Saturday, July 10, 2021

I Solve The UK

 The thing I get from watching  UK television programs is, all you have to do is stick a shovel in the ground and boom, you've got an archeological dig you never wanted.   How do you get anything new built, UK persons?  Under cover of darkness?  Take out a building permit for location A and then sneak off and build something in location B?  Because holy crap, between Time Team and every other historical documentary out there, that's got to be the case.  And the documentary I'm watching now, there's six different unexpected layers of archeological interest in the location of an existing Tudor-era castle, because apparently that castle isn't historical enough.  Just quit showing off.  Stop it.  Now.  I mean it.

The earliest thing I've found on my property is a hide scraper, specifically one used on fish skin (really) and small animal skins, nicely chipped and shaped by the original Native inhabitants.  Then the next thing you find here is scads of garbage - literal garbage - from the 1870s on until the 1930's.  Since this used to be marshland, one of the ways they used to raise the building level was to heap up the trash and then smash it all out in big swathes and pile dirt on top.  I have an old patent medicine bottle, a china dolly arm (a little creepy) and a metric shit-ton of hand-hammered nails and spikes.

And that's really it for this area.  Before that, oh, you might dig down a good twenty feet and find some poor drowned early Mammoth Hunters and a Thule Person or two who overshot the mark by a few miles.  This was a bog for millennia,  so who knows?  I am content to let them lie.  I double dug and built up every single bed on this property to the depth of four feet and it was dogs work.  I have a good foot of black, beautiful, ionic silt and then anaerobic blue clay, and getting air into that mixture and breaking it all up and making it productive took one determined little Muk, a sharp shovel, and access to the city compost heap, out of which I took truckload after truckload of plant material to layer in.

There is such an amount of good quality clay in the area that there were at least three different kilns in the area, and I have stamped bricks from all three, which is kind of cool.  I could, given an interest in pottery, which I lack entirely, buy a kiln, condition what I dig up in my garden (which contains the occasional bit of bog iron and coal) and make myself some lovely pottery.  I know lots of atavistic, useless skills like that.  I could, say, make yarn out of dog hair combings and weave it into a shawl.  I promise I won't.

Another thing I take away from these documentaries is that the UK is tit-deep in pottery sherds.  Finding earthenware here is pretty rare, and is usually a broken pickling crock. Or, come to think of it, probably a fermentation crock, because Sumas was known to have more taverns than churches, and it has that reputation to this day, even though the situation has reversed.  I rather like that I live in "Ooo, Sumas, wild and wooly, huh?" instead of "Ugh, Lynden, roll up the sidewalks at 6:00." 

The wildest and wooliest thing that's happened here recently is that sometime last week someone took a giant dump right outside the foundation blocks of the apartment complex they built up against my garage.  Now these foundation blocks, used to raise the land the buildings stand on, extend out into the alley allowance, and that's where the dirty deed took place; so it's not like someone crapped right outside my fence or anything - but that anyone grunted one out there at all (at least they wiped; they left the napkin they used) is icky.  I have my suspicions, and they center on one particular little ruffian.

I still worry about getting a building permit in the UK though.  Is there a cut-off date?  If you dig down and find something from WWII, like Hitler waving up at you, can you still build your garage?  What if you want a basement?  Can you have a basement?  If you go down far enough you're going to find a mass plague burial or King Richard or some shit like that.  Do you just quietly slip your find into the neighbors trash bin and keep on digging?  Because if you don't quit it, eventually the whole island is going to be run by the National Trust.  You know that, right?  Anyplace where you can make a living as a specialist in 13th century papermaking is headed in that direction.

If I had it to do over again now, I'd head straight for the UK and become either an archivist, a librarian, or an archeological forensics scientist, because I can stay in America and dig holes -  I want a desk job if I'm going to start over in the UK.  I could be in charge of Bog Bodies!  I would be a fantastic Bog Body archeo-science-person!  I could put them in the refrigerator, I could take then out of the refrigerator, I would give them names, like Chuck, and I would keep them dusted off.  Or I could work at the Bodeleian.  I could work like a motherfucker at the Bodeleian.  I would live under my desk and eat cheese with the mice to work at the Bodeleian.  ALL THOSE OLD BOOKS!!!!

You know the first thing I'd do?  Pass out those white cotton archivists' gloves.  Y'all people are so used to having written material from back when there wasn't even more than one number in the year that you wave it about like playing cards.  I see original ancient manuscripts being passed around from bare hand to bare hand and I just cringe.  They used to make us wear cotton gloves to use the huge old dictionary at the library!  And you're over there just 'Oh look, a royal land grant that mentions the Loch Ness Monster and UFO's from the year 3 AD' and make a paper airplane out of it and fly it back and forth across the room.

