Behind the Airplane

Apollo astronauts apparently used this phrase to describe the feeling of being slightly out of control during particularly tricky manoeuvres. Ever since I read this in Andrew Smith’s excellent Moondust I have adopted it as a gruff and manly 60s test-pilot kind of way of saying I am a bit disorganised. As in ‘the new teaching term starts in a fortnight and I’m a bit behind the airplane with my module guides’.

As part of the general catching up process and good resolutions that go with the impending academic new year I have ben getting on with writing the interim report for the work we did at Fairy Holes Caves in April. It’s not finished yet, but I have got a good long way on with it, and I have drawn lots of pictures in Adobe Illustrator.

FH13 main trench planThis is the area we dug across the platform and into the entrance of the main cave at Fairy Holes. We dug a 1 metre wide trench through the backfill left by the 1946 excavations. What I have done here is overlay the position of the two dry-stone walls Reginald Musson found on to our plan. This nicely shows the overlap between the walls and the area where we found cremated human bone and a sherd of collared urn.

Our urn sherd belongs with others found by Musson as part of a single Early Bronze Age pot. Musson thought that the pottery was being used by Bronze Age people living inside the cave. Putting our results together with his it’s now clear that this is actually the remains of a burial. Dry-stone enclosures are found around other prehistoric cave burials – for example at Markland Grips in Derbyshire and at Gop Cave in North Wales. This is likely to have been a single urn containing the cremated remains of one adult and one child. The urn sherds discovered by Musson were re-interpreted in a paper published by John Gilks in 1983, which I have put on the reading list. Thanks to Andrew Chamberlain for bringing me a copy when he came out to site in the summer.

DSC_0050Deeper into the cave, we also cleaned up and re-drew the section through the deposits at the farthest point reached by Musson, about 13 metres from the entrance. This is it more or less at the stage they got to in 1946. Remember that this was two people digging mostly by bike lamps and at the end of three months fruitless search for the Palaeolithic.

FH13 deep sectionWith more light and more people we were able to take the deposits down about another 75 centimetres and find the complete shape of the cave tunnel at this point. The lower deposits in this section are undisturbed cave silts. They appear to be too deep into the cave to have prehistoric finds in them but we did take a long pollen sample column through the sequence so that will hopefully tell us some interesting things about the surrounding environment through the Neolithic and Bronze Age.

I want to finish the Fairy Holes report by next week so I can catch up with the same jobs for the summer dig. Hopefully next week’s post won’t be called ‘Hello Huston, we’ve had a problem’.



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