Obviously the whole idea of having mobility issues and working in a trench does seem wildly improbable at the outset, but it is simply a case of doing what I can, when I can. Today, for example, I have been having a pretty good pain day. My pain levels were low enough for me to be mobile without straining any of my joints.
The other major factors with being 'in the field' as a disabled, Trainee Field Archaeologist are the team around you and the weather. We had almost perfect excavating weather today - cool enough to be comfortable with the troweling, but warm enough to prevent us freezing to the spot! I am very, very happy to be working with the amazing bunch of students, lecturers and professional archaeologists who ask me what I feel up to and assist me when I need help. It is often very hard for a newly-disabled person like myself to ask for that help and I felt terrible that I could not assist with the really heavy work of removing the top-soil, but all my colleagues have made sure that I know my limitations and accept that this is something beyond my capability.
My first job on site today was helping another student take 'levels'. These levels are used to plot out areas of completed excavation in '3D'. We know how wide a feature is by measuring tape and we can see how deep it is in various parts with the levels. These details are then used when it comes to any 'mapping' of an archaeological excavation on a computer.
Once the levels were completed, it was time to get into the trench! I have a wonderful helper who is very knowledgeable about my condition and with his help I was able to balance on one crutch and have him guide me down the incline to the trench. Once there and down onto the floor, I was fine. Crawling around may seem rather undignified by it works. It meant I was able to move around my work area without constant assistance, as well as actually getting some valuable experience of field work.
The trench I was working on had been used during some bad weather last week as a walkway, which isn't unusual, but this use had occurred during torrential rain so initially I thought I had a trench full of a lovely stone surface, but it was not to be (not yet anyway)! Chester has very clay soil meaning that as the footprints had dried, they had baked dry in the sun and my lovely 'stone surface' was not really there.
One of the best things about being able to do some field work is that sense of mystery, knowing that with each scrape of the trowel you may well find a missing piece of the puzzle which makes up the story of our human past. Being able to get the sense of unfolding stories is by far one of the most satisfying any archaeology lover can have. Even though the finds tray was rather empty for this trench, except a few pieces of tile and Roman Samianware, it has not felt worthless. Whoever takes over that area over the next few days will be able to peel back some more layers and the hidden story will be revealed. Team work within archaeology is key, and I cannot thank my team enough for their support, patience and kindness. It is by having such great people around that disabilities are not as much of an issue as could be first considered. I have abilities that others on site may not, meaning, in reality, I have 'differer-abilities'.