Archive | March 2015

31/3/15: Day 5 of the excavation of Lager Wick: evidence of burning!

Paved area around barrack block

Paved area around barrack block

Ceramic bird

Ceramic bird

Schnapps glass

Schnapps glass

Burnt glass

Burnt glass

Today we extended the trench that we took a peek into at the end of yesterday. It revealed what we think was a paved area in front of the barrack block that burned down in April 1944. Whether all barrack blocks had a paved area in front of them, or a pathway linking them, we don’t know. However, Lager Wick was built on a marsh, and such paved areas would have been useful on the boggy ground. As the trench was 3 x 2.5m, it took us a while to excavate but it was worthwhile. We found a few nice objects (a small schnapps / vodka glass and the head of a ceramic bird – see pictures), which made us question whether this barrack block was used by prisoners or guards. As the paved area seemed to go around the corner of what we assume was the burnt barrack block, we dug into the empty space where the block should have been. Joy of joy, we found some really clear evidence of a burning event. This included a clear layer of charcoal and lots of burnt glass, as well as some burnt window catches and door hinges. We were very pleased to have this confirmation of what is known from the archaeological record.

Tomorrow is our last day of digging, so the question is: do we open a couple of smaller test pits to check for other paved areas in front of barrack huts? I think we must. We also have another day ahead of us covering our trenches and the latrine block with soil. But it is possible that there will be an 11th hour reprieve, as word reached us via our environmental officer, Piers Sangan, that it is possible that the island’s planning authority may want to keep the latrine block uncovered as a historic site within an SSI (Site of Special Interest). We shall see! We also had a visit today from Channel TV and the BBC TV cameras, so I will post links to these reports online. I’m attaching some images from today and am always happy to have feedback on interpretation!

Day 4 of excavation of Lager Wick, 30/3/15: a day of new architectural discoveries!

Today the sun shone – such a pleasant change after yesterday’s storm! And our geophysicist, Peter, finally made it over from Guernsey in the middle of the night, so he was able to carry out and complete the magnetic susceptibility survey today (see picture) in the hope of detecting areas of burning within the area where we know a barrack block burnt down in 1944. He identified a couple of areas of high readings, so we used the auger to do a quick soil sample and lo! We found small traces of burning (see picture). Alleluia! So our hopes are high for our first trench.

In the meantime, Claudia and I finished off the work we wanted to complete on the latrine block. The main question that puzzled us was the doorway – how did people get into the block? Where was the door? Claudia found 3 stairs hiding under the soil and a layer of ivy, and spent the day revealing them (see picture). We also tested our hypothesis that the latrine block was at the end of a bigger barrack block. We had wondered whether that barrack was entirely made of wood or whether it had a concrete foundation like the latrine block, so dug a couple of small test pits, but in both we found only the layer of sand upon which the camp was built, which confirmed that the block was at the end of a wooden barrack block.

At the end of the day we opened the first trench around the area where the auger suggested a layer of burning could be found. But within 10cm of the surface we found a grey clay brick surface! We devoted only 30 minutes at the end of the day to uncovering what we could in a short space of time and will extend the trench and dig it properly tomorrow, but what do these bricks represent? Why are they there? We think that they’re a floor surface – perhaps at the entrance to a barrack block. More will be revealed tomorrow!

Claudia's beautiful stairs!

Claudia’s beautiful stairs!

Peter doing his mag sus survey

Peter doing his mag sus survey

Core sample showing a layer of burning.

Core sample showing a layer of burning.

29/3/15: Day 3 of the excavation of Lager Wick. Replacing questions with more questions.

Toothpaste tube

Toothpaste tube

Lumps of green stuff (lumps of copper?) found by Claudia in the shower room. Are these heavily corroded shower fittings?

Lumps of green stuff (lumps of copper?) found by Claudia in the shower room. Are these heavily corroded shower fittings?