My solution is for y'all make less of a big old thing about neolithic ditches and pay attention to taking proper care of the books and manuscripts.  You are only allowed to stop a building project if there's actual human remains or a buttload of treasure. And everyone has to do two compulsory years LARP'ing in a 'Living History' settlement to develop a sense of perspective.  Nice people get to work in the Edwardian places.  If you're a dick you have to work at the 9th century monastery in the Orkneys manufacturing parchment. Yeah, let's see you flap around the ancient manuscripts bare-handed after two years of that shit.


  1. I was born and brought up in Caerleon, a village ln the site of the great first-century Roman fortress of Isca Silurum, with an impressive amphitheatre, baths, wharfs and other buildings of that era - we used to sneak off from school and hide behind the walls of the military barracks for a smoke - so ancient archaeology is second nature, really. The Roman camp wasn't even the oldest thing in the area; the estate where we lived was adjacent to the mound of an Iron Age hill fort!

    And yes, there are a helluva lot of regulations in the UK governing building sites where ancient artefacts are discovered - the mega development at Liverpool Street station here in London has taken twice as long as it should because of all the ancient treasures they've uncovered, and the high-speed rail excavations at Euston have been delayed until an entire ancient graveyard is documented and removed.

    As for the subject of gloves for handling books and manuscripts, apparently they are A BAD THING - as the advice from the National Trust itself attests.


  2. Around here, most of the really old stuff fell into the sea decades/centuries ago, although there are still plenty of thousand year old castles and like dotted around not far inland. While digging up at the allotment, I often find bits of pottery and glass, but it's only a century or two old at most, so nothing to write home about.
    About the oldest thing one is likely to dig up are fossilised mammoth and wooly rhino bones!

  3. Jon: Well I'll be dipped! I stand corrected! I had no idea. Thank you for enlightening me. That's going to save me a lot of cringing and the Biker a lot of me going on about 'just LOOK at the way they're handling that, like it's toilet paper or something!" I think it's so, so, so cool that you grew up near so much history. I mean, I live in a 'Heritage Town' which means it was established before there was such a thing as The United States, and my friends think that's just astounding, Iron Age hill fort? How astounding is that??

  4. I'm in Burbank, California right now and it's too damn hot to go digging anything up, much less be outside! But, you're not asking what I'm doing are you? I'm in thrall of good old Dr. Lucy Worsley and her documentaries about England! xoxo

  5. Inexplicable DeVice: "A century or two" he tosses away, so casually, like that's not incredible or anything! I've seen the mammoth teeth on Antiques Roadshow UK. Oddly, one of the places they find those here is on the San Juan Islands - the mammoths crossed the Bering Land Bridge because they were being chased by the early Mammoth Hunter migration, and at that time the San Juans were hilltops. The hunters would trap the mammoths in valleys and then pick them off at their leisure for snacks, and toss the bones in the scrap heap. I know someone who works construction on the islands whose attitude is like "Oh geeze, not another giant tusk, yawn."

  6. I used to live in a 16th century Grade II listed cottage in a conservation area/outstanding area of natural beauty. It was an experience. It was on a par with living in a small shed that you couldn't stop from falling down without getting permission from a person who enjoys saying no. Never again.
    I sold it, and the person I sold it to was murdered in the bedroom.

  7. Wow, Scarlet! I'm glad you moved out before the murdering happened!

    I agree with you, Steve I have the same impression as you when it comes to digging anywhere in the UK.

    IDV If I get to Norfolk can you introduce me to any Selkies that could give me a tour of the old world sites? That would be fun.

  8. The 'new' graveyard at the village church is nearly full. So, as a kind person donated a piece of land for an extra graveyard, some decades ago, permission was applied for. There had to be a dig first. This cost nearly £2,000, but was considered acceptable. So it went ahead. They found a few bits of crap so a further dig was required. £5,000 later, they'd found more crap but also a Saxon millwheel, so the few graves can't be dug unless the entire ancient grassland is destroyed to find more thousand-year-old crap. The church council has sensibly decided to fill in gaps in the 'old' graveyard for the next couple of decades, by which time it'll be someone else's problem.

    One of my fields is down on the maps as either Anglo-Saxon burial ground or Saxon earthworks. What I love it for is the ancient grassland, which the local farmer can't put pregnant cows on because, although it's on sand and gravel, it's so nourishing that they suffer from fatty livers. He has to put bullocks on, because boys run off all the weight. I think that the reason I still live here is to protect that field. Though the archaeologic digs would bankrupt any potential builder, so it's probably safe.