Friday, March 30, 2018

Digging Hill 80 - Hazards and Hocum

I try to do my homework before any travel, and my hitch doing WWI archaeology six weeks from now being slightly odder than most of my jaunts, the research is more extensive. 

For instance, a few thoughts on potential hazards....

1. Unexploded ordnance. 

Well, there's gonna be some.  This part of the Western Front had continuous warfare for four long years.  World War I simply defies our ability to comprehend it.  It has been estimated that each square meter of the front got a ton of explosives dropped on it.  And in the Ypres Salient it is even worse.  Given the basic figure of one shell in three being a dud, there are still millions of live rounds buried.  Some were removed in the post war period.  I'm not sure if it is still standard procedure but tractors in this part of the world used to have armor plating on the the bottom.

We will have a bomb disposal team on site full time.  I suspect there will be limited use of indiscriminate tools like the pick axe and mattock.   

2. Poison gas.

You don't want to clobber high explosive shells, but to be honest they turn up all the time and cause fewer problems than you'd expect.  Farmers just pile them by the road side each spring and the army comes along to pick them up.   Gas shells are another matter.  They usually have distinctive markings.  Giving it a good shake to see if it sloshes would be a very bad idea.  If one is found a special unit from the Belgian army turns up.  They take it away to a facility they have which works full time to neutralize gas shells.  I'm told they have great job security, given their deliberate pace and the back log of nasties they already have, it will take three decades to deal with the poison gas.... unrealistically assuming no more turn up.

I've seen video of a similar salvage dig a few miles away.  The first thing that is done every morning is to put up the "gas flag".  It tells you which way the wind is blowing, which under certain unlikely circumstances might be handy info.

3. Gigantic, hill destroying mines. 

The nature of trench warfare is static.  Modern weaponry favored the defense so much that a breakthrough attack was in general impossible.  Not that this reality did not get tested again, and again, and again by generals convinced that this time for sure their troops could wade through knee deep mud, through the multiple belts of barbed wire, through the artillery barrage and the fire of massed machine guns. In the Ypres Salient alone perhaps 500,000 men died in this fashion.  

It did eventually encourage a bit of innovation.  

One thing both sides did was dig deep tunnels under enemy lines, fill up galleries with many tons of high explosives then fire them off just before an attack.  Just south and west of where I will be digging is Messine Ridge, or what is left of it.  In 1917 the British set off a series of mines in one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions ever touched off by mankind.  It was heard in London.

10,000 German soldiers died instantly when the 19 mines went off.   In true First War fashion this caused a breakthrough....of about two miles.

Four mines were not detonated.  One went off in 1956, making a big bang but not hurting anyone.  Stories that the other three could go at any time are supposedly just made up to alarm the tourists.   I'll be several miles away from them in any case.  The one on the edge of the village I'll be working in went off right on schedule leaving a big hole in the ground..

This is from a site called WW1battlefields, with a UK orientation.  It gives a good overview of action in this part of the Ypres salient.  In the distance beyond the big crater you can see the steeple of the village church in Wytschaete.  That's where our excavation will be happening.  Had the front lines been a mile further over in 1917 there would be nothing left to excavate.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Cancelling the Plant Sale.....

Spring is here at last.  The baseball seasons starts tomorrow, the local birds are melodiously yelling at each other, Friday 5pm cocktail hour in the neighbor's side yard could happen any day now.  Ahhh...

But one thing will be missing.  This year there will be no Garden Club Plant Sale.

This worthy fundraising endeavor has been around for a long time, and the last few years we have hosted the "after sale".  That means once the good stuff has been sold at the well advertised down town location all the leftovers get hauled up the hill to our front yard.   A few cardboard signs go up.  It gets mentioned on social media.  And for the rest of the weekend we are running a botanical used car lot.  Why I even get to make "crazy deals, 'cause the boss is away", when my wife turns the watch over to me for a few hours.  In the end almost everything gets sold.

This    The sale is cancelled.  The villain in this little tragedy is:

The Jumping Worm.  

As the Department of Natural Resources link says, they are an invasive species that has caused no end of trouble.  Frankly there is not that much positive you can say about any worms, but even those few things don't apply to the Jumpers.  Let's see:

Food for birds?  Nope, seem to taste bad.  And their tendency to violently thrash and hop about is likely off putting.

