17th September 2014:
When Olaf mentioned that he was going to be digging a round barrow in its entirety on the edge of Dartmoor in August, I did everything I could think of in order to secure a place on the crew. This is an incredible and very rare chance to investigate what hopefully may yet turn out to be a relatively undisturbed Bronze Age ring cairn/round barrow c. 2000 BC or so. I have been interested – to an almost manic degree – in British prehistory and specifically megaliths for more than 20 years now. I am a self-confessed stone circle, longbarrow, standing stone, stone row and rock art-loving fanatic and proud of it.
Long before I began a career in archaeology in the late 1990s I travelled to England with fanciful ideas of our prehistoric ancestors and only a handful of sites under my belt to ponder. I had been to Avebury and Stonehenge and the like but, amazing as these sites are, they were covered in throngs of people. I first went to Dartmoor in the summer of 1997 and fell madly in love with every aspect of this lonely and enchanted land, and this love drove me around much of the rest of the British Isles to see more. Being back in Dartmoor for a month has given me the chance to hike around the Moor in the evenings to new and ever more mysterious sites. This place is really a paradise for hikers and lovers of the prehistoric past. This near-obsession back in Canada at the dawn of the new millennium drove me to pursue a degree and career in archaeology. Almost 20 years later I am back here again been given the chance to fully investigate something from the period, people and type of place that turned me into an archaeologist in the first place.
The barrow did not stand in isolation in its heyday. There are – or were – hut circles and enclosures, ring cairns, rows, circles and enormous boundary works and reaves within half a kilometre in all directions of the site. Some of these nearby sites, such as Cholwitchtown and Shaugh Prior, have been investigated in modern times. Our barrow is in a "busy" prehistoric landscape and stands on a prominent and level part of the topography commanding views in all directions. It was likely also to be visible from the many points on this landscape. An evidently important and powerful place.
Instead of the tantalising yet ultimately frustrating "nibbles" that commercial archaeologists usually get when investigating a larger archaeological site or landscape, we are digging this monument 100% in advance of china clay mining. Thanks to the amazing help and support we have received from the lovely folks at the mine we have a timeframe and a safe environment in which to try to wrestle with "The Mound". Here we are halfway through the dig and Emmets Post barrow is starting to reveal its secrets. Some layers have been removed and we are both better informed about the monument's construction and its survival, but the next two weeks will be hard and incredible at the same time. It's the weekend here in Oxford and I am exhausted from being so constantly excited to dig this monument on the wild and windy moor with the best crew in archaeology. Up at 5am tomorrow to do it again and I cannot wait!