Young Archaeologist’s Club helped out on one weekend day as well (very useful as my co-leader Vicky Guy is a field archaeologist). The best bit for a lot of children was reinstating the site, which was done in record time with their help!
It was such a success that I’m running it again year in the first week of the summer holidays from 23rd to 27th July, despite the lack of the Festival of Archaeology this year. It will run for more days (five instead of three), with higher numbers of participants and a larger trench. There’ll be a small charge this year to cover costs and hopefully make it sustainable. It will be on the site of the old house again, and, this year, I want to see if we can find some post-holes and maybe the site of the hearth.