ArchFest 17 was a brilliant event (and the fact that people turned up enthusiastically in the rain is testament to that!). We were very busy all weekend with 1277 visitors to the museum and it was those people and the part played by the tremendous volunteers and staff that helped to make the weekend enjoyable whilst getting thoroughly soaked!
Dr Phil Harding’s dig (using Mick Aston’s shovel and overlooked by the giant statue in the front garden!) for the remains of the lost gatehouse (guided by old maps and geophysics) found some medieval tiles and pottery while providing a fascinating insight into practical archaeology and demonstrated to the onlookers that a lot can be accomplished in a small amount of time and space. Within just a few hours they had found something they did not know before and this was the essence of archaeology. The discoveries, paired with Phil’s humour, made the dig incredibly popular and his tent always had a crowd round it. Whilst amongst the crowds I met a family who had come from Southampton and whose daughter was interested in archaeology even at her young age. They said they were “really enjoying watching the dig”, and from what they could see from where they were standing, couldn’t wait to have a look round the rest of the stands as they all looked “very interesting”. Working with Phil was Lorraine Mepham who is a finds specialist. She worked throughout the event identifying objects which she would discuss with a sold-out crowd in a talk the following day.
Adjacent to the dig was cooking masterclasses. Although some of the ingredients may have been brought from Tesco, it just shows it is still possible to connect with history in the modern day. Visitors could also enjoy slightly less historical hot dogs and burgers brought from a BBQ.
Another live demonstration included that of the College of Chivalry which showed eager listeners the importance of archery in conflicts of the past as well as teaching them how to be proper archers. The first of these lessons was that you “shoot”, not “fire” a bow as many people may have thought, due to the inconsistencies of Hollywood.
Some of the many projects showcased included Human Henge who described their first year at the festival as “wonderful”. They were highlighting the work they are doing to help people with mental health problems engage with culture and history through a partnership with Bournemouth and English Heritage. This was a very exciting stall as this is a pilot project (so new it is still in its research phase) which will hopefully be developed by June 2018. The Maritime Archaeology bus gave visitors a chance to engage with maritime archaeology including World War One ship wrecks. This seemed to have captured the imagination of many young visitors as at the end of the day they could be seen sailing boats they had made with Scrapstore in the puddles that had formed – you know what they say about lemons and lemonade! Waterloo Uncovered were enjoying their first year at the festival displaying finds from the last three years of work. This project involves leading battlefield archaeologist working with veterans from recent campaigns and helping to aid their recovery and rehabilitation into life after the army. Their stall was supplemented by virtual tours of the farmhouse three times a day which provided another different type of activity. Whilst Waterloo Uncovered were enjoying their first time at the festival, Friends of Clarendon were equally enjoying their third time at the event. They say that it is the “enthusiasm of the people they meet” and the enjoyment they get from talking about the ”fantastic site” which keeps them coming back (and they will hopefully return in the future too!). The Cathedral was kept secure by the Butser IX Legion marching around it impressively while General Pitt-Rivers told us of his contribution in the early days of archaeology.
All whilst this was happening, a variety of highly interesting talks were taking place from a diverse range of speakers with an equally mixed selection of topics being a pioneering female journalist for the BBC (Kate Adey) to the “Pompeii of Britain” (Must Farm). The knowledge the speakers brought, coupled with opportunity for intellectual questions and answers made them very informative.
Overall, the weekend was very successful and enjoyed by all who attended. We learned a lot and enjoyed learning it and we hope to see you next year!