If it weren’t for bad luck…

We’ve done that thing again where we annoy the supernatural guardians of the ancient mysteries. I knew we should have left the gold tablet with all the runes on it alone. Yesterday, despite Mike’s best efforts, the Bartington gradiometer still wouldn’t work. This morning, after I had dropped everyone else off, I drove back to Preston with it. After several phone calls and some form-filling it has gone off back to Star Fleet Command in Oxfordshire to have its di-lithium crystals replenished. This, and arranging to hire a replacement so we can finish the survey next week, meant I was off-site for a good part of the day.

Around dinnertime I got a text from Mike asking ‘Did you back up the data from the total station last night?’. This is one of those messages that gives you a bad feeling as soon as you get it. As it happens I was able to answer ‘Yes’ but even as I replied I was thinking that there are no good scenarios that lead to that question. The total station is our primary recording tool on site. We use it to locate finds, put spot heights and grid points on our plans and to lay out trenches and survey grids. What can have happened to it? Eaten by cows? Carried off by buzzards? Melted by spirits from within the Ark of the Covenant?

When I got back to site at about 3.00 it was still standing there. At some point this morning it had shut itself down and in the process lost the job file with all our data so far in it. It is, needless to say, not supposed to do this sort of thing. Like all survey instruments it is built to automatically save data as it goes along and to only allow you to delete jobs manually and laboriously after going through at least three screens which say things like Warning! this reality will become unstable if you press delete! Are you sure you want to press delete? I’m sorry Dave, I can’t let you do that right now. Except this time it had. Fortunately Kayla spotted what had happened straight away and was able to re-do all the readings from today. Even more fortunately I had backed things up last night so we hadn’t lost data from the days before.


While we were tapping computer screens and sucking our teeth, some people have been getting on with work. The very large prehistoric pit in trench N seems to have at least two fills. Josh and George are taking the last of the upper layer of darker brown soil off in their quadrant but in the two smaller quadrants behind them it has already gone. Beneath it is a much lighter soil which is still full of charcoal and worked stone. We have left the fourth quadrant alone for the moment as it is earlier than the pit which Phil is digging, so that needs finishing first.


Digging is finished, at least for the moment, in trench P. The politest way to describe the rock cut ditch here would be slight, but it is a real prehistoric feature nevertheless. We have had two chert scrapers and a some very fine flint blades from the fill. James has been showing Jack and Katie how to draw a section through the deposits. Once we get a gradiometer again we will be looking for the line of this ditch around the rest of the hill.

Wildlife of the day, solitary magpies


  1. Jillian said:

    Hey! My name’s Jill and I’ve travelled from the US for the past two years to dig at Oakington. I find your writing style refreshing and snarky, and I like that. I’m loving the updates! Keep it up!!

    • Thanks Jill – hope you had a good time at Oakington, that is a very cool site

  2. site is looking great 🙂 and looks far less dried out that the A1 …the perils of large machine stripped areas

  3. The only time the A1 was dry when I worked on it was when it was frozen solid 🙂

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