Day 4 (7 May): still working in the quarry

As promised, we did our best with excavating what we think might be a tipper wagon, but it’s wedged under a couple of boulders so we can’t get it out. We’re also beginning to face facts that it might not be a wagon at all. But what is it? We need your help! Ragnar thinks it might even be an old wartime car. Here’s the latest picture of it:


Rusted wreck of a … a … ?

Today we also began to take stock of the range of assorted rusty metal at the base of the quarry. But don’t get too excited: we’re talking about half a dozen lumps of rust. We photographed them and plotted them on the map.


Ragnar plotting the finds on a map

When it comes to archaeologically examining a landscape such as a quarry, the archaeologist begins to think about artefacts in a different way. The land around us is covered in shards and lumps of stone. If these were removed from the quarry face by the prisoners, is every stone an arefact?


Gilly holds a potential ‘artefact’ of the quarry

Ideally we would like to clean the area in front of the quarry face and, indeed, the quarry face itself, but at present it is covered in moss, tree stumps, and foliage. Would we find anything? Maybe and maybe not. Marek would like the area to be a place for visitors, as part of the visit to the camp, but more work is needed for that to happen. This is how the area looks at present:


Ragnar, the ever-willing blog model, poses for a photo in front of the quarry

So our short season at the quarry has been useful in terms of getting us thinking about how to examine such a landscape, how to characterise it archaeologically, and how we might think differently about such a space and its artefacts and the way they link to the camp. And that in itself is worthwhile.

(Blog post by Gilly Carr)

Day 3: excavating in the quarry

Today we began to excavate the quarry in earnest. We started with a drawing by a prisoner of the quarry being worked and used this to locate the best place to start looking.


Locating the best place to start looking

Immediately we started to find objects. The first was a metal pole with a bracket on the end (if you know what this is, please let us know!).


Metal pole with bracket

Soon afterwards we identified other bits of rusty metal sticking out of the ground, including a bucket:


… and a bucket!

We started to remove the moss, pine cones, undergrowth and soil away from the base of the quarry and soon found several bits of wood, both large and small, with nails attached, which we think were probably part of the scaffolding that prisoners stood on to reach high up the quarry face.


Wood with nails attached

But soon it was all hands on deck to excavate what we think is a wagon or tipper used in the quarry and depicted in the prisoner’s drawing. This large piece of squashed metal was bigger than we thought; the local farmer had clearly sought to bury this trace of the camp under a ton of compacted clay and we spent the best part of a day trying to dig it out.


Gilly Carr excavating the tipper

Perhaps by tomorrow we will be able to show you the final thing in all its rusty glory!

(Blog post by Gilly Carr)

Day 2, 5 May 2016: catching up on the 2014 season

Today we braced ourselves for opening the boxes from the 2014 season of excavation in order to assign finds numbers to every item. Looking in the boxes was like meeting old friends again, seeing items that we excavated two years ago, and arguing over who found the best items!


Marek photographing a plate

Some of the items were every bit as exciting as we found them two years ago, such as this plate that Marek is photographing. Other items (especially the pieces of tin and iron) had disintegrated. We found ourselves wondering whether to keep all of the endless fragments of unidentifiable metalwork. Quite a quandry.


Listing items on the computer

Some of the objects were really interesting and showed evidence of recycling and reworking, such as this wine bottle which seems to have been turned into a wine glass.


Wine bottle turned into wine glass


Falstad LOFOT-PERLER tins

We also rediscovered these rather wonderful aluminium cod liver oil / vitamin tins, which I recognised from a display at Sachsenhausen concentration camp, and which were given to prisoners by the Red Cross (below). Great to see similar items turning up in other camps.

Sachsenhausen (53).JPG

Tins from Sachsenhausen concentration camp


Labelling, boxing and photographing

We managed to get through about 2/3 of the work, so perhaps tomorrow we will be able to go to the quarry once again.