Use them to go fishing?  Bad idea, not just bad tasting but if you drop one somewhere these very modern critters are parthenogenic.  Meaning, no need for two genders, each worm is quite capable of starting a family all on its own.

Good for your lawn and garden?  Oh my no.  Earthworms in general are not that great, you just think they are.  Who knew that they had such effective public relations?  At least the normal kind aerated the soil a bit and leave worm dropping that enrich the soil a little.  Jumping worms strip all the nutrients clean away and absorb them so efficiently that their droppings are sterile, worthless slag.  A serious infestation will give you dead plants clinging to the ground by shallow damaged roots.

And they are sneaky.  Jumping worm eggs look like specks of dirt.  The main reason the plant sale is off - and not just here but soon in lots of places - is that purchased plants have been a major means of spread.  I mean, yes, if you knock all the dirt off the roots and dip them in bleach you might be OK.  But the labor involved is ridiculous.

So short term the Garden Club is taking on a tree sale.  The effort involved in making sure saplings are worm free being manageable.  

And on the long term front?  As with any organization the Garden Club needs to parlay its strengths into tangible assets.  They are a swell bunch, mostly sweet older ladies. They know how to grow all kinds of plants and in general can bake up a mean batch of brownies.

So, when Wisconsin goes the way of Colorado and legalizes marijuana I figure we'll be in great shape.  We'll get the downtown Sale space again.  On the left will be rows of healthy looking plants with verdant green leaves.  On the right - just in case any of the expected wave of new customers have the "munchies" - the most profitable bake sale in Wisconsin history.....

I could show you a video of the Jumping Worms.  When disturbed they writhe around like crazed patrons of some nematode disco, even being able to hop clear off the ground.  When you get a whole bunch of them all in one place it is very disturbing.  I'll spare you that but if you really want to get creeped out go to Youtube and look up Jumping Worms Wisconsin.   Ewww....

Monday, March 26, 2018

Gladstone versus Disraeli

Perhaps in my post from last Friday I assumed a knowledge of British politics that is not common on this side of the Atlantic and perhaps even not universal on the other side.  So a brief explanation.

William Gladstone was one of the great British statesmen of the Victorian age.  He was what we'd now think of as a Progressive.  His opposite number, at least equally great, was Benjamin Disraeli, a conservative.  

They apparently had a genuine dislike for each other and this made for some ferociously personal insults going back and forth.  Disraeli was always a little better at this.  A few classics:

"The difference between a misfortune and a calamity is this: If Gladstone fell into the Thames, it would be a misfortune. But if someone dragged him out again, that would be a calamity."

"Inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity, and gifted with an egotistical imagination."

"He has not one single redeeming defect."
And there is that great, if apocryphal exchange between Disraeli and an unnamed Member of Parliament:*

"You sir, will certainly die either on the gallows or of the pox."

"That depends, sir, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

You just have to wonder how that sort of political language would have gone over in other times, in other places.  In America of the contemporary mid 1800s it may well have resulted in an invitation to meet with pistols at dawn.  In America of the current day it would have made Disraeli the King of Twitter.

But Gladstone had his moments too.  Here's  a cartoon of him showing Disraeli the door when replacing him as Prime Minister:

(image from the Hathi Digital Library Trust, Princeton University)

*It is a humorous quotation that had been kicking around for quite a while, and while Disraeli is certainly the kind of guy who would say things like this it is pretty clear that he was not the first one to do so....

Friday, March 23, 2018

Archeology Spring Training Part Six - The Difficulties of Buttons

Distinctive buttons have been a part of military uniforms for several hundred years.  So being at least conversant with them will be important when excavating in Flanders this spring.

Of course in the general sense it is well known which regiments were in the line at any given time.  And with the condition of the battlefield you can't always learn much from a button.  It could have come off a uniform at any time, or been post war surplus, or have been lost in 1914 and tossed about a hundred times since then by the explosion of shells.  But sometimes buttons can help you a great deal.  It is important that soldiers who died in battle get a respectful burial.  And while it probably does not matter much to them, it is important to us, that they get put into the proper cemetery.  Buttons are one of the best indicators of where that should be.

So context is rather important.  And one difficulty of today's examples is that these two were just down in the bottom of a box.  One or both might have been buttons I have found over the years.  One or both might have been in a batch that my wife recalls getting from some British detectorists.  In terms of studying them I suppose it does not matter today, but I shall make a pitch here for meticulous record keeping!

