Wednesday, 5 November 2008
Stones, Bones and Bog Bodies
That was the title of a course at University of Wales, Lampeter which LEAPT off the page at me back in 1995/6. It was the little local free paper, and I was just leafing through it before I burned it. Back in 1970 I had read a book by P V Glob about the Bog Bodies of the Jutland Peninsula and it had fanned the flame of my interest in archaeology. Then the words turned up again . . . Little did I realize that those few words would be a life-changing experience. And HOW . . .
I phoned up, to find out more about the course. It was an ACCESS course. I wasn't any the wiser, but I signed up for it, as I had always been interested in Archaeology, and this was an Archaeology course, and with three young children, I was desperate for a bit of FREEDOM (Hah!) I didn't know that it was intended to put b*ms on seats in the Archaeology department. You can imagine my absolute SHOCK when I discovered not only was it a brilliant course - ably taught by Dr Jennifer Foster, whose name should be in neon lights in the Archaeology world because she was SUCH a good lecturer - but I was good at it. I could write good essays. Get good marks. WOW . . .
I found myself signed up to other courses to teach me computer skills, and general study skills, and also I had to choose a 2nd course, and I chose English Literature. I did well at that too and absolutely ADORED our study of Hardy's 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles', one of my favourite novels, and the Romantic Poets . . . I found myself, preparing in fact, to join a degree course in 1996. Double WOW! Me, who was always put down in school, enthusiasms squashed, marks mediocre (apart from English where I was ALWAYS top of the class, right through school). But which course to choose? I loved them both, but having discussed Eng. Lit. with my lecturer (another brilliant lady whose name now escapes me . . . blushes) she advised that there was SO much reading involved and as I had young children 10, 8 and 5 when I started, Archaeology might be the better option. That's what I took and with no regrets.
I loved my course, though it was difficult to juggle being a full-time mum with being a full-time student. I took to getting up at 4.30 in the morning to work on essays, as it was the only time I could guarantee no one would want my attention. Exam time was dreadful, but I muddled through. Field trips were wonderful and I visited the prehistoric and medieval archaeology of our part of Wales, frantically taking notes in pencil with my hand inside a plastic bag with a notebook in it to try and keep the paper dry. This is Wales, after all . . . I couldn't understand why the young students just stood around looking bored or half asleep - why DO the course if you weren't the least bit interested? I was fortunate that of the 12 - mature - people on my Access course, we ALL went on to the Degree course and formed a geriatric phallenge in the front row, all dedicated, all scribbling furiously, spectacles off to write, then back on to look at the overheads...
We went to Ireland on a Field Trip. I would never have visited it otherwise, and still have a vivid memory of a morning spent on the Burren, and Poulnabrone burial chamber, where visitors had made little copies of it on the limestone pavements surrounding it, like little echoes. We visited Newgrange: stood in a group at the far end when they put the lights out, and then recreated the mid-winter solstice, and the first pencil of daylight hitting the back of the tomb. I was alone - the other people disappeared - I travelled back through millennias of time and became one of the Ancestors.
Some of the essay titles we were given were like water-torture. I still have one noted down -
"Electric speed mingles the cultures of prehistory with the dregs of the industrial marketeers, the non-literate, the semi-literate and the post-literate." Consider this statement with particular reference to a single artifact. Bloody EEEEEK! I still didn't understand it when it was due in the next day, so that night, in desperation, I wrote about my house, how it had evolved over the years, with rooms altering in their uses and occupants. In my desperation, I did something right, and ended up with a First for the essay.
I travelled up to Scotland for my mandatory 2 week Dig, at Fetternear Bishop's Palace. I don't know how I stood the seperation from my children, especially when I had tearful pleas from my 5 yr old son, "Come home mummy, I miss you." I spent every night in my tent in tears. But it didn't affect him permanently and he is a fairly normal well-adjusted 17 year old now, and I still have a love of Scotland and Scottish archaeology.
I took a year writing my dissertation on the Equine Iconography of the Pictish Sculptures. I knew horses, I loved Pictish art (hell, I loved stones - still do of course!) The word limit was 15,000 - I managed to hide an extra 5,000 words accompanying the - many - illustrations and in Appendices. It was the outpouring of a lifetime's frustrated scribbling, and it got an Upper First (which was just as well as I think I did CRAP in my exams because everything seemed to happen together - dissertation checking, final essays and exams.) 18 months later I was amazed to receive a letter telling me that my Dissertation had been joint winner of the Royal Archaeological Institute's Dissertation Prize and I travelled up to London for the presentation with my personal tutor, Dr Penny Dransart, who had been such a staunch ally of mine at University. We got taken out for a celebratory meal in a swish Italian restaurant, so after all that work - at least I got a meal out of it!
So when I'm feeling a bit low, as I am at the moment, I blow the dust off my Dissertation and look at it - gosh, I REALLY DID write that . . .