Wordjoy: archaeology

I might not be posting a Wordjoy every Saturday, but don’t let it be said it’s because I don’t have words. Never let it be said I’ve run out of words, because I haven’t.

How about a category today: archaeology. My books are heavily influenced by my Time Team addiction, and they do use the most wonderful words.

Take graves, for example. A common Iron Age burial was in a shallow pit lined with stones. This is called a cyst (pronounced with a hard c). Then rocks are piled on top to prevent animals from getting to the body. If this pile becomes quite tall, it’s called a cairn. Sometimes ancient peoples dug rooms out of hillsides to lay out their dead in, often many bodies, of a whole family or village. These are called barrows. If they burned the bodies, they did it on a pyre, and if the pyre was built over an open grave, for the ashes and unburned bits to fall into, that’s called a bustum burial.

British Iron Age people most often lived in roundhouses. These had low stone walls, then a tall thatched roof resting on a teepee of poles. The hearth would have been central, with smoke escaping out a hole in the point of the roof, and there was usually a little anteroom by the door to stop the fierce British wind and rain from getting it.

Sometimes a roundhouse had partial spokes inside its walls. This created a series of alcoves, useful maybe for giving people a bit of privacy, or maybe for separating different kinds of items being stored. This is called a wheelhouse, which isn’t at all the same as “that’s not in my wheelhouse.” That refers to the little room a ship’s steering wheel is in. I’ve also heard of large, luxurious carriages called wheelhouses … but maybe only by George R. R. Martin.

A settlement nearly always had a ditch, into which they threw their bones and other rubbish. This accumulated rubbish is called midden. One of the most common types of midden is broken pottery. A piece of it is called a potsherd. Not a shard. A sherd. When people have lived in a place so long that the accumulated foundations and midden begin to form an artificial hill, that hill is called a tel. As in Tel Aviv, or Tel el Amarna.

Hope you enjoyed this one. British Iron Age archaeology certainly fuels my imagination. Fingers crossed that I write another Wordjoy next week …


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