.. . rescue
THE TRENT VALLEY PROJECT
by Jeffrey May and Hazel Wheeler
FROM time to time, emergencies arise in field archaeology which demand a bigger and more sustained effort than the usual kind of rescue excavation. Particularly where gravel quarrying in the river valleys has threatened areas of former high- density occupation, it has become common for excavation committees to be set up, usually for short periods, to raise funds and some times to employ full-time field archaeologists. The 1960s saw a spate of such committees, and one of the earliest, operating in the gravel pits of the Welland valley from 1962 to 1966, was described in the very first issue of Current Archaeology.
The results of some of this activity have been—or promise to be—of the greatest importance to British archaeology. Not only have major new sites been found, but attention has been directed to the often-neglected questions of the development of occupation through many archaeological periods, and the relationships of settlement to environment. Indeed, the river valleys themselves have been highlighted, not merely as routeways, but as key areas of early settlement.
If the usefulness of these temporary committees has been clear, the difficulties which some of them faced are equally so. Aerial photography reveals sites by the score every year, and gravel quarrying and other destructive activities seem likely to continue in the foreseeable future. A project of limited duration may usefully record this site or that, but hardly confronts the main issue— the continual destruction of sites. Also, the necessities of keeping costs to a minimum means that the archaeologist may find himself with a salary lower than it ought to be, and with inadequate staffing and equipment. These problems are very relevant- No one, with the best will in the world, can be expected to stay in a low-paid, temporary job, with no prospects, if anything better turns up. And the resulting insecurity does nothing to establish the essential pre-condition for any successful regional programme—a thorough knowledge of the area and its sites, and the development of personal contacts and friendships with all people involved in the region's archaeology. Regional studies, as distinct from specialist studies of particular types of site, are most effectively done by workers well-established in the area, and willing to stay there. A third difficulty is that a short-term project is likely to place heavy emphasis on digging, perhaps for most of the year, not only as a matter of conscience in countering threats, but to demonstrate quick and spectacular progress to those financing it.
Yet a properly organised programme needs first a clear picture of the task ahead, and probably some system of priorities. Further, its publications should go hand in hand with excavation, rather than await their opportunity later. And it may take longer to prepare a publication than to excavate the site.
Thoughts like these came to mind in 1966, when considering the problems of the Trent valley, which contains the third major river system in Britain. This huge area, of some 300 square miles, is a geographical unity, and it seemed sensible to treat it as a potential archaeological one also. Extensive aerial photography just started in the main river valley by Mr. J. Pickering of Hinckley was adding much new information to that