Meditation on a Broken Horse

Sure enough, among the chalk rubble, medieval pot sherds and sheep bone, there they were–big, articulated bones. Not really something you want to find during what was supposed to be the last day of digging, but most archaeologists will tell you that is exactly when you find the most important, or in this case, the most complicated digging–the last day.

There was a lot of speculation about the position of the horse, whether it was one horse or two, but I just kept digging–the bones would reveal all. The sacrum of the horse was wedged into a tight cut and upside-down, looking all the world like the folks trying to cram it into the hole in the chalk had to actually widen the hole specially for it. Various comedy scenes fired in my head as I carefully cleaned between the caudal vertebrae, up the lumbar, revealing the ribs.

On its back, the horse’s ribs formed an arching, cavernous void. I brushed the rich, brown, midden-soil from ribs, each that mottled orange-white of freshly excavated bone. I found the teeth shortly afterwards, thinking at first that the head had been removed, but no–it was arched back sharply toward the tail, in a backwards, upside-down fetal position. The legs were covering the head, making the horse look like it was cowering, hiding its eyes. We realized that the legs had been chopped off and thrown in on top.

It was breakfast time, and the site cleared out. Though the horse had been adequately excavated (especially considering the distinct lack of time we had to remove it from the ground) I wanted to spend a little more time with it. It was sunny that day and mottled patches of sunlight shone through the old oak trees around the site. I gave the horse skeleton a gentle final clean, clipping away roots and removing stray pebbles from its eyes, shoulders.

I’m getting married this week–my fiance and I dug up the horse together, sharing tools, chatting about the likely position of the horse, the various bones, what was done and what needed to be done. We work well together and a shared excavation project was a nice change from trying to schedule buses and flowers. Though a bit macabre, the horse is beautiful in its own way, arranged in an unlikely position in a trash pit and revealed centuries later by the hands of two people who are very much in love.

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