You know there is something fun and unusual going on when you hear a Roman soldier asking for a hammer to bash in tent pegs and see a Medieval woman leaning over a freezer to choose an ice cream. To say nothing of listening to archers discuss the relative values of using yew to make massive longbows and watch with pleasure as an innocuous plant in boiling water produces a lovely blue dye.
These were all part of Salisbury Museum’s second highly successful Festival of Archaeology, held over the weekend of 23 – 24 July 2016. There was a buzz around the Museum all weekend with over 1,800 visitors taking the opportunity, not only to visit stalls and demonstrations and listen to lectures, but also to visit the galleries and exhibitions in the Museum itself.
As an engagement volunteer at Salisbury Museum, and having experienced the previous Festival of Archaeology, I already knew how enjoyable these weekends are and volunteered to help out for both days. I was extremely fortunate to be part of the team looking after the lecture hall for the first day and then was out on the ground for the second, firstly on the information stand, and then a real treat – looking after the items found by famous archaeologist Dr Phil Harding in his first-ever dig in the museum grounds the day before.
No-one knew what the metre-square hole would produce, there was an uncomfortable possibility that it would yield absolutely nothing, but an extraordinary amount of ‘treasure’ was actually found. My job was to look after the collection as Phil and his colleague Lorraine Mepham went off to give a talk in the lecture hall about what they had unearthed.
After a quick tutorial about the objects I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours chatting to people about how extraordinary it was that a hole of that size could have produced some fascinating bowl pipes and a musket flint from around the time of the Civil War, pieces of medieval glass and pottery, and masses of ancient roof tiles. Even a plastic biro was carefully put with the other items – I never did find out whether it still worked.
The beauty of the weekend was that it appealed to all ages and tastes. Children were invited to make and decorate their own pot helmets, shields and foam swords out of recycled materials from the Scrapstore, and teenagers were able to learn about the finer points of Medieval archery before using longbows to fire arrows at targets. For the slightly more cerebral there were fascinating lectures which ranged from Egyptology and geophysics in archaeology to genetic genealogy – rather a lot of ‘ologies’ when you think about it . . . .
The costumes of the re-enactors were remarkably authentic with knights from the College of Chivalry rubbing shoulders with Roman centurions and ancient Wessex potters. But the part for me that probably encapsulated the joy of the whole event was seeing fully armoured-up knights being attacked by hordes of thrilled excited children with the aforesaid foam swords. The sun shone for a lot of the time, people arrived in their hundreds, and it was a wonderful opportunity to showcase our wonderful museum.
Terrific fun, very entertaining, and a great way to spend a summer weekend.