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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!
Francis Pryor’s talk at ArchFest, ‘Stonehenge: The Story of a Sacred Landscape’ was a surprise, and all the more interesting for that of course.
He began by saying that we would never fully understand the ancient monuments that surround us (particularly in Wiltshire it seems!) but he suggested that we don’t anyway fully understand our own sacred monuments. In saying this, he gestured towards our own magnificent Salisbury Cathedral. That got me thinking. And he hadn’t even mentioned Stonehenge as yet!
I have included here a piece from his own blog which tells us a little about his background and begins to explain his own theory about Stonehenge and places like it.
I’ve been an archaeologist for over forty years and have excavated several major sites, mostly in the Fens of eastern England. I’ve also tried to bring archaeology to a wider audience, with a number of books, radio and television programmes, of which Time Team is the best known. When not writing or digging, I’m also a sheep farmer and keen gardener. But like most people, I get bees in my bonnet – obsessions, call them what you like. Most of my worries are about the general disregard for the achievements of people in the past and the failure of politicians, both local and national, to learn the lessons of history.
Francis shared most of this with us in his talk. He explained that because the people who built and used Stonehenge were farmers, like himself, he tried to see the monument through their eyes. A view surely not unlike his own. It is a mistake, he said, to see the great henges as places that were each the creation of some megalomaniac figure. Rather they are the product of people, not unlike himself, as a farmer, and not unlike any of us, really. Just as we have our churches, graves, and memorials, so they wanted to record, celebrate and remember, loved ones.
The great megaliths are almost certainly he suggested, as we would suspect, representing Gods or great figures from within their society, and the smaller bluestones almost certainly representing local people. He also suggested that the numerous carvings of axes on some of the uprights are each representing a person.
It is important to remember that Stonehenge was built, added to, abandoned and re-used over centuries, anyway and so there would be subtle changes all the time in how it was used.
I kept remembering his opening remarks about Salisbury Cathedral. He is quite right, that in thousands of years’ time, no one will be able to precisely imagine, measure or record the feeling that the building gives us as we, Christians or not, walk into the Close. No one will be able to measure the awe we feel, its importance in our lives, the feeling it gives us for our own history. The magic.
Stonehenge was, and had, all of that for the peoples of the times in which it was the centre of their lives. And to a degree that magic lives on, even though we are no longer sure why it was built in the first place.
We will hear more about ArchFest weekend in next week’s blog, including some details of the wonderful talks. Meanwhile, a special thanks to the Volunteers who were with us, some on both days, and some who got very wet indeed! We can’t do it without you. It is as simple as that.
Here are just a few who were here on Sunday…
Thank you, too, to the staff, who gave up their weekend and still turned up to work on Monday!
This, from one of the exhibitors at ArchFest this weekend. It says it all about everyone involved:
I haven’t stopped laughing yet!! What a way to end the weekend!!
Despite all the little difficulties, we had a brilliant two days – better than last year. The visitors who braved the conditions were genuine enthusiasts and the discussions (often protracted due to showers keeping them under cover with us) extremely varied, challenging and productive. We were all hoarse by the end of each day.
A great part of the success was due to the hard work of your team of volunteers who retained their good humour throughout. In particular the tea and coffee team really sustained us all, by their constant attention and steady supply of the cheering brews.It didn’t seem to matter what queries and problems we exhibitors threw at anyone, staff member or volunteer, they were dealt with quickly and cheerfully.
The Fire Drill was a stroke of genius to wind up the proceedings just when the rain was beginning to make us a bit despondent!! Sorry – joke intended. But again I have to say how impressed I was at the efficiency and professionalism with which you all cleared the building. I don’t know how long it took, but it was pretty damn quick – clearing the gazebos was a bit more difficult, but you still did it.
Congratulations to everyone concerned.
ALEX LANGLANDS AT THE CHALKE VALLEY HISTORY FESTIVAL 2017
Sponsored by Salisbury Museum
A personal impression by Ann Howell
Well, it rained, but this did not dampen the happy atmosphere at the site. The site was on farmland at the back of Broad Chalke. This was my first visit and I was very impressed how big and well organised the whole festival was, with helpful, welcoming staff.
By 4.55pm the huge tent was packed, the talk being at 5pm.
Adrian gave a short talk on the Museum and then Alex began. He is impressive, not least because he does not try to be so. His delivery was casual with not a single note in sight. His vast knowledge and enthusiasm for his subject was self-evident. Images were projected onto a very large screen at the front of the tent which could be seen clearly by everyone. He began by outlining what most of us already knew about Old Sarum. How William I built a motte and bailey castle on site in 1067 and then in August 1086 called all the Tenants-in-chief and landowners of any account to swear fealty to him against all men. This was a “monumental occasion”, Alex said, and asked the question – did William pick Old Sarum for this purpose on an ordinary hill fort or was it already an important site in Anglo Saxon times? There is evidence to suggest that it was the latter. The Romans built five roads leading from Old Sarum. And in Anglo-Saxon times there was a cross roads leading to Mercia in the north, Wilton in the west, Winchester in the east and to the south the coast. It was, in fact, an ideal trading post and perhaps an administration centre?
He presented geophysical survey maps on screen which clearly showed evidence of activity beyond the moat on the Stratford-sub-Castle side. There was a lot going on, “..but what?” he asked. His team will be attempting to find out in the next three weeks of digging in this area. We all wait with bated breath for the result.
If you have not heard Alex Langlands speak, please make every effort to do so. You will not be disappointed. He will be at Salisbury Museum on 22 July speaking on the same subject!
Dr Alex Langlands, renowned historian and broadcaster, and long-time friend of this museum, is speaking at the Chalke Valley History Festival today (5pm). His talk, ‘The Lost City of Sarum’ will be reprised at our own Festival of Archaeology on Saturday 22 July at noon so if you can’t manage Broad Chalk today, then book a ticket with us for July.
Volunteer Ann Howell will be joining Director Adrian Green and Chair of Trustees Susanna Denniston at the Festival to publicise the Museum which is sponsoring this talk by Dr Langlands. It will be a popular event. We wish them fine weather and a good crowd.
Summer is here. ArchFest cannot be far behind…
Katy England reminds us it is a really exciting weekend with lots going on including talks in the lecture hall, a showground of living history and heritage, and an archaeological dig by Dr Phil Harding to search for the remains of the museum’s lost gatehouse. Volunteers are needed again this year for what is usually a very busy weekend. Two briefing sessions are planned:
Friday 16 June 10.30 – 11.30am and
Tuesday 20 June 2.30 – 3.30pm
Please contact Katy at email@example.com if you would like to be involved, and to let her know which of the two sessions would be convenient for you.
Extra engagement volunteers in the galleries are also needed for the two days. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you think you can help with that.