PhD Journey #3 – Field Agent

When you’ve decided to do the pilot study for your research model, that will form the basis of your upcoming work in the field and all that it entails, here are my top tips:

  • Don’t plan it in the first three months of the year in a country famed for wet weather, especially if your main piece of equipment is not waterproof,
  • Do not succumb to those “you know, it would be better if you did it *this* way…” 4AM thoughts, especially if it is two days before said pilot study and the improvements will involve several hours cutting, drilling, and soldering in a shed,
  • Don’t go during the school holidays unless you are prepared to answer the same seven irrelevant questions over and over and over and over (as a primary school teacher, I was equipped for this, but I recognise others might prefer a little more peace and quiet).
  • DO – go to a place as wonderful, atmospheric, and as fascinating as Bryn Celli Ddu.

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So, I finally got my feet wet again with that wonderful Welsh morning dew, and found a single dry day in the Easter holidays to do some in depth poking around of a good Neolithic site. I feel like I had to pick Bryn Celli Ddu – not only for sound research reasons (lots of material, significant parts likely in original positions, fantastic example of a passage grave), but also because it probably the archaeological site I am most familiar with. Inside the chamber I’m no longer bothered by the dark (and I have been inside at night), and the memories of various visits right from childhood through to my teens, then as part of my undergraduate thesis; it’s like an old friend.

I’ll not talk at length about findings here – it was largely an exercise in testing myself, seeing how well things (including Orac) worked in the field, and just how viable this whole idea is. Bryn Celli Ddu certainly has some interesting things going on with colour, and I’ll be writing up a poster to highlight them soon. In the mean time, suffice to say Stuff was Found, and hopefully I will now find further Stuff at other sites to corroborate it!

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What struck me most about visiting this site is that it is still the focus of some kind of reverence and, to some extent, pilgrimage. When I entered the passage on this visit for the first time, the wonderful smell of lavender hit me; a dried bunch had been placed on one of the stones in the chamber, carefully in a dry spot, and the smell permeates the site. On a natural ledge on one of the stones in the chamber, numerous little offerings have been placed; crystals of various kinds, ribbons of many colours, coins from various nations, shells, pebbles, and tiny bunches of herbs.

Glowsticks, still with the barest of chemical glows, were stuck between the infill rocks – it must have recently seen intrepid overnight visitors. Many would criticise this kind of “use” of the monument, perhaps with concerns of preservation. I am of the opposite opinion, and feel that the agency of these old stones acts upon modern visitors – placed once by Neolithic peoples for some kind of monument, now refreshing modern memories still as to old landscapes, old practices, old ways of seeing and being in the world.

They draw us to them, and together we create new ideas.

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