Oh, there are other issues with buttons.  They were produced in massive quantities and were exported all over the world.  They often imitated each other and cribbed from any source of culture that was then current.  They are extensively documented but there are always more variants and small time producers out there.  The cheaper ones tend to have a thin wash of brass that easily rubs off.

But for what it is worth here are a couple to get me thinking....

This guy is obviously a Cupid.  He's pretty generic, no identifying marks on front or back.  Nicely executed.  I rather doubt I'll be finding anything like this in the trenches of the Ypres Salient but I suppose one never knows.  After all, many soldiers got clothing parcels from home to help them through the winter months.   

The button below led me a merry chase indeed.  With a griffin on it you'd assume it was Welsh.  The back has what can faintly be made out as the marking HRH SUPERIOR QUALITY.  This is the kind of mark you often found on 19th century military buttons both in England, and by way of export, here in the U.S. in the Civil War era.  So, has to be a button from a Welsh regiment or militia, yes?


It took some sleuthing but I eventually figured out that this is what is called in the UK a "Livery Button".  That is, the kind of button servants would wear when employed by nobility.  Think Downton Abbey and all that.

The inscription is "FIDES ET VIRTUTE" meaning "Faith and Virtue".  And it was referenced with the name Gladstone.

Surely not THAT Gladstone?

Actually, yes.  Or, pretty much.  Gladstone the Prime Minister was the younger son of John Gladstone, who was named Baronette of Fasque and Balfour in 1846. His older brother therefore was the second in the line. This is the family crest, one no doubt still displayed proudly by the current Baronette, who is the 7th.

As to why it has a Griffin, usually associated with Wales, sometimes there is no explaining the arcane ways of Heraldry.

Pretty cool though, presumably a button from a servant's coat.  Age is indeterminate but certainly could have been contemporary with THE Gladstone.

I'm pretty sure this did not originate from Wisconsin, must have been in that stuff from the detectorists.
An addendum courtesy of the marvels of the internet.  I can probably identify what day of the week this button would have been worn and what garment it came off of.

In a book called Keeping Their Place: Domestic Service in The Country House 1700-1920 I found the following account by a man who was in service to the Gladstones...

"During the week I wore a full-dress suit of dark grey wool which had six silver buttons on the coat, three on each side.  With it I wore a bat wing collar, stiff shirt and white bow tie.  The Sunday livery was cut exactly like the regular suit but it was made of plum colored-wool and trimmed with gold buttons."

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Archeology Spring Training Part Five - Why is it?

Travelers have always been interested in souvenirs.  Back in my digging days up at Hadrian's Wall I admit to a wild fantasy that involved finding one of the contemporary enameled cups that Roman soldiers seem to have bought as mementos.  The best known example is the Rudge Cup but there are at least two other similar vessels, showing a stylized depiction of the Wall and listing the series of forts built there.  Yowza.

But in the theme of dialing in my eye and brain for more modern artifacts I present this little oddity.  It is a glass paperweight.  It is full of shells that sure did not come from Wisconsin.  It says "Souvenir of Eau Claire, Wis"

I'd make it circa 1910 and the peculiar thing is that Eau Claire, while certainly a nice little city, was really never a tourist destination.  Those who wanted to hang out at the lake headed further north.  Eau Claire at this time was a faded lumbering town with a variety of manufacturing plants.  The surrounding area was and remains the pastoral home of many slowly munching dairy cows.

But, somebody must have had a little business selling trinkets.  I hope they did OK in it.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Robot Larceny and Play

With competition season behind us we have free reign to show off our robot to sponsors, interested parties and the world at large.

The other night we went to the high school's "STEAM" night.  This rather unlovely acronym used to be STEM and stood for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. The artsy folks are trying to horn in on the current wave of tech popularity by adding Arts to it.  Silly, but I have no problem personally with tech having a bit of creative panache to it.

A FIRST robot is designed to run for a series of three minute matches.  It really is not supposed to run on a continual basis from 4:30pm to 8.  We blew one pneumatic fitting from overheating, dropped a couple of bolts on the floor and have a slightly bent part in our grabber claw.  Nothing that our pit crew can't keep running in other words.  A few pictures from the evening.

