Did you miss the Festival of Archaeology? This is one young person’s experience of it all….
“I was encouraged to join an archaeological dig in August (WARG’s Barton Stacey Dig 2018), begin archaeology classes, shoot a longbow, cut a milk carton in half with a sword as long as my leg, hammer my very own Iron Age coin, build a tank, ‘go and find Phil’ (I had a question about flint arrowheads that, apparently, only Dr Phil Harding should answer), wear medieval armour, and dig for archaeological finds. On top of all this I discussed Cretan Archaeology, battle fronts in WWII, Norfolk flint mines, the Battle of Crécy, codes of medieval combat and even Russian Literature to name only a handful of topics”
Now read on…
My name is Erica Humbey and I have returned since my placement at the museum in June to write about my experience of the Festival of Archaeology – a weekend spent delving into the past and enjoying the present.
Despite recent events in Salisbury both exhibitors and visitors to the museum were constantly enthused and seemed by no means discouraged. The usually calm space behind the main museum building was buzzing with the interaction of keen minds, crafty hands and a whole lot of historical curiosity. The study of the past attracts a diverse crowd; there are so many ways in which one can get involved and connect to history!
First of all there’s that unidentifiable familiarity, a feeling that history is not all that far removed from us today. Take archaeology for example, and biological material in particular. Southampton University brought with them to the festival a selection of bones which could be compared to diagrams of various parts of cows, goats and the like in order to identify each fossil. This simple exercise was taken up with interest; visitors enjoyed relating the bones to their own anatomy.
‘What a large tooth in comparison to yours!’
said a mother to her child as the young daughter held up the tooth of a large mammal. It was not much smaller than her finger and she laughed at the thought of her teeth being as big as that. Through archaeology the young girl could look at herself in a new way because instead of struggling to understand an entirely foreign object, she could see how this alien object related to her own body and think of the ways it was similar in order to comprehend the ways it was so different.
In the cool space of the Wessex Gallery people continued to connect with history and its people. Here was ‘talking objects’ – a museum volunteer put a selection of objects on show, and gave visitors the opportunity to discuss and handle them.
‘Put your thumbs here…you’re putting your thumbs where a Roman potter once put his thumbs!’
The volunteer said this to a child who was intrigued by a small Roman pot from the New Forest and it strikes me as demonstrating a fundamental joy of archaeology – it allows us to connect with ancient peoples through their possessions and material culture. We start to think more empathetically: What must it have felt like to be the man who pressed his thumbs into the supple clay of this pot? What were his responsibilities, fears and dreams? Was this pottery his livelihood? This small clay vessel affords us a view into his life.
As well as picking out what is familiar to us, we are certainly interested in the elements of historic day-to-day business which appear foreign and therefore exciting. The ‘College of Chivalry’ proved very popular at the festival; visitors watched in fear and awe as the character ‘John de Grey’ sat polishing his helmet while axes and sharps glistening in the sun at his feet. After 6 to 12 weekends of training each member ‘plays’ a real historic man or woman and fights in non-choreographed battles, equipped with armour and weapons according to his position in society. When asked
‘What’s your favourite weapon?’
‘John’ answered in character that his favourite would be the axe; when sharpened on the inside he could use it to hook behind your ankle, tearing your achilles tendons and ensuring that you would never walk again. A gruesome answer but unquestionable logic! Doing as he described would mean that his opponent would never pose a threat again, but their armour would remain intact and they could be sold for a significant ransom if they were a wealthy lord.
Visitors of every age tried their hands at archery, and the air resounded with the ‘thwack’ of arrows shot from longbows. Certainly, some would have been more successful in battle than others, but as there were no armed enemies charging towards us everyone had a fantastic time.
Have you ever picked up a sharp piece of flint, proclaimed it to be an ancient tool and fancied yourself a world-class archaeologist? During the festival a large number of people improved their flint-identifying skills with the help of Southhampton University – they learned how to search the flint for the striking platform, bulb of percussion and perhaps even marks where the flint has been chipped to form a sharper edge – features which suggest knapping.
The conversations and activities that visitors and stall holders alike were engaged in over the weekend where multifarious and fascinating: I was encouraged to join an archaeological dig in August (WARG’s Barton Stacey Dig 2018), begin archaeology classes, shoot a longbow, cut a milk carton in half with a sword as long as my leg, hammer my very own Iron Age coin, build a tank, ‘go and find Phil’ (I had a question about flint arrowheads that, apparently, only Dr Phil Harding should answer), wear medieval armour, and dig for archaeological finds. On top of all this I discussed Cretan Archaeology, battle fronts in WWII, Norfolk flint mines, the Battle of Crécy, codes of medieval combat and even Russian Literature to name only a handful of topics. What an opportunity. I hope that the festival will return year upon year to inspire even more new interest and rekindle old love for history and Archaeology.
