The Day 1 Dig Diary stated that the 2017 field season is a year of firsts, and not least as this year we are digging at not one, but two sites on the Waterloo battlefield. Service Public de Wallonie (‘SPW’ – the local authority) are building a new roundabout just south of Mont St. John Farm (2km northeast of Hougoumont), and as part of our ongoing partnership, Waterloo Uncovered have been invited to dig here as part of our two week campaign.
The farm of Mont St. John played an important role in the battle as the Allied field hospital, treating casualties of the battle of Waterloo itself, but also from the escalating battles of Quatre Bras, Ligny (16th June) and Wavre (18th June). The field hospital was based at the farm and handled a great number of casualties with contemporary accounts talking of amputated limbs filling every corner of its courtyard. According to one of the WU visiting historians (Dr Mick Crumplin), towards the end of the battle men of the Kielmansegge (Hanoverian) brigade and several cavalry units were also stationed there.
Most living men who were treated there were eventually transported for more comprehensive treatment at hospitals in Brussels or Antwerp. However given the many amputations and probable deaths that occurred there it is likely that the bodily remains would have had to be quickly disposed of in the immediate area. It might be that we find evidence of this during our excavations at Mont St. John.
Our partners at the ORBIT department of Soil Management at Ghent University have conducted a ground penetrating geophysical survey for us of the area, creating an image of possible buried archaeology. This has highlighted several intriguing dark spots and linear features, which could represent battle activity (some equally may be the traces of modern agricultural activity) – we’re opening up this large area as we speak and the results will soon follow!
Back at our usual stomping ground of Hougoumont, it was business as usual on the first day, kicking off with a quick fire introduction to archaeological methods for our new budding archaeologists. Following a quick safety briefing by field director Cornelius Barton of L – P : Archaeology, the group was separated out into their 6-men-and-women-strong trench teams – their ‘archaeological family’ for the next two weeks! Each one of these teams is headed up by our skilled and experienced trench supervisors – Emily, Satsuki, James, Phil, and Sam.
In proper speed dating style, each team circulated around a supervisor station for a 20 minute guide on a specific element of archaeological excavation and recording.
Phil focused on the basics of stratigraphy, looking at what we mean by an archaeological ‘context’, how archaeological layers are deposited and the importance of digging things in the correct order.
Satsuki’s segment taught the team how to use pythagoras to set out a perfectly right angled trench area.
Sam looked at the process of ‘opening up’ trench areas, how we identify archaeological features in the ground, how we clean them up to prepare for recording and photography, and then how we excavate.
Emily looked at archaeological photography – how to set up the perfect photograph, carefully framed and with the appropriate scales.
James’s how-to looked at how we make records using plans and sections and specific archaeological drawing conventions.
With all that in mind the digging was off!
Take a look at our PROJECT DESIGN here to find out what our research questions for each area are for the 2017 season or click here to listen to our first ever Waterloo Uncovered PODCAST, with Professor Tony Pollard and David Ulk, an ex RAF healthcare professional and our present welfare officer for the project.