The Army had a couple of bomb disposal robots on hand for display.  We had a lot of fun with them.  Here our robot has been wandering about with a box full of candy (see the sign?).  We'd drive up to people and when they reached for a piece drop the elevator down to tease them.  Eventually the Army robot - which by now was being driven by our kids - decided to reach in and grab some.  This quickly became tug of war for the whole box!  There were also robot races, we dropped the yellow box on top of their $250,000 machine repeatedly and so forth.  Good robot fun.

Our team and the military guys.  Plus assorted spectators.   

You always keep an eye to the future in this business.  Here an intense grade schooler tries his hand.  He was not bad.....we'll see him in a few years.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Archeology Spring Training Part Four - What is it?

Today an instance where I ask a question but have no answer.

This is a ceramic knob of some sort.  It is on a wooden shaft with a copper alloy band on its top.  Similar things are sometimes beer tap pulls - which are usually larger - or faucet handles.  Those of course would be smaller.

It has a stenciled image on the top.  I don't find it particularly helpful but I suppose we can exclude beer.

Theories?  A Lady's cane has been proposed.  Or perhaps a faucet handle for something bigger like a fancy bath tub.  The wooden part bothers me in that regard.

Your theories - probably being better anyway - are welcomed.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Archeology Spring Training Part Three - Grant at Peace

Today an item of both historic and aesthetic interest.  

Even in newer sites it is uncommon to find all the broken pieces of a large artifact.  This is a plate made in commemoration of the death of General, and later President, Ulysses S. Grant.  It was likely made soon after his death in 1885.  

These also come in clear glass but this sapphire color is rather stunning.  The quote "Let us have Peace" surprisingly comes not from the gracious meeting of Grant and Lee at Appomatox, but from 1868 when Grant accepted the nomination of the Republican Party to run for President!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Robotics Tournament 2018 - Ups and Downs

Another tournament season is "in the bag" and we finished with a winning record.  Our team in three seasons actually has yet to have a losing record.

FIRST Robotics is hard.  It is designed to be hard.  Breaking through from being an average team to being a top flight team is probably as difficult as expanding your little mom and pop store into the next Amazon or Walmart.  

When you win some and lose some it is easier to focus on the latter.  As usual the "smallest widget" principle kicks in....that crucial bolt that needs to be checked and tightened can let you down.  Literally.  Several got noticed by our alert pit crew.  

You also have to decide when to take risks.  It is dangerous to rewrite software fifteen minutes before a match.  If it works, great!  If not, well the pros and cons of this plan were well understood and the students made the call.

In fact the entire enterprise was the handiwork of the students.  I believe none of the adults coaching the team picked up a tool the entire event, and I can assure you the robot was entirely built by the team.

After a heartbreaking first round defeat dropped us all the way down to 57th out of 58 we went on a great run.  Here is a picture of our standings near our "High Tide" of 12th place....

Of course not everything that goes haywire is our fault.  By the end of a tournament those teams out of contention are often not giving it an all out effort, and that's easy to understand.  In our final two matches we were to some extent taking on the entire opposing 3 robot team as our alliance partners were limping along or in one case entirely immobile.  We came so close to pulling off the near impossible....

Well, they say FIRST is about more than just robots and its absolutely true.  So I make no apologies for my heart saying we had another win or two in us.  That is just my appreciation of a very fun robot and a very fun bunch of students.  

In recognition of their exhausting labors - hardly any stayed awake on the bus home - the coaches are graciously giving them 72 hours of break from robots.  Then they will show off at the high school STEM night.  And then help with the middle school robotics class.  And then do demos at......

Hmmm.  It looks as if the 2019 FIRST season will be starting pretty soon.

Good work team and parents.

Just a few fun pics of the event.

White board cartoon One.

White board cartoon two.  What sleep looks like in binary code.

We are visited by a bear.

This was a friendly bruin but does provide another metaphor for the season.  "Sometimes you get the bear.  Sometimes the bear gets you!"

Friday, March 9, 2018

Robotics Tournament 2018 - Rising above Adversity

Final report will have to wait a day or two, as the outcome is not determined yet.  I'm typing late Friday, tired at the keyboard.

After a very strong practice day we started the real matches with a bit of a stinker.  And it was due to the most common of problems, human error.  Our most reliable student flipped the wrong switch in the "on deck" circle disabling a major system.  To his credit he acknowledged the goof up, apologized and soldiered on.

From there we were stronger every match, with the robot and its drivers performing heroically.  Our slow start notwithstanding we are still well in contention at the 2/3 point of the qualification matches.  Just a couple of highlights...

