front of one. But of course life's not like that! Each year John and Bryony produced reports, and steadily the problems - and possibilities - of wetland archaeology became impressed on my mind. John: The big problem was that so many of the wetland sites were being destroyed. Peat cutting was going on all the time - there were twenty-odd peat companies just tearing the landscape apart, mostly to produce peat for people's gardens. They were telling us what they found but still we were losing a lot, so we got more and more people into the field to carry out surveys. Was there any way you could stop the peat cutting? John: No - the peat companies had received permission years ago and as long as they keep working then they can'tbe stopped - it was well before PPG 16. And in any case almost all the big discoveries - the major trackways, platforms and structures - were made by peat cutters. Our survey just walked along, followed the machines. Most of the peat cutters - the chaps working the machines, hauling and stacking, piling and digging - were very enthusiastic and they would say to me: 'John, we really like to see your people, especially if they are young ladies!' Our field officers were about 50/50 (men/women) and some of them had adventures! - but they all survived. The peat companies were almost without exception very helpful and told us about what they found and advised us when they were cutting new areas.
One of the jobs of the field officers was to keep in touch with these characters all the time. Where are you cutting now? Have you seen anything? Can I come and look tomorrow? So it was a kind of family concern for about fifteen years. It was tremendous fun. It was tremendous hard work too. Then there was the problem of the conservation of the finds - there was quite a lot of wood but the DoE weren't allowed to pay for conservation. But due to a certain amount of pressure by me and by others, Geoff finally said: Just set something up. Geoffrey: We invested in a portakabin with basic conservation tanks inside it. John'S dedication was apparent to me then because it was necessary for him to drive from Cambridge - I think it was every week - in order to do something technical with the tanks. John: We ran the lab for twelve years nonstop, as a result of which the Somerset County Museum has the best collection of prehistoric wood probably in Europe. That was an innovation for a wetland project - to be able to deal with its own conservation.
The second innovation was the museum. After a number of years the locals started to say: 'Could we not have a little museum to show what you are doing?' So we went to the DoE and they said: 'No, we're not into museums that's a different government agency', and so I went to Geoff and he said: 'Well, perhaps we can do something have you any money left over?' We had, so we went ahead and set up our own museum - with experiments and reconstructions, photographs and objects. And that has now run for twenty-odd years - it's been taken over by the Somerset County Council and it's very popular.
Excavating the Sweet Track, 7982
When did you finish work on the Levels? John: 1989. At that stage the peat cutting project was running down. Bryony and I had dug hundreds of sites. The surveys were all there and so we called a halt - there are other things to do in life than spend every vacation padding around a peat bog and by then there were other wetlands underway that we had got involved in. The final thing for the Somerset Levels was that we managed to identify areas where the structures were still buried in the peat. In one case, the Sweet Track, we have managed to preserve it for the future. How did you decide on which wetlands to do next? Geoffrey: People began to approach me about other wetland regions but a great amount of infrastructure is required for any wetland project so we decided to take one chunk at a time. We went next to the East Anglian Fens - although John and Bryony continued to work in the Somerset Levels - there was some overlap. We applied all the experience which we had gained from Somerset to the Fens. We weren't caught out this time - we arranged conservation facilitties. And more importantly we had to build up expertise in palaeoenvironmental work, and this I think was one of the great spin-offs of the project over the thirty years - the amount of expertise which has been generated in palaeobotanical analysis and publication.
Also, we decided, and John I think was a bit iffy about this at first, that in the first instance we would survey what was there - we wouldn't actually dig. You could see them straining at the leash to get digging, but we spent seven years in the East Anglian Fens just surveying, surveying, surveying. It increased the number of sites in the Fens immensely.
I developed so much admiration for the people who were working in the Fens, which I regard as a very harsh environment. David Hall, the field walker par excellence, and others on the staff of the Fenland Project tramped the Fens. John was the avuncular figure who would make sure they were doing things right, make sure they were going to publish. I was just the godfather in the background who made sure the money was coming in and that the project was running to time. At the same time of course there was some excavation going on in the Fens because Francis Pryor was doing Etton and his other sites. We continued to support those. So there was some outlet for those who wished to excavate. John: David Hall found hundreds of sites that were coming out of the peat which was shrinking. He demonstrated that the Fenland really had amazing potential, and it's because of his pioneering work that the Fenland Project was set up. We found over 2,000 sites from Mesolithic down to medieval. Tha t was an amazing piece of work, over 600,000 acres actually walked by these people - formidable! But wasn't deciding just to survey at first a somewhat dangerous policy - if the peat is shrinking, and some of it is blowing away?
Geoffrey: That happens. If you have a strategic vision you have to be prepared to pick up casualties on the way. We had to do this with PPG 16 in the 1980s, when we lost quite a few sites because we refused to step in and fund them. And it was the same in the Fens. It was a common cry at the time: surveys are