A view from Katy Saunders…
As part of my archaeology course at the University of Nottingham, I have to complete twenty days compulsory fieldwork. Last year I spent ten of these days working on an excavation at the Poulton Research Project, near Chester (as seen on Time Team!). For some strange reason, after ten days of either pouring rain or blistering sun and mud getting in places mud should not be, I decided to go somewhere indoors with heaters and carpet and a roof. Weird.
Joking aside, I really wanted to gain experience on the museum/heritage side of archaeology, