Well. Last year it rained. A lot. Not that we mind a bit of rain you understand, but unfortunately, the logistics of running a project based on a very exposed allotment site, and persuading a good number of young people (and mostly importantly, their taxis) to turn up at intervals and dig for a few hours, meant that progress during 2012 was pretty slow. For anyone who hasn’t visited this blog previously, the Lansdowne Allotment Project, is run by the Worcestershire Young Archaeologists’ Club and is designed to provide a resource for our young people, for the purposes of experimental archaeology, actual excavation experience on a site with some archaeological potential, and learning about past societies through hands-on experience of traditional farming methods and practical skills. We have attempted at each stage to report on our activities via Social Media tools to widen access to our admittedly experimental activities. In particular, we’ve made use of Twitter and tagged our posts with #WYACallotment.
Despite the rain, I’m happy to report that our site is beginning to evolve before our very eyes thanks to the commitment of a number of faithful volunteers. The project has benefited greatly from the support of the Council for British Archaeology West Midlands Group (follow on Twitter @CBAWestMidlands, or support by joining at http://www.archaeologyuk.org/cbawm/), who successfully obtained a grant of £750 from the CBA (@archaeologyuk)’s Challenge Fund (www.archaeologyuk.org/grants/challengefunding) to pay for crucial equipment and our fabulous new shed (the envy of allotment holders and gardeners the World over!). We are also very grateful to Community Archaeologist Rob Hedge, who is part way through a year’s bursary placement at Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service, under the CBA’s Community Archaeology Bursaries Project; http://www.archaeologyuk.org/community/bursaries. Here are a few highlights from the last few months – we hope they will lead on to bigger and better things!
After initial clearance of our plot at the end of February 2012, a number of our Young Archaeologists’ came down to the site to learn a few practical archaeology skills under the guidance of professional archaeologists (see Archaeology on Allotments report from April 2012). Unfortunately, a few weeks of incessant torrential rain following this work led to our site becoming a little overgrown… Over the next few months we made slow, but steady progress, clearing small areas at a time. Over the summer our only available crops were dandelions and comfrey – usable products though, and some experimental cookery ensued, including processing the dandelion root to make dandelion coffee (surprisingly coffee-like) and deep-fried comfrey, a very tasty addition to the summer menu! We learnt about the other important uses of comfrey, both medicinal (this plant was known as knitbone traditionally, a reference to its traditional use in healing bone fractures) and as an important soil fertilizer. Thankfully, we have a plentiful supply of comfrey on site!
By September, we were ready to plant our first (deliberate) crop – a traditional, long-strawed winter wheat variety. This is now growing in neat green rows and will soon be joined by our first sowing of flax seed.
Some work was possible over the winter, though we weren’t always helped by frozen ground and snow cover (Snow? In winter?). Work began again in earnest in late January, and the site now sports a fine new, leaf cage. Sometimes we have been lucky to find recyclable items within the undergrowth such as a perfectly usable draw hoe – just needed a new handle! Our Young Archaeologists (and mums) did a sterling job clearing back the brambles further and digging out the footprint for our shed base, which consisted of recycled concrete slabs set in a sand and cement mix.
Finally, our shed was delivered and constructed this week, and is now taking pride of place at the foot of our allotment, ready for the planned activities during 2013. We have all sorts of ideas for the site, which we hope to report on further during the year – our next full club activity will be later in March, but there will be further ground preparation in advance of this. We hope to make full use of the natural resources at our disposal, including the recently felled willow tree that was in a poor state and presented a bit of a hazard whilst standing. It has provided us with a ready supply of willow twigs with which we plan to do some weaving. We’ll update this blog with the results!