Digging for Joy

Barry Cunliffe tells how, aged nine, his first encounter with Roman remains in a Somerset field determined his ambition to become an archaeologist.

It all began one hot summer day fifty years ago on my uncle’s farm in Somerset. Normally these short summer holidays, away from the awful monotony of bomb-scarred Portsmouth, were a delight. In those days, innocent of Big Brothers like the Health and Safety Executive, a nine-year-old could be put to good use at harvest time in charge of the horse pulling the cart through the field as the men loaded the stooks of corn, or even, as a great reward, being allowed to drive the tractor back to the farm pulling a rickety cart of full milk churns. But on this particular day there was a lull in activity and I was bored. What could I do? ‘Why not’, my uncle suggested, ‘go into the field beyond the orchard where the Roman villa is buried and see what you can find?’. It sounded promising and after hours of kicking over mole hills I came back, pockets full of tesserae and bits of Roman tile, firmly convinced that I was going to be an archaeologist.

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