Moles and Me

Hard to believe that all I remember of my first experience in a small American college was its moles. I was completing my graduate thesis and a professor encouraged me to get some teaching experience. Sure enough, he wanted me to take on his assignment at New England College, near Arundel (famous for its cricket ground). So, every week I motored along England’s south coast and lectured on something that I am blanking on now more than forty years later.

The President liked my enthusiasm so I proposed we do a dig. Sure, he agreed, but where, he asked? So, looking out of the bay window of his Georgian mansion I noted that there were mole hills protruding like aberrant warts from his pristine lawn. Now, the lawn was designed for croquet. It was trimmed to millimetre perfection. In other words it was mole paradise.

He looked a little put out but was close to retirement and eager to please, so out we went to kick mole hills. Plainly perplexed by my highly scientific approach to the past, I explained that my first experience of mole hills was at Knap Hill, the Neolithic causeway camp, a glorious Wiltshire escarpment overlooking the Vale of Pewsey. There, as a 16-year old I had shown off to a group from my village that I was leading by kicking every mole hill with gusto, and like magic, I found a lovely rim of Neolithic Peterborough ware pottery and then to cap it off, Romano-British sherds in the active little piles in the kite-shaped enclosure attached to the hill. Ecstasy at 16!

Knap Hill, Wiltshire

Thus persuaded by my tale, the bemused President joined me on this sunny spring morning and we flattened every mole hill we could find. Soon I came up with a sherd that might be Roman. Perhaps a colour-coated body sherd of the 4th century AD? ‘Gee’, he muttered with obvious admiration, and so he gave the go ahead for my dig. My juniors were thrilled. No more classes on unpronounceable places and pots, it was time for the real stuff. So each Wednesday and Friday we trenched the President’s lawn. We traced the mole tunnels down to the natural bedrock and, exercising my ability to dream up an explanation out of thin air, found, if I recall correctly, a few more possible Roman sherds. Nothing else.

My class in an American college came to an end with a jolly team, bemused that moles were indirectly responsible for a spring without croquet courtesy of a neatly cut, deep trench with absolutely nothing in it!

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