Since the passing of new planning guidelines in 1991, most archaeology in the UK has been carried out by developer-funded professionals. Much excellent work has been done, but this kind of development-led archaeology, by definition, can only be reactive. In historic market towns such as Faversham where there has been no large-scale development, little archaeological investigation has taken place and almost none at all in what is thought to be the oldest area. Many questions remain unanswered, as the Kent document makes very clear.
In 2004 archaeologist Dr Pat Reid embarked on a project to form a local archaeology group to undertake light-touch archaeological research using local volunteers who had an interest in archaeology and history yet who had little or no experience in archaeological excavations, recording and processing. What they did possess however was a passion for knowledge of their local history.
The first thing to establish was a research aim. There were a number of criteria that needed to be fulfilled. These were:
1. That the group’s activities did not trespass on the province of professional/commercial archaeological units.
2. That the investigation should touch an aspect of Faversham’s history that had previously been neglected.
3. That the investigation did not, to begin with, require levels of skill unlikely to be possessed by novice volunteers.
The Kingsfield burial finds suggested strongly that there was a settlement of some importance in the area in the Saxon period, and this was supported by references in various documents. On the basis of this, the research decided on was:
- Where did the Saxons live in the area?
- What kind of settlement was it and how did it evolve over the years?
Plan of action
A proposal was drawn up for the Faversham Society Council (The Faversham Society -established 1962- is the local amenity and history society serving Faversham and its surrounding parishes). This included research aims, procedures and a Health and Safety policy. In Spring 2005, an appeal was made through the local newspapers for volunteers, gardens in the ‘Saxon Archaeological zone’ and for equipment. Provisions had been made to set up base at a local pub within the area of interest where temporary storage and a water supply were available.
Contact was made with the owners of the gardens being volunteered. Each was visited and details taken. Permission was obtained to dig a 1m x 1m ‘test pit’ to a maximum depth of 1.2m (for health and safety reasons). The landowner was also informed that they have the ownership rights to all finds made. Strata, features and artefacts would be carefully recorded, and plotted on a large-scale map of the area. The findings were to be well publicised and archived in the Fleur de Lis library, with and exhibition in the Fleur Gallery later in the year.
Practical points considered:
- Equipment: Most of the equipment was to be very simple and easy to borrow at no cost. No heavy equipment such as mattocks or machinery would be used. It was envisaged that should any specialist equipment be required, then this could be borrowed from one of the regional archaeological units.
- Training: All volunteers were to be given compulsory training prior to the start. The training covered Health and Safety, excavation and recording techniques, and historical context. This was undertaken by Dr Pat Reid and her husband.
- Work Schedule: Work was scheduled to take place 6 days a week leaving one day free (to recover). Each test pit would involve 2-4 people, one of who would be acting as supervisor. It was thought that there would probably be 2 pits running at the weekend (close together), and usually only 1 during the week. The Health and Safety Officer would be present throughout. The aim was to involve around 20/30 individuals over the whole month, with some only doing a few days and some having a longer commitment. Not everyone would dig – there would be many other tasks such as finds processing, recording and making cups of tea.
- Work Base: A sheltered space with water supply for equipment storage/ finds storage/ cleaning/ follow up etc during the life of the project was required. It was absolutely essential that discussion and interpretation continued throughout and involved all participants, so the work required the availability of maps, documents, photocopies of photographs etc to enable this.
- Health and Safety: A Risk Assessment had been carried out and a Health and Safety policy drawn up. A member who had previous H&S experience acted as Health and Safety Officer and was present during each excavation. The lower age limit for excavation work was decided to be 16, although younger people were able to help with finds processing (provided they were accompanied by a responsible adult). First Aid kits were to be provided. The Civic Trust Insurance used by the Faversham Society confirmed in writing that this project came under their cover. It was therefore a condition that volunteers were members of the Faversham Society to be covered by their insurance.
- Publicity: The local newspapers were used to publicise the group’s activities. It was also planned to contact the local schools for possible 6th former involvement. Posters were displayed for the Open House weekend (an annual event), and the project covered in the May, June, July and August newsletters of the Faversham Society.
- Recruitment: Participation was restricted to locals, who would be required to be Faversham Society Members (see under Health and Safety). There was to be no charge for volunteers participating in the project.
- Dissemination of findings: This was to take place through the local newspapers, lectures, and an exhibition in the gallery at the Fleur de Lis Heritage Centre. For any important discovery, then the KAS and Kent County Archaeology service were to be notified, with the agreement of the Society, and finds catalogued on the HER.
- Archiving of donated finds: A designated area was established through the Faversham Society for archiving all the materials from the excavations.
As a result of the advertising, some 28 gardens in the research area had been volunteered and 25 individuals wishing to participate came forward. Equipment had been loaned or donated to the group, and a range of consumables purchased. A meeting was called where the volunteers had the opportunity to meet up for the first time. The group consisted of people from a wide range of backgrounds, disciplines and interests, ranging in age from 16 to 70. Most had no formal archaeological training but everybody had one thing in common – a passion and enthusiasm to discover their local history. A practical training day was set up and all the volunteers took part. The training covered:
- Health and Safety: Health and Safety for both volunteers and landowners was of paramount importance. Points considered were (1) the maximum safe depth of the excavation (based on a 1m x 1m pit) was to be restricted to 1.2m. (2) The safe use and storage of equipment. (3) Open pit access and safety.
- Excavation Techniques: Since most volunteers had little knowledge of excavation techniques, excavation by ‘Spit’ method was adopted. This was the process of removing 30cm ‘slices’ of soil. Spit 1 was therefore the soil from the ground surface down to a depth of 30cm, Spit 2 the soil between 30cm and 60cm depth etc. ending at the maximum depth with Spit 4. All the soil that was removed was to be sieved so as to obtain 100% recovery. All materials and items (other than those that were considered to be naturally occurring) were to be kept and recorded. Any single items that had the potential for dating capabilities (such as coins, button, bottles etc) were to be classified as ‘small finds’. At the end of excavation, the soil would be replaced and the area made good.
- Recording Procedures: On the day of the excavation, the location of the test pit would be determined partly by accessibility, and partly by underground services and obstructions. Once this was established, the exact location was to be recorded on the record sheet by taking measurements from the property to the corners of the test pit. Photographs would be taken throughout the excavation process with the photograph numbers being recorded in the photo register. Small finds were to be recorded in the small finds register, and at the end of each Spit dug, the materials removed and the composition were to be recorded in the Spit register.
- Post Excavation Processing: All material and small finds from the excavation were to be taken to the working base. Materials were to be sorted into categories (bulk material), treated (washed, brushed etc), weighed, and recorded in the appropriate register. Any small finds were to be further investigated and individually recorded on a small finds record sheet. This was to include details such as description, measurements, weight, a sketch, cleaning and / or conservation methods, and then entered onto a database.
After the excavations had taken place and the results compiled, a report was to be written as a permanent record of the findings. A copy was to be given to the landowner and another to be published.
The importance of publication could not be underestimated since the whole purpose of the activities was to disseminate the newly discovered information to the local people. Various publication methods were considered. One of the group members were interested in computers and had some (limited) experience in websites. It was decided that the best publication tool was to be the Internet. This would allow for a wide audience for viewing the reports at a minimal financial outlay. A website domain (name) was registered ‘community-archaeology.org.uk’ where all the findings were made freely accessible to all. The group defined community archaeology as being “Archaeology by the people, for the people”. and has now been adopted into mainstream archaeology.