Monday, 31 August 2009

Seventies campsite in Forest of Dean excavated by Oxford archaeologists

Seventies campsite in Forest of Dean excavated by Oxford archaeologist

Archaeologists have turned their attention to a strange, primitive tribe whose living conditions might seem hard to imagine: it was an age of heavy green canvas, wooden tent pegs and tribal elders in baggy, khaki shorts left over from their National Service.

The Seventies may be only 30 years ago but for today’s generation of cool campers it might as well be the Dark Ages, before the invention of the pop-up tent and the self-inflating sleeping mat, when you were expected to blow up your own lilo and when a portable toilet meant a bucket screened by hessian sacking.

A team of archaeologists has spent a week excavating a campsite in the Forest of Dean with the same painstaking attention to detail they would apply to a prehistoric settlement. While some may scoff at the need to dig up a past so recent that some people still have nightmares about it, it is part of a growing trend in British archaeology.

Worcester Lodge campsite near Coleford, Gloucestershire, was set up by the Forestry Commission in 1971, when happy campers ranged from middle-class families to hippies heading for a free festival. This was the era of Carry on Camping and Sid James tripping over guy ropes as he chased Barbara Windsor round the tents.

The campsite closed in 1996 and has since been used as an overflow for rallies and events such as the Forest of Dean Folk Festival.

The dig was led by Lisa Hill, who is working towards a doctorate in archaeology at St Cross College, Oxford. She recruited 15 volunteers who dug a series of test pits across the 4.4 hectare site. Ms Hill, 32, said: “I am very interested in the 20th century and I wanted to discover what traces such an ephemeral activity as camping would leave behind. The campsite was in use for a quarter of a century but what would there be to tell the archaeologists of 200 years’ time what had gone on there?

“We are looking for the kind of thing an archaeologist of the future might be interested in. We think the traditional techniques will work, but we really want to find out for sure.”

The answer is that future archaeologists might find even slim pickings. Careful trowelling of soil from 24 one-metre square pits produced a couple of dozen tent pegs, a set of Allen keys and some loose change.

Ms Hill said: “The tent pegs were a mix of wooden and metal ones. The metal ones were quite different from the pegs you might buy in a camping shop today. There was not much left of the wooden ones as they had already started to disintegrate and would probably have completely rotted away in a few years.” Some of the test pits went down to the “natural” land surface while in others it was just the top soil that interested Ms Hill.

The archaeologists also found traces of the forest’s industrial past, in the form of iron slag from furnaces.

Ms Hill said: “I am interested in the change in the land use from industry to recreation and leisure.” Contrary to expectations, there was almost no rubbish. The archaeologists found no metal milk bottle tops, no plastic and no Coke cans, not even a ring pull. Ms Hill said: “The conclusion I draw from that is that people were very careful to take everything away with them.”

Full story here -


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