If you see half a dozen judges clustered around a machine it is usually a bad thing.  But in this case, no.  So many teams follow a standard template, order pricey stuff from the same suppliers, bolt it together in similar fashion.

Not our team.  We had some things on board the judges had never seen before.  Ridiculous heavy duty steel bars for our elevator.  Rated for 1600 pounds they can sure handle a 2 pound box.  And because this stuff is heavy we have an air brake.  Designed, machined and constructed by one of our students.  It uses several components in a very creative, and cost effective way.  Judges who saw it summoned others.  I think we had four separate groups visit all of whom wanted us to pop the hood for them to take a look.  True creative work, proud of the kids who did it.

We have several white boards.  They come in handy for match schedules and pit check off lists.  One has sort of become an "open board".  People write whatever they want.  My idea of a robot waking up and my advice for the day"

"Fate Favors the Bold but Rewards the Pathologically Organized."

Robotics Tournament 2018 - Powering Up!

The first day of robotics competition consists of two parts.  In the morning you have paperwork to attend to and have to pass inspection.  This year our inspection went on for a long time.  We have a somewhat complicated machine, it was a rookie inspector, and actually one valve on the pneumatic system did turn out to be faulty.  We made weight by a superbly engineered margin of 7 ounces.

The second half of the day is in theory a time for the robots to run practice matches.  This helps you adapt to the actual field conditions which in terms of floor surface and many other small areas will vary from what you probably practiced on.

We were scheduled for three matches.  There are provisions for you to jump in for more if scheduled robots don't show, and my goal for the day was six matches.

We got in eight.

I doubt any other team got this much practice, why at one point we finished a match, rolled off the field, put in a fresh battery and went right back on.  This is unheard of.

With so many opportunities to find problems we of course did just that.  A loose cable here, a set of bolts that needed reinforcing over there.  Somewhat concerning our climber device put a big scratch in the field elements on our way up.  This got us a mild scolding today but would have been a penalty in actual play.  A kludged up solution was created at the end of the day, we will work on some other iterations between matches.

A good practice day, and ours was very good, does not guarantee a good tournament.  Conversely a horrid practice day usually presages a bad one.  The game this year is very dependent on cooperation between the three teams on an alliance.  Which means that in addition to the many things that could still go wrong with our machine we have to graciously accept the things that will quite likely go wrong with the many machines that could not "answer the bell" for practice matches.  Some of these issues will help us.  Some will hurt us.

Pizza and a collapse into bed, a busy Friday on tap.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Robot Goes North

The advance crew with the robot and pit equipment went north last night, ready to set up for our upcoming FIRST Robotics tournament in Duluth.  I'll be going up with the team this morning.  6am.  With high schoolers.  On a school bus.    

In some ways this event has me more anxious than in previous years.  As rookies we had no idea what we were doing.  With minimal expectations it was just fun to show up and play.  And of course to significantly exceed those expectations.

Last year we did two events and were dogged every step by small, probably preventable problems.  I call it the "smallest widget" dilemma.  No matter how sophisticated, how advanced a machine you build, a ten cent switch or a single bolt deep in the innards can crash your robot.  Or even your season.

So I have been fretting.  What parts are likely to fail.  Do we have spares?  Is the paperwork all straight?  We have a 120 pound weight limit?  If we are over due to scale errors how quickly can we find ways to trim?  Will anybody leave a critical connection unchecked at the worst possible moment?

And so it tediously goes.

I suppose I won't be content until we clear inspection and fire it up for our first practice match.  When the bell rings and the robot moves I will breath a deep and contented sigh.  What the team has built is actually very good work.  But, running well two weeks ago counts for nothing.

In an acceptable world I can get back to our rookie season status where my role is just to wander by from time to time and ask: "Is the robot ready?"

Not last year, but the year before and hopefully this year the correct answer spoken in unison by our pit crew is:

"The robot is always ready".

Reports as possible.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Archeology Spring Training Part Two - Faces of the Past

I think all but the last of today's artifacts came from a single site, the privy out behind a rather substantial mansion from the 1880s.  Most of these items appear to be 1900 to 1910, but of course things hang around a while before the inevitable slip of the hand sends them tumbling....

I guess the occupant of this house had a collecting bug.  I'm just showing you the ones with interesting faces, there were plenty of other odds and ends, cast iron animals, dolls arms and legs etc.