Many thanks to the fabulous team at the museum; the organisation was superb and the volunteers seem to have endless energy and passion to offer. After seeing the success, variety and opportunities offered by the festival it’s no surprise to me that I saw it advertised as far away as St Andrews, Scotland!
– Erica Humbey
Salisbury Museum’s Festival of Archaeology was truly magical this year. More than six hundred braved the heat (and other distractions) on Saturday and more than seven hundred on Sunday.
Memories include the little girl who came away from one of Tim Lowe’s presentations about WWI and said “The soldiers didn’t want to be there did they Mummy?”
Also memorable was Richard Osgood, DIO (Ministry of Defence) Senior Historic advisor, TV archaeologist and writer, who shared moving accounts of the work they do with army veterans struggling with PTSD. Operation Nightingale is the programme using archaeology to aid in the recovery of soldiers who are sick, wounded or were injured on operations in Afghanistan.
The Meetings Room was full of fascinating material relating to the Old Sarum Landscapes Project run by The University of Southampton and University of Swansea (more on this next week). But there was also a delightful display of artwork by Volunteers, U of Southampton students and pupils from Stratford sub Castle CE Primary School. The art work is all part of the Project and continues in the museum this week.
We have a growing audience of children at our Festivals and this year was no exception. Kate, of Wiltshire Scrapstore, an award winning environmental and community charity providing activities for children (they now have an establishment at Wilton!), worked heroically single-handed with hundreds of little ones. Model tanks were the popular choice of the day (see photo above).
Wessex Archaeology had them digging…
Rapt audiences of children and adults were moved by Tim’s stories of WWI.
Phil Harding dug while Museum Director Adrian Green looked on. “How does he do it so neatly?” asked one passer-by. Years of practice I think!
Wiltshire Museum (Devizes) and the Wessex Partnership were producing counterfeit coins – well, copies, anyway – beautiful reproductions of Iron Age staters, hammered, just as the real ones were two thousand years ago. Many proud youngsters also walked out wearing small diamond shaped decorated gold plaques made with foil. Brilliantly effective.
Salisbury Cathedral Education, and representatives from Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage site were also providing opportunities for children to have hands on experiences, as were, of course, The Companions of the Longbow (always popular – those bows and arrows!) and the College of Chivalry where calligraphy could be tried with real quill pens.
One tiny tot fell in love with Lucy (that’s the Dorset Regiment’s lorry) and couldn’t be dragged away. Proud owner Colin had been fixing its brakes around midnight the night before..!
Friends of Clarendon Palace are old friends of ours and reported that there were so many visitors to their stand that they were afraid they hadn’t spoken to them all!
There was barbecue and Pimms, thanks to the Museum Cafe (and some great chocolate cake!), singers sang, Hadrian Cook of the Watermeadows Trust was there (I think we could all have done with a paddle), Romilly, of the Outside, valiantly kept spinning her wools in all that heat while we talked about 1976 and the possibility of a rain dance, and English Heritage kept buildng and rebuilding Stonehenge while being watched by giant photos of the Chubbs, who made it all possible (if you don’t know the story, click here).
The speakers were excellent, and such good value, and generous in many ways. Some had come a long way too – thank you to you all.
We even had novelists. Nicola Ford was here, signing copies of her new book and Lindsay Davis (she of Falco and Flavia Albia) made us laugh – a relaxed and engaging speaker.
A very good time was had…..
The place, the crowds, the children, the Salisbury Museum Team, the exhibitors, the superb speakers, the Volunteers, the musicians, the Museum Cafe. Old friends and new.
An email from one of our exhibitors:
Just to say thank you … for another great weekend. Amazingly busy we thought. Having convinced ourselves that people would stay away because of the heat, we were proved to be totally wrong… Everyone involved on the stand thoroughly enjoyed themselves, whether it was for the full day or only a couple of hours to give others a break. At times we couldn’t manage to speak to everyone, because there were just too many people round the stand.
Can you pass our thanks on to Val (Museum Housekeeper and general Wonder Woman), who helped get the gazebo erected Friday afternoon, and magically conjured up two tables ready and waiting for me on Saturday morning. Very much appreciated. As for the Mobile Canteeners (Volunteers) , what a fabulous job they did, on their feet all day, loaded up with drinks, flasks etc and very little respite from the sun. They definitely deserve a Mention in Dispatches!
Thank you everyone.
You will have heard that we have a plan to leaflet the public during the school holidays. A timetable has gone up in the Volunteer cloakroom and we need Volunteers to join in please.
The plan is for a Volunteer to be at St Ann’s Gate and another at the High Street Gate every day between Monday 30 July and Friday 31 August. There are two shifts, one from about 11am – noon, the other from about 1.30pm – 2.30pm (a little earlier or later is fine).
The timetable is in the Volunteer cloakroom. Please sign up if you can spare an hour.
YOU DO NOT NEED TO SIGN IN AT RECEPTION, just take a basket of flyers (they are rolled like little scrolls) and make sure you tell your customers that they offer a free drink at the cafe. Lucky recipients may even get an offer of a glass of wine or cream tea!