(Blog entry by Gilly Carr)

2016 season of excavation, 4-9 May. Day 1: 4 May

The 2016 season of excavation at Falstad prison camp (SS Strafgefangenenlager Falstad) has begun, sponsored by the British Academy, and directed by Professor Marek Jasinski and other team members from NTNU (Norway). Marek is joined by Dr Gilly Carr (University of Cambridge).


Falstad camp

The aim this year is to focus on the quarry near the camp, where many prisoners were forced to work. Today we started by exploring the quarry and the nearby area to see what was to be seen. We were looking for traces of activity at the rock face – graffiti, or pick axe marks, or perhaps abandoned tools or artefacts, or maybe wagon tracks.

We found two pieces of barbed wire and some metal sticking out of the ground, which we will need to explore.


Examining a potential metal wagon by the quarry face

We also met a friendly farmer of around 80 years old who owned the land over which wagon tracks were originally placed. He let us into what he said was a potato store belonging to the camp.


The potato store

Back at the Falstad centre that afternoon, we examined artwork and photographs dating from the camp which showed the quarry or prisoners working at the quarry. Rich pickings indeed!


Photos and drawings of the quarry

Excavation of Falstad prison camp, Norway, 22-28 June 2014

As promised, I thought I would add a link to the excavation of Falstad prison camp in Norway; I have just returned from the first season of excavation of the camp’s rubbish dump (always a really rich place to focus, archaeologically-speaking).

We found thousands of objects from the camp: broken glass, broken pottery, animal bone, wine bottles, food tins – all sorts of fascinating things. We also found camp infrastructure such as the bars from a window, door hinges, a door handle, a chamber pot …

The blog, which I kept, can be read here:

Excavation of Falstad prison camp, Norway, 22-28 June 2014

As promised, I thought I would add a link to the excavation of Falstad prison camp in Norway; I have just returned from the first season of excavation of the camp’s rubbish dump (always a really rich place to focus, archaeologically-speaking).

We found thousands of objects from the camp: broken glass, broken pottery, animal bone, wine bottles, food tins – all sorts of fascinating things. We also found camp infrastructure such as the bars from a window, door hinges, a door handle, a chamber pot …

The blog, which I kept, can be read here:

I also attach some pictures of our finds.ImageImage

Day 5 of excavation: 27 June 2014

ImageImageToday was the final day of the dig and a day to look back at what we’ve achieved and to draw some early conclusions.

On 8th May 2011, Liberation Day in Norway, Marek Jasinski paid a visit to the camp as part of the wider ceremonies taking place on that day. He walked along a newly-created path which has been introduced in the camp grounds, alongside a stream. As he walked, he found a number of camp-related objects such as aluminium soup bowls, a few pieces of Falstad pottery, and a piece of porcelain, all dating to the period that the building was used as a prison camp. Marek wondered whether this area was the area of the camp rubbish dump which he had been searching for for a number of years.

The aims of this rescue dig were, therefore, to discover whether this area was the rubbish dump of the camp and, if so, to get it protected. We can confirm beyond any doubt that it certainly was the rubbish dump, and that it is larger than was originally thought. The next stage is to carry out a research excavation of this site as we believe that there is great potential and need for further research. Our dig has found over a thousand objects and possibly many more (we’re still counting!)

So the dig has been a big success. The number of objects indicates the potential of the rubbish pit of the prison camp from an archaeological point of view. For us, butchered animal bones, fragments of pottery used or made in the camp, bits of window glass and wine bottles, and crumpled food tins are riches, although they wouldn’t be interesting for someone hunting Nazi relics! No Nazi badges or belt buckles, no dog tags, and no guns, but that is not what we wanted to find. Our highest hopes were of finding objects that speak of the prisoner experience of the camp and we’ve been able to do that. We’ve also found parts of camp buildings, such as bricks, a door handle, window bars, glass, door hinges and some small bits of barbed wire. There are also traces of the full biography of the camp building, including the period of when it was a school after the post-war collaborators’ camp closed. From this period we have cod liver oil bottles and vitamin tins. We also have pharmacy glass bottles, toothpaste tubes, medicaments, a toothbrush and mirror glass, and more work will be needed to work out which period these date to.

