HUNCHED in a dry mud pit, kneeling on a small foam square and staring intently at the ground, I trowelled like I had never trowelled before.
And what was the reason behind this endeavour? Not gardening, but rather archaeology.
Looking on encouragingly was archaeologist, Raksha Dave, from Channel 4’s Time Team, who is one of the experts overseeing a summer of digs which gives members of the public the opportunity to take part.
And this was not any old pit. This was part of one of the best known archaeological sites in the world, Flag Fen, near Peterborough, home to more than 60,000 timbers forming a Bronze Age structure dating back at least 3,000 years.
It was the 1980s when Francis Pryor discovered the site while walking along a dyke. Stumbling across a muddy piece of oak, he found what looked like a vertical post. Further investigation revealed large planks of split oak, which excavations showed to be part of a large timber platform.
The find was astonishing because of the rarity of discovering any organic matter of such a great age. In the case of Flag Fen, the pieces of wood seem to have been held in place by moisture. Now any wood at the location has to be kept constantly wet for fear it will disintegrate if it dries out.
To this day, no one knows for definite the original purpose of the structure, although there are plenty of theories, with many believing that it was once used as part of some ritual or worship.
This theory is backed up by the number of precious objects, such as tools and jewellery, which appear to have been left in the area, perhaps as offerings.
When I joined the dig for a day, my duty was to trowel away a surface layer of about an inch from a pit known as trench one, in which a number of posts had already been found.
I had never done any archaeological work before and those who think it is a case of gently tickling some mud with a dainty trowel are wrong. It is tough going and anyone taking part in trowelling at the dig is likely to suffer a bit of wrist and hand ache (as I did the next day), caused by the act of repeatedly scraping away at the hard earth.
It was a fascinating project to be part of, however, and Raksha was always on hand to answer any questions about my ‘exciting’ discoveries... all of which turned out to be quite boring stones instead of – as I had been convinced – Bronze Age flints and tools.
Adults aged 17 and over have the chance to take part in the dig for a day, a weekend or even longer until August 12.
They will be joined by archaeologists including presenters from Channel 4’s Time Team programme.
Taking part in digging for a day at Flag Fen (until Aug 12) costs £125. To find out more log on to www.digventures.com
During this period there will be daily tours, with sessions such as fact handling, Bronze Age brewing and prehistoric cooking.
There is an evening lecture programme featuring some of the UK’s most prominent archaeologists, organised by Dig Ventures, in conjunction with Vivacity.
For information on events for families at Flag Fen, visit www.vivacity-peterborough.com
The summer school for children continues until tomorrow.
Flag Fen also welcomes visitors from April–October. Site open daily 10am–5pm.
Admission: £5 for adults, £4.50 concessions, £3.75 for children and students, free to under 5s.