Today a big storm hit the Channel Islands. This meant that our geophysicist, Peter, was still stuck in Guernsey since the brand new ferry got damaged coming into harbour in its maiden voyage yesterday. We hope that he will arrive later tonight, but when I took Claudia to Noirmont Point to see the bunkers this afternoon, the wind was so strong that it made the rain sting our cheeks, and we could hardly stand up without being blown away (see photo below of the wild sea around the Corbiere Lighthouse earlier today).

Before the storm hit, Claudia and I decided to dig a few very small test pits of 50 x 50cm in the area of the burnt barrack blocks to see if we could detect the area of burning archaeologically. Without Peter, we had neither an auger nor the magnetic susceptibility geophysics equipment to find the area of burning. However, our test pits revealed nothing except the gritty and compacted ground surface of the camp. No burnt layer. Does this mean that (a) the area of burning was very thoroughly cleaned up; (b) our test pits were all in the wrong place; or (c) the estimate of the location of the burnt barrack blocks, taken from the aerial photo, is wrong? Perhaps all of the above? We need Peter to work his magic as time is passing quickly.

Claudia and I poked around the latrine block a little longer and I cleaned some more soil from the area which we think was the doorway of the latrine. I found an old toothpaste tube. This means that almost all of the finds from this building (toothpaste tube, toothbrush, comb, hairbrush, soap dish, medicines) seem to fit the identification of the structure as a latrine (but what about those pesky jam jars, wine bottles and Shippam’s fish paste bottles? Are they all post-war?). However, I was bothered by the location of the building: rather than lying as a single small stand-alone structure near the burnt barrack block, as we had thought, our environmentalist and the planning officers relocated it to next to another barrack block. Claudia and I stared hard at the aerial photos for half an hour and realised that the latrine area was actually part of a much larger structure. This means that (a) we have to see if we can find any evidence of another building through digging another test pit or two, and (b) what on earth was the function of the rest of the building? Was it a regular barrack block (and did all barrack blocks end with a toilet and shower area?) or was the whole barrack block a wash room? Or did it have some other structure, such as a hospital wing? Time is running out and – if truth be told – I now need a third season at Lager Wick.

The rough seas around the Corbiere Lighthouse which have stranded my geophysicist in Guernsey!

The rough seas around the Corbiere Lighthouse which have stranded my geophysicist in Guernsey!

Day 2: 28 March 2015. The problems of stratigraphy (or lack of it)

The aim today was to clear the soil around the walls of the latrine building so that we could measure and record it properly. The three areas of the latrine (which we’re calling A, B or C) are much clearer now. We think that A was the latrine, B was a joining corridor of some sort (a changing room?) and C was a wash room because we found a drain in the middle of it (amazing how excited you can get over a drain! See picture) with a sloping floor leading in to it. The soil in area A was black and humic without much in the way of tree and plant roots (have I been shovelling sh … human compost today?), but that in area C (where we spent most of the afternoon) was brown and full of roots. By the time we downed tools at the end of the day, it looked like a doorway could be seen in area B but we’ll know more tomorrow. In terms of small finds, they are in keeping with a latrine; however, they also present us with some problems. We have no stratigraphy in this structure; just up to 30 cm or so of soil and leaf litter and tree roots. Therefore, we cannot know for sure whether / when we have reached the wartime layer. All we can say is that the objects next to the concrete floor are very interesting. So we found 3 shards of a mirror (which was around 3×6 inches when whole); a child’s toothbrush; a pink child’s hairbrush, a blue comb, a medicine bottle … so far, so good. But what should we read into this? Were there children among the forced labourers? Or were adults using children’s objects because that was all that they could buy in wartime, when many of the island’s children had evacuated to the UK? Or are these post-war objects? Which is the most likely? Can we be sure? I don’t think we can. All we can do is note these objects and think about possible interpretations. But then what to do with them? Will Jersey Heritage (who will become guardian of the objects) want every fragment of pottery and building tile? Will we learn more by keeping them? Will they go on display? Should I keep a select sample and throw the rest away? Should I record every piece and how easy is this when it’s raining, everything is covered in mud, the finds bags are with Peter who is stuck in Guernsey because the ferry got damaged and he can’t get here, and the tiles, glass and other lumps of concrete are large (and wet and muddy) and I can only clean everything in the hotel bathroom sink!) And what about the asbestos? Well, obviously I shan’t keep that! But I’ve taken a photo for posterity (see below).

