Its around about April every year when my thoughts turn to the tidal mud flats of the Severn Estuary and I begin to wait for Martin’s e-mail, with eager anticipation. This year was no exception and I wasn’t disappointed. So at the end of August I jumped into my Dads Astra which I had borrowed, and tootled down to the Severn Estuary excited to be once again doing ‘real’ on site archaeology. Now the Estuary is no shrinking violet and has been host to Time Team, Coast and The National Geographic and this excavation was no exception, as we had been asked to come down to help with a special program for the makers of Time Team.
I got involved in the work at the Estuary during my MSc in Geoarchaeology at Reading University. When I arrived early on the Thursday morning the tide was still lapping against the sea wall but it wouldn’t be long until the Estuary would be revealing its secrets. One of the things I love about the estuary is the transient and alien nature of the landscape. The sand banks are constantly moving and the silts are frequently being eroded, creating a new sort of familiar landscape every visit. This year the sands had encroached further down the shore onto the mudflats creating unstable sinking sand testing our nerves! Luckily Martin Bell, the leader of our team, is a seasoned intertidal archaeologist who was able to assess which areas where safe for us.
This year’s dig focused on planning a series of newly exposed flint scatters and footprints. The most challenging and exciting element of tidal archaeology is the unusual working conditions, often wet and muddy, the atmosphere is one of long periods of waiting punctuated by flurries of activity as sites are exposed, recorded and vacated before the unforgiving tide reclaims them.
This year I was at one of the furthest points out, accessible only through crossing, what had become affectionately known as ‘the waterfall’. A shallow bridge of silts which has formed between two basins, that has water cascading over it as the tide retreats. Not only is this area difficult to get to, but it is also exposed for a very short amount of time. Once again the tied raged in after only 30 minutes of exposure and we had to quickly wrap up our recording sheets (large sheets of plastic used for 1:1 tracings) and head back over the waterfall before being completely cut off.
By the end of this year’s excavation I was thoroughly coated in estuary mud, both my wellys were full of water and I was excited about our next trip to the estuary. The last job of the day was to sign the release forms for the filming and claim our Time Team pound!