Alexandra Baldwin, British Museum
When an email came round from Allison Marccucci at Wessex Archaeology calling for volunteers to go field walking at the Chiseldon cauldrons find spot my colleague Jamie Hood and I volunteered enthusiastically.
Jamie had never been to the site before and knew it only from photographs and my hazy recollections. It was important for him to put the cauldrons into the context of the surrounding landscape, and we would both represent the British Museum and tell everyone what had been happening since 2005.
Clothed in waterproofs, wellington boots and several jumpers we walked out across muddy fields to the find spot. Winter is not the nicest time to be out on an exposed ridge in the Wiltshire countryside, but field walking has to be done at this time of year – after ploughing and before the crop growth obscures the ground.
As we approached I could see a cluster of people standing over the find spot. The original find had produced a lot of interest in the local area and in total 10 people had volunteered to field walk including Peter Hyams, the finder; John Winterburn, who did an initial excavation; and members of the local history society.
A grid of five metre squares was set out over the field and we walked across each square in pairs picking up fragments of pottery, worked stone and metal. The finds were bagged and their location recorded by square.
Further study of the fragments by Wessex Archaeology and their spread throughout the field will give an indication of the periods of activity and also the extent of the archaeological area. When combined with geophysics results it should help to place the cauldrons in context.
By this time it was bitterly cold and the rain had started driving across the field horizontally. Taking what shelter we could by the field boundary we ate a hasty lunch. Although unpleasant, the rain did have the advantage of washing the ground surface and making the potsherds more visible, but with darkness descending and the weather worsening we called it a day.
Despite the freezing rain it was great to be out in the field and talking to other people about the find. The importance of local knowledge to archaeology is vital, and often landowners and users know details of the local landscape that it would take archaeologists a long time to accumulate.
We have to remember that, although the objects have passed over to us in the British Museum to conserve and investigate, their importance is not only academic. The turnout for fieldwalking in less than ideal weather showed how important the cauldrons are to the people involved, something that can be easily forgotten when working back in the lab.