Please return basket and badge at the end of your shift.
Our successful Festival of Archaeology shows we can beat Salisbury’s bad patch, if we work at it.
A comment sent in by a fellow Volunteer, responding to Christine Mason’s blog ‘Tate Britain’ (see 5 June):
Thank you, Chris for this encouraging, interesting and beautiful word-painting of the day you shared. It seems there was a good mix of roles represented from Salisbury and a valuable opportunity to share and learn from others within the Partnership.
PS The hospitality afforded by Tate Britain sounds just about bearable too!
Proud to be a very tiny, occasional cog. Thank you all.
The Old Sarum Landscapes Project, a collaboration between the University of Southampton and the University of Swansea, is continuing its excavations near Stratford sub Castle this summer (more news of this later) and we look forward to the talk by Alex Langlands this week on this very topic.
Meanwhile, as part of the project, Volunteers and students from Southampton Archaeology have been collaborating for more than a week now on an art activity associated with the project.
This Volunteer, always happy to have a go with pen, pencil or brush, arrived one day last week, and with another Volunteer and a talented young History student, Sam, and were introduced to things by Luke Sollars. Luke is a freelance archaeologist who is usually to be found in Egypt, in an office behind the temple at Karnak (!), but he is also a bit of an artist.
The room was piled high with papers, paints, glue, scissors, pastels, pencils, pens and ink. At first the brief seemed very odd – produce artwork based on Old Sarum or other archaeological landscapes showing the link with the archaeological methods and processes. We all got going, however, and the remarkable results can be seen this weekend at ArchFest, and at the Society of Antiquaries Open Day on 27th July.
This was another lovely opportunity for Salisbury Museum Volunteers. Did you miss it?
Emily True studies at Sarum Academy and recently completed her work experience at the museum.
I find Salisbury Museum interesting because of the vast and varied array of items in storage and on display.
One of my favourite objects is the Figheldean jade axe (above), on display in the Wessex Gallery. The axe head was made around 4000-3700 BC and made from eclogite from near Mount Visco in the Italian Alps. It is highly polished and has remained in almost perfect condition to this day. The axe would have represented power and probably hardly ever used.
Another one of my favourite displays is that of the Swallowcliffe Princess It is a re-creation of the burial of a young woman of 18-25 years at her time of death. She is called the ‘princess’ because she was presumably important to those around her or of high status, shown through the objects that she was buried with. She was laid on her wooden bed and surrounded by items such as two glass palm cups (one of which is still perfectly intact and in good condition) and a decorative mount with repousse decoration from a satchel. The thing that interests me most about this is that no one will ever know exactly how she died or how she lived her life and all there is to do is speculate, based on her burial.
Every artefact has a story, is rich with history and has the answers to many questions.
Hello my name is Ella Louden. I am 17 years old, I have just finished my first year of A-levels, studying Art, Biology and Maths at Godolphin school. I am thinking about going to university and I am considering art courses. I am particularly interested in textiles and fashion.
I decided to do work experience at Salisbury Museum, shortly after visiting the museum with the school and a few of us come down to look at the costume collection. The aim was to start off our new art project which I am currently doing. It is a personal investigation on “Flowers in Art”. For my project I wanted to get the chance to have a closer look at some of the costumes they have here hidden in the boxes and also learn about the history. This experience has given me the chance to use what I have learnt and the photos I have taken to develop my project. Not only will the costumes I have seen inspire my art but also the ceramics and any other items that contained floral prints and patterns. Working at the museum has also given me the experience of learning how to catalogue, and to work alongside a lot of different people.
What I particularly enjoyed was the ‘spotlight tour’ on Monday. This was a good start to the week as I could get a feel for the museum and what it had it to offer. I don’t know the museum very well and it was handy learn more about it before working with the volunteers. Of course I also really enjoyed the costume cataloguing and although on the Wednesday some curtains weren’t particularly exciting, I realised you had no clue what was going to be inside some of the boxes. It was quite intriguing. I was able to see some of the beautiful lace and patterns in the fascinating clothes they used to wear and what the fashions were like in those days. On my last day I really enjoyed cataloguing the Rex Whistler Archive. It was incredible to see he was so talented at drawing and painting even at such a young age. I got to see some of his beautiful costume designs that he had done for ballets. It was fascinating to see these designs – a bit different to his paintings shown in the museum.
Overall my week was very good and it’s been pleasure to meet all the lovely staff and volunteers who work at the museum. It is astonishing to know how little of the fascinating collection of artefacts the museum have on display and how so much effect is needed to go through the collections and catalogue it all.
An unsolicited recommendation from one of our Volunteers:
“The Café at Salisbury Museum is an ideal venue for meeting friends and enjoying good beverages, cakes, etc, either before or after visiting the amazing Museum.
I wish the new franchisee all the very best with their venture.
Hope to see you soon!”