Now, I know that headline sounds like something out of Monty Python:

Alan: Well, last week we showed you how to become a gynaecologist. And this week on ‘How to do it’ we’re going to show you how to play the flute, how to split an atom, how to construct a box girder bridge, how to irrigate the Sahara Desert and make vast new areas of land cultivatable, but first, here’s Jackie to tell you all how to rid the world of all known diseases.

Jackie: Hello, Alan.

Alan: Hello, Jackie.

Jackie: Well, first of all become a doctor and discover a marvelous cure for something, and then, when the medical profession really starts to take notice of you, you can jolly well tell them what to do and make sure they get everything right so there’ll never be any diseases ever again.

Alan: Thanks, Jackie. Great idea.

Well, our idea isn’t quite that simplistic, there’s no substitute for years of studying and sheer hard work in the trenches. In fact, it’s not even our idea, but it will allow people who have always wanted to know how it feels to go on a dig to have that opportunity, with plenty of guidance and advice from experts on hand throughout the project. In the process, you’ll be doing it all in the knowledge that information will be saved every step of the way for a site that’s in danger of being lost forever. But first, a bit of background.

Many people with an interest in prehistory will have heard of Star Carr in Yorkshire, a Mesolithic site first excavated in 1949, and which has provided many rare discoveries, mainly due to the anaerobic conditions on the site, which allowed 11,000 year old wood to be excavated, still with the bark intact! However, in 2007, British Archaeology magazine reported that “Less than 5% of the site has been excavated and there is still much to learn…but time is running out. Although Star Carr has been studied for over 50 years, we may have less than five years before much of the waterlogged remains deteriorate completely.” Now whilst that prophecy has not come completely true, the situation at Star Carr remains grim.

What many people may not realise is that further south, on the outskirts of Peterborough, a much later Bronze Age site is in a very similar situation; only a small part has been excavated to date, anaerobic conditions have allowed a remarkable state of preservation teaching us much about the period, but the site is also in danger of drying out and being lost due to similar factors of modern farming and drainage techniques. This site is Flag Fen, first identified in 1982 by Dr Francis Pryor.

Now, given the importance and significance of the site, and the general lack of funding for non-development driven archaeology, a new idea has been put forward by DigVentures to:

  • raise funding for a much larger scale excavation.
  • project manage the excavation itself.

This idea involves Crowd-Sourcing and Crowd-Funding, where many people donate small (or not so small!) amounts toward the project. Everyone who donates becomes a part of the project, their involvement depending upon the level of donation.

So for instance, a £10 donation provides access to an online website for insights, news and updates throughout the project, plus a PDF version of the final excavation report and an invite to the wrap party at the end! £25 gets the above plus a printed copy of the report, and so on.

Where it gets interesting, and the reason for the headline above, is the £125 and above donation levels. At these levels, access to the actual site is available, with the chance to dig alongside the experts for a day or more. So, a real chance, at an affordable level, to try your hand on a real exvacation.

Work is scheduled to begin on site in July 2012. Some of us here in Heritage Action have already donated, although personally I’m not sure my knees are up to the rigours of actually excavating these days! If you’d like to become involved with this wonderful project, then visit the DigVentures site and sign up today, it takes less than 5 minutes to make a difference.

The eyes of the archaeology world will be on Peterborough, as if this idea proves popular (and they reached nearly 30% of their target funding within a week of project launch, which suggests it is) then there’s no telling how many more excavations could potentially be funded this way in future!