Grantham Journal Big Interview: No two days ever the same for archaeologist

National Trust archaeologist for the East Midlands, Rachael Hall.

National Trust archaeologist for the East Midlands, Rachael Hall.

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This month the Belton Forgotten Gunners Project was announced, which will see a group of 14 to 20-year-olds lead research into the training camp at Belton Park during the First World War.

National Trust archaeologist Rachael Hall told the Journal more, as well as discussing her work and the discoveries being made around Grantham.

How did you get into archaeology?

I remember watching an item about the Mary Rose on Blue Peter and seeing archaeologists talking about their discoveries and thinking that’s what I want to do. I studied archaeology at the University of Durham and during the summer between my second and final year I was taken on as a trainee at Archaeological Project Services (APS), part of Heritage Lincolnshire. I had a great summer of digging and couldn’t wait to start my career. As soon as I graduated I was fortunate to be offered a field archaeologist job with APS, and over eight years I learnt my trade, working on a variety of sites until eventually I was running excavations myself.

When did you join the National Trust?

I have worked for the National Trust since 2008. It really is my dream job. The National Trust cares for some amazing sites and some fantastic archaeology. In my role, I advise the National Trust on its archaeology throughout the East Midlands. In the Midlands alone the National Trust has 13,000 registered archaeological sites. The archaeology is incredibly diverse, ranging from Iron Age Hillforts to pigpens. I know it is a cliché to say it, but no two days are ever the same.

What has been your most exciting discovery?

Back in 2013 we undertook an excavation in Dovedale, Derbyshire and uncovered a hoard of late Iron Age coins attributed to Corieltavi. The beautiful silver and gold coins, each had imagery like small pieces of art. We were working in a cave, and it was undertaken in secret with the MoD’s Operation Nightingale team - injured service personal who use archaeology as a form of recuperation. It was truly inspiring.

Tell us about the Belton project.

It’s a hugely exciting and innovative project. Over the course of the year we will be working with Belton’s Young Roots team to explore the site of the machine gun training camp and tell some of the stories of those who trained or worked there. Our Young Roots team will be learning a variety of archaeological skills from research, to landscape survey, to excavation and interpretation. I think it is a great opportunity for the young people involved. They will bring to life what Belton was like 100 years ago, and the machine gun corps story is both important for its impact on the course of the First World War but also the impact felt more locally in Grantham.

Are there discoveries still to be made in the area?

In the last couple of years at Belton alone, we have discovered a huge amount of new information. Last year we excavated the site of the summer house on the island in the Wilderness to discover that the building was in fact the hermitage designed by the architect Anthony Salvin. The year before we excavated the ‘sheep knuckle bone floor’ at Belton to discover that the bones were in fact deer!