So today we filled in the trenches (see photo) and did a core survey of an area we have our eye on for next season (see photo). Meanwhile Andrzej did a geo-radar survey of another part of the camp grounds and found evidence for the foundations of the camp pottery hut, which are also worth exploring archaeologically at a later date. 

We’ve had a great week and it’s been a great opportunity and a privilege to work on this project. I sincerely hope that this project gets funded to continue for more seasons as it’s yielding archaeologically rich results and has great potential. Through archaeology we are gaining a new insight into Falstad camp. 

Day 4: 26 June 2014

Today the project director, Marek Jasinski, decided that as we have more objects than we ever could have dreamed of, we would pause in the excavation of trench 1. Instead, we have dug four test pits of 50x50cm down the slope of the rubbish area. The aim here has been to see where would be a fruitful place to excavate in future seasons, as it’s clear that we have hardly scratched the surface of what exists. Common sense dictated that we would find more objects in the bottom test pit, but that’s not really what we found.

The problem is this. The slope on which we’re working undulates into banks and ditches. Is this a natural feature? Or do the ditches represent areas where holes were dug for rubbish, with the banks being the upcast soil? We think that the grey clay layer marks the sterile layer under the pits, but time and again we find  that this layer has objects in, meaning that pits were dug into it. It is possible that this clay was removed from the slope to make the Falstad pottery and the rubbish burnt and dumped in the pits. Certainly we’re finding evidence of burning within the pits. I carried out a small survey with a coring rod and it revealed that the land is really disturbed all over the slope, although the general picture seems to be that the ditches are more fruitful than the banks.

So while Ragnhild and I dug the test pits (I found some barbed wire in mine!), Ragnar drew trench profiles and Lena spent the day labelling, bagging, recording and boxing all the objects found so far (see picture).

One of the themes of conversation today has been the Falstad Pottery. The prisoners worked in this building, and the fruits of their labour were sold by German soldiers in their canteens. I imagine that there might be some local people with examples of camp pottery in their cupboards. The prisoners experimented with colours of glazes and shapes of pots and fortunately for us, it seems that the wasters from the firing process were dumped in the pits, so we have a number of them to study and compare with the two on display in the museum in the basement of the Falstad Centre (see picture).

So, the key lesson learned by us all is that if ever you want to excavate a WWII camp, the rubbish pits are the first place to start!Image

(Blog post by Gilly Carr)

Day 3: June 25 2014


Frame of bars to fit over a window

Today work continued in quadrant A of trench one, which continued to reveal more and more objects – more than we can cope with. There is constantly a long line of buckets full of objects (and soil) next to the flotation tank as we find things faster than they can be washed. Yesterday we found many animal bones, but today we found bottle after bottle, many of which were intact, and some of which still contained their original contents – cod liver oil, so important in Norway in the winter. The camp was a school before and after its use as a camp, so we think that the cod liver oil bottles and aluminium vitamin boxes that we’ve been finding date from that period. The rubbish pit in trench one is huge. We’re trying to dig down to the grey clay which is at the base of the pit, but we still haven’t reached the bottom – the going is too slow with all of the objects that we find. And it doesn’t help that the small pits within the larger rubbish pit were dug into the clay so even when we reach this layer, we still won’t be at the bottom of the larger rubbish pit. A number of the pottery pieces that we’ve found have ‘PIF’ scratched into the base, which indicates that it is Falstad pottery, made by the prisoners. There are also more food dishes made from recycled food tins, presumably by the prisoners. I love to see these small suggestions of the silent prisoner voice. We’ve also been finding a number of wine bottles recycled into water glasses, indicating recycling in a time of shortage. There were two star finds today: a chamber pot and a frame of bars, which we think was attached to the window of the rooms. Interesting finds to indicate the materiality of internment!

(Blog post by Gilly Carr)


Our first fragment of barbed wire