I feel like I should know this guy.  The collar button looks a bit military but it is not Grant, Sherman or - good heavens - Robert E. Lee.  I think it might be a kindly depiction of Grover Cleveland.  GC had a luxuriant 'stash like this, but then so did all men in the late 19th century.  The time period is about right, Cleveland being the only president to every serve non consecutive terms (1885-89 and then 1893-97)

This one is rather creepy.  It is pressed tin but has no decoration whatsoever.  Not a large doll, I wonder if it was decorative, like something you'd have on your similarly constructed ceiling of that era?

This on the other hand looks like art.  A nice little terra cotta statuette.  The broken cornucopia and the push up decolletage make me think....French.

A sturdy little lad.  He seems to have extra big feet.  I assume this was to make him more stable standing on a table.

Dogs have faces too.  This cheerful if somewhat dim witted looking pooch is happily waiting for his master - who has left one leg behind - to return.  Perhaps a flower holder?

Monday, March 5, 2018

Archeology Spring Training - Part One, Mystery in a Glass

Winter is hanging on.  In fact another round of snow is barreling our way from the Dakotas.  This of course is usual for Wisconsin and complicates  "spring training" for archaeology.

This year I have the additional challenge of setting off in May to look not for Roman things but for the archaeology of World War One, things that are a mere century old.  It makes for a different sort of artifacts.

Fortunately my wife helped out.  She pointed me towards several shabby looking boxes in our storage room and said it was time to tidy them up. And as they contained things unearthed at various 19th century locations in my part of the world, it was sort of training for what I will be looking for.

So its time for a series of odd artifacts.

This is a painted stencil beer glass.  Likely they were given away to bars that served the brewery's product.  What can be made out easily here is the main script which on the left hand side reads: EULBER...  The other fragment is harder to make out but certainly ends in ...ERS    There is a nice logo with EB in the center and down below are the letters ...TY and the tail end of the geographic identification, which is unhelpfully just WIS.

This gave me a few difficulties.  Firstly you can't just scrub these up for a better look. Having been a long time in the ground the image is very fragile.  I suspect that short of professional conservation there is no way to rescue these.

I am pretty sure this is from Eulberg Brothers who had a brewery in Portage Wisconsin.  That would fit everything except the ...TY and that might have been a variety of beer.

I have not been able to locate an image of exactly like this from Eulberg so I think this one was an early and rather uncommon specimen.  I have seen auction results for simpler glasses from Eulenberg that went for over $900!  I suppose I should really send the fragments to THIS GUY.

I would so love to do a companion "Forgotten Brewery Caves" entry to wrap this up nice and neat. But alas, alas, while I know where the caves were - on the north side of Silver Lake on the edge of town - there was nothing to be seen when I was there last year.  I'm told that they were later used for boat storage and then eventually demolished in what seems to have been a very professional effort.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Digging Hill 80

An interesting change of pace this year.  Each spring for the past decade I have packed up and gone off to northern England to excavate at the Roman fort site of Vindolanda. 

This year I will shoulder the digging bag again in May, but for a different destination.  Different in time.  Different in place.

The Hill 80 excavation is a World War One site in the soggy, flat Flanders region of Belgium.  It was the site of four long years of unimaginable misery.  But today it is a green, tidy little corner of Europe, a place where most things are new looking.  Well, and for good reason.  Four years of artillery fire reduced everything above ground to futile rubble.

There were individual battles in The Great War that took more lives, but this corner of the Western Front has the terrible distinction of having been a series of continuous battles from the first days of the war to the bitter last ones.  The casualties defy calculation.  After a million killed and wounded, does it make any sense to keep counting?

Below the ground the archaeology always remains.  It cares not at all about the past, present and future folly of man.  So when a pre-building survey showed extensive and well preserved fortifications in a little village south of Ypres, a project was launched to excavate and preserve the site properly.

I never imagined that I would become what is referred to as a "shovel bum", one of that motley tribe of underemployed archaeologists who meander from place to place as the need arises.  But the project intrigued me so I contacted them asking if they needed a reasonably fit, experienced digger who could bumble along in assorted languages and perhaps treat minor injuries if necessary.  

And so I shall be off again, digging kit on my shoulder.  Back to the trenches but quite literally this time.

For those interested in the story:   Dig Hill 80

The organizers of the excavation are very interested in having the history of the place shared so I expect them to have frequent official updates.  I will add to them as the vagaries of weather, wifi and disclosure policies allow.