This is my proper job

My sister has arranged her life so that she works in a ski resort all winter and on the beach all summer. The only way this might be improved was if the beach was somewhere with a more reliable climate than North Yorkshire, although she does get a wet-suit from her summer employers. The title of this post comes from the t-shirt she was wearing on her birthday last week. This made me laugh immoderately when I saw it (ok – we were in a bar – so perhaps it isn’t quite as funny as all that) as it pretty much sums up how I feel about getting paid to do what I do.

Much as I love archaeology and especially prehistory, I think a lot of the reason I have such a good time at work is the sheer variety of things I get to do. We were out at New Laund today in preparation for the dig at Fairy Holes which we are starting next week. We took a load of equipment out in the morning and then went up onto New Laund Hill to measure in some fixed points for a resisitivity survey Simon is going to do with the first years. We used the Leica GPS to do this so it only took about half an hour, and most of that time was us trying to remember which particular bit of the software we needed to open. Once this was sorted I went down to the farm to talk to John.

This was more sobering. On the back of a wet summer and a bad winter they are now lambing in Arctic spring. Most of the sheep have no strength and every blade of grass for miles around is dead. It’s April but to look at the fells you would think it was February. All the buildings on the farm are full of  sick sheep and cattle being nursed. So, my next job was to help John pour electrolytes into a sick calf through a tube. He did the technical bit of getting the tube down its throat, I just held the bag with the pink liquid in it.

The next task on my list was to look at surveying in some fixed points around Fairy Holes cave. To get accurate national grid co-ordinates from the GPS system it needs to have a clear view of as much of the sky as possible and be in an area with a mobile phone signal so it can access the Leica control data. Fairy Holes is in a mobile phone blackspot and in a wood. It was always highly unlikely that I would be able to get a strong enough set of readings to just measure in some points straight away. However, as the alternative is to spend the best  part of a day carefully surveying across country with the standard total station, I thought it was worth a try with the GPS. Naturally, It didn’t work but I was standing so still to try and take a reading that a large hare almost ran over my feet before it saw me. Hares clearly don’t see in colour, I was wearing my hi-vis jacket.

This afternoon I met up with Dave Fisher, who is a bat conservation expert, so that he could show me which parts of the caves are used by bats. This was great. The horseshoe bats which use the large chamber at the back of the cave in autumn are all gone at the moment but Dave was able to show me Natterer’s and Daubenton’s bats sheltering deep in crevices around the cave entrance. Obviously, he was able to identify the species, all I could see were various dewy fluffballs with ears like miniature shiitake mushrooms. I also found a herald moth (identified by Dave again), which is one of the insects the bats come into the caves to eat. This was the first time I have been right inside the cave with a very good set of lights. There are some lovely flowstone deposits on the roof and lots of fossils in the limestone. There are also lots of mosquitoes and cave spiders which I am hoping the bats will tuck into before we start digging.

Tomorrow we are going up to the very summit of New Laund Hill to do some fluxgate gradiometer survey there. I will remember to take my camera, although I suspect I won’t see half the things I saw today.


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