I am coming to the end of my first site. It has been an interesting few weeks at The Boffy (Norton Well) and it has provided me with an array of finds. In total I carried out five separate excavations of sections within the site and studied seven different features. It was much more complex than I first imagined and I have come away feeling that I have not even really begun to get to grips with this strange place. I look forward to going back over my findings in the comfort of my studio in the new year. For now, I’ve tried to keep everything ordered and recorded in a way that I can come back to later and still make some sense of.
I have a number of finds, bagged and stored at my studio, that cause me quite a notable amount of discomfort to know are there. This is a first for me, actually bringing objects from the places I have been studying, transporting them into my own spaces and letting them sit. Some niggle at me and seem to take on a strange presence in my imagination. I can feel them starting to writhe and squirm as they fight to escape from their confines, seeping out of the find bags to silently contaminate the air. This feeling of disgust has followed me throughout this whole excavation experience and I have had to work hard not to just run away and go for a long, hot soak in the bath! This feeling is described by Julia Kristeva in The Portable Kristeva as ‘a revolt against an external menace, that may menace us from the inside’. There is indeed a strong physical disgust at the things I collect, even from some of the more mundane finds. It is quite hard to explain this reaction at times but there seems to be something in being connected physically and emotionally to an unknown (what is still left over on those tissues? and what circumstances am I becoming attached to). The unknown body and bodily fluids of someone else is repugnant and repellent. Kristeva talks of this ‘desire for separation‘ from an object that causes a strong feeling that is ‘at once somatic and symbolic‘. Only the finds that fit into a find bag can come with me. On the last excavation I momentarily entertained the idea of taking a larger find away in a normal carrier bag but found myself suddenly repulsed by the thought. If it is not dressed in the archaeological attire, I cannot bring myself to do it. To take away a rotting piece of rope in a Sainsbury carrier bag is just a step too far somehow!
‘The archaeological method takes us further away, distances us from any attachment to the objects and the material world we encounter […] making those objects of archaeological inquiry palatable and sanitised by its distancing effects’ (Buchli and Lucas 2001:9)
What am I doing with these things and where am I leading them? Some still contain traces of food, little bugs and flying things that continue to crawl around behind the plastic. Leaves and bits of soil are also caught up in them. I am acutely aware of a sudden change in their trajectory and I feel a responsibility for them now and where they might end up.
‘To restore, to preserve, is to destroy the present or future history that that [sic] would have been known by the sites or remains we wish to preserve; it is to replace them with a present and future that is not theirs, but is ours, rather.’ (Olivier 2001:184)
The effects of the archaeological process on the study of the contemporary is a complex issue. Our distance from the object and its situation is always contestable. We are implicated in its present environment in a much more obvious way than in archaeology of the past, altering and changing that object and its reading in a much more immediate way. (Buchli and Lucas 2001:9)
There is a lot to unpack from this first site. I can hardly get my head round the fact that I’m starting a new one next week!