29 Jul 2022
by Niamh Blacker

No Vikings, but excitement about soil!

Stepping off the ferry on to Islay in the Scottish Inner Hebrides felt surreal – my first ever dig, and in such an amazing location! My younger self who dreamed of archaeology would have been very proud of being able to do something so cool – and cool it was!

Getting to dig for the first time and actually see the physical process rather than just read about it in a textbook felt amazing – the field school is something I had been building my excitement up for all year since I joined Reading Uni. I was particularly excited as I knew we were off to find Vikings – a favourite period of mine. Whilst we didn’t find them at Olistadh on Islay this time, I haven’t left feeling disappointed. My first find was a tiny piece of red clay pottery, 19th century most likely. Looking at the picture, it looks small, unexciting, and insignificant (to some!). To me, it was the best moment I’d had as a trainee archaeologist so far! Finding something, not quite knowing what it had been before it broke, was just so exciting, as it felt like another piece of the puzzle we were putting together. I got to help investigate one of the buildings that had been on the site – part of a 19th century farmstead. Learning how to trowel to not just see the changes in the soil but to feel them with my trowel as we breached into new contexts felt almost surreal. I did not think I would leave this trip being excited about different types of soil, but here we are. Finding flagstones, recording them, lifting them out after planning and then digging deeper to find earlier floors just felt like an adventure. Imagining all the people that had lived in and used that building over the possibly hundreds of years was almost humbling; knowing that we were helping to restore knowledge to an area and its people who were moved out during the Clearances. I think that was one of the most gratifying parts of the excavation – for the first time, the ‘school’ work I was doing was actually counting towards something – it is research, it is going to be published in a report for people to read, the plans I drew will be used to help piece everything together. It was helping us to learn about a farmstead that nobody really knows much about. It has certainly felt worthwhile.

Whilst the 6:30/7:00 wake up times 6 days a week for four weeks were gruelling, the Scottish weather unforgiving and the midges forever on the ready to attack, I have wholeheartedly enjoyed my time up on Islay on my first ever dig. It has cemented in my mind that archaeology is the path for me, wherever it may take me, and I cannot wait to go back again with all the other students who enjoyed it so much and the staff who taught and encouraged us.

Niamh Blacker

University of Reading

Niamh Blacker has just finished her first year at the University of Reading. She is studying for her degree in Archaeological Science.

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Niamh Blacker