Ralph's life in ruins
I became hooked on archaeology a long time ago. I volunteered on my first dig when I was 16, at a medieval moated manor house called Tonge Castle, in north Kent.
Since then I have I worked on about 20 excavations, most of them rescue or emergency digs. I've dug on sites that have ranged in date from a rain-soaked Neolithic hut in a muddy field on the Isle of Thanet, to a C18th gunpowder mill in a sun-dappled Faversham woodland. I have helped rescue pottery kilns from the encroaching Thames, Roman Forts from multi-lane highways, Hadrian's Wall from the footsteps of tourists.
I came to relish the painstaking uncovering of not artefacts, but stories. Each deposit, each feature, sheds a little light on the lives of anonymous humans who lived and died in mysterious times. It is as near as we shall ever come to time travel.
I can only explain my love of archaeology as an addiction. There have been moments when I've looked out of some muddy trench in the middle of winter, as the light faded in the chill early afternoon, and wondered what the bloody hell I was doing there. My hands would be calloused and torn, my back bent, my face chapped. But if I am away from those very same trenches for a few weeks I begin to feel withdrawal symptoms.
I have worked with scores of interesting people, from the eccentric to the bizarre, with lots of very pleasant people in between. Almost all my friends are or were associated with archaeology in some way, and I met all my girlfriends/lovers while I was digging.
In addition to acquiring lots of experience as an excavator and supervisor, I have also worked as an archaeological illustrator, draughtsman and photographer.
I have two archaeological heroes. The first is the late Sir Mortimer Wheeler, a great populariser of accurate, scientific but human excavation, a raconteur, a bit of a bounder, an admirer of young, beautiful women (he always had one or two in his company) and a charmer of old ladies.
The second is a very different character Brian Philp an irascible, stubborn, infuriating and single-minded Kentish archaeologist who showed me what selfless dedication, highest archaeological standards and hard work really meant.
FIRES OF PROMETHEUS: My historical archaeology web pages