In what I think is the doorway in area B (behind the door) was a cache of about 165 whelk shells (see below). If you’ve ever tried to get the meat out of a whelk shell, it isn’t worth the hassle for the small reward, but if you have 165-odd, then you have a small meal – worth doing in a time of starvation? There were also around 20 shrimp paste jars in with the shells (I think that’s what they contained) and a similar number of rusty tins which I didn’t keep. Were these tins from a Red Cross parcel? Does their inclusion with whelk shells speak of that time of hunger? Or was this just a post-war dump of rubbish? Again, no stratigraphic clue other than they were buried quite deep in the soil.  I also found a rather nice cut-glass beaker (picture attached). If anyone has any thoughts, please leave a comment!

Asbestos roof tiles

Asbestos roof tiles

The drain

The drain

Cut glass beaker

Cut glass beaker

3,792 whelk shells. Or so it seemed when I was washing them.

3,792 whelk shells. Or so it seemed when I was washing them.

Season 2, Day 1: 27 March 2015

Ashtray from Hotel Chagnot, Lille. Perhaps not somewhere to go for a romantic weekend ...

Ashtray from Hotel Chagnot, Lille. Perhaps not somewhere to go for a romantic weekend …

Today was the first day of the second season of the excavation at Lager Wick. This year we have two areas of focus: the so-called latrine block (is that really what it is? It’s the only concrete structure still surviving on the site) and the area of a burnt barrack block – one of three that burned down in April 1943.

I was very pleased to see a new addition to the site – an information panel saying that the site was used as a labour camp during the German occupation (see picture). This makes Lager Wick the first camp in the Channel Islands to have any heritage recognition. Momentous occasion!

This year the excavation team comprises me (Dr Gilly Carr, University of Cambridge), Dr Claudia Theune (University of Vienna) and Mr Peter Masters (University of Cranfield); Peter arrives tomorrow and is the excavation geophysicist. The excavation is being supported by the British Academy and the McDonald Institute of Archaeological Research in Cambridge.

Claudia and I realised quickly today that we need more people on the dig as there is a lot of work to do, so if anyone reading this is in the mood to turn off their computer and jump on a plane to Jersey, please contact me. This is a serious offer. I cannot pay any expenses, but if you want to join us, we need you! I need about 2 or 3 people, and I’d prefer it if you have experience, but if you’re willing to come, let me know! The last day of the dig is 2 April.

Anyway, today we started stripping the soil off the latrine building (see picture). This was extremely interesting as it revealed a few small finds (some barbed wire, some window glass, a little cache of limpet and ormer shells hidden in a corner which I like to think could have been put there by a forced labourer), some corrugated asbestos, and some tiles. But the happiest moment came today when Claudia found that part of the concrete floor of the ‘latrine’ sloped down towards a drain, which helps to secure the identification of the building. We also found an old ash-tray from a French hotel, so we’re wondering if it was filched by a German soldier.  I’ll try to post a picture of it tomorrow. By the end of the day we were covered from head to toe in mud (it was raining) and I didn’t want to get my camera dirty!

Lager Wick as a heritage site!

Lager Wick as a heritage site!

Claudia Theune standing by the latrine of Lager Wick

Claudia Theune standing by the latrine of Lager Wick

Second season of excavation starting soon!

A new post to let you all know that the second season of excavation will begin very soon. The team will arrive in Jersey on 26th March and leave on 3rd April, so we will have around a week in the island this time.

We were lucky to have received planning permission and – most of all – funding. The British Academy and the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, will be paying for our expenses.

This year the team will comprise: Project Director: Dr Gilly Carr (University of Cambridge), team member Professor Claudia Theune (University of Vienna, taking the place of Professor Marek Jasinski this year; Marek will continue as Project Advisor); and Mr Peter Masters (University of Cranfield) will join us again as excavation geophysicist.

See you soon!