|Chester Amphitheatre Excavations, 1960 (CWAC)|
We're back for our 11th season during which examination of trench IV will be continued. Our work will examine the interior of the masonry building (the possible chapel) with its drain discharging into the ditch, the western part of the ditch feature where it is overlain by the medieval building and the underlying deposits. This year trench IV will also be extended to the south in order to locate and examine a stone structure identified during the excavation of a service trench in 2013.
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Friday, 27 May 2016
Heritage and that old Chestnut
Digging holes and interpreting what we find within forms a part of the role of an archaeologist. This is what we've been telling the numerous people who've stopped by to inspect our rather wonderful excavation. But why do it in such a very public place? Clearly the very obvious response is, because that’s where the archaeology is. However, we could just as easily clear off to a hillfort in Wales, excavating, recording and interpreting as we go; and we do.
Whilst the latter ticks all the boxes in terms of archaeological research it also lowers accessibility to the public generally and we run the risk of inadvertently returning archaeology to a realm of exclusivity typified by Chester’s amphitheatre excavations during the 1960’s. You’ll notice from the photograph that the impenetrable wall surrounding the site pretty much rules out any prospect of public participation; it also kept the archaeologists out of pubs, which is possibly a good thing.
I realise that I am, to a greater extent, preaching to the converted. However, accessibility is key to the future of archaeology, which in itself forms a part of research that makes the heritage ‘industry’ possible. The heritage industry, in case you weren't aware, isn't faring too well in the current economic climate. Funding, an always tricky beast to capture, is becoming harder to secure and we have witnessed the closure of the nationally important ‘Bede’s World’ at Jarrow with several other notable museums in Lancashire and elsewhere facing the axe.
If you were expecting a politically charged conclusion to this, you’ll be disappointed. I could of course wax lyrical about an Orwellian nightmare where the populace starved of culture are fed a fast food diet of government approved ‘entertainment’ in the name of state control.
But I won’t, such a thing is fantasy.
What I will do is suggest that when you go out into the world visit your local museum, attend a historical re-enactment or even join a local archaeological group and dig stuff up. Instead of spending a fortune at a the theme park, or heaven forbid, visit a retail park on a Sunday afternoon to look at three piece suites, dress up like a Viking or an Anglo- Saxon and hit like minded individuals with foam padded swords and axes.
What could be more fun than this? Clearly nothing, there again I'm biased, but it would seem to me that the groups of primary school children staring wide eyed at the artefacts we’d excavated were just as fascinated by the past as I am.
So, here comes that old chestnut I promised, brace yourselves…….The children are our future, it is undeniable and inarguable, and whilst I’d rather have quoted Dylan, Morrissey or at a push Jello Biafra, they've never actually sung that lyric. And if they had, they’d only have ruined its simple sentiments with a follow up line dripping with cynicism, maudlin or political rhetoric. So you’re stuck with Whitney Houston and I have to wear a Hair shirt for a month, unroll your eyes and take back whatever utterances you made to whichever omnipotent being you chose to invoke and accept that education, in any form, is crucial to the continuation of the Heritage Industry.
Those classes of six and seven year olds who bounced loudly into Grosvenor Park on Wednesday morning, left knowing a great deal more than when they arrived. They may have been slightly disappointed by the lack of dinosaurs, treasure and flamingo’s sporting a full set of molars; frankly the lack of the latter disappoints me also. But who knows, some of them might have been sufficiently inspired and may go on to study archaeology, history or one of the many disciplines that strives to understand the human condition. I certainly hope this is the case, because it means we will have succeeded in our outreach activities and secured the future of heritage generally.
Which reminds me, if a future archaeologist unearths a small plastic headless soldier from the ruins of a suburban semi-detached house in Nantwich, destroyed in the dinosaur uprisings of 2157; who knew? He wasn't merely discarded. The truth is he received what nine year old me considered to be a full military funeral complete with a hummed version of the last post and is firmly representative of ritual deposition. Quote this to your hearts content, but for the love of your tyrannical dinosaur overlords, don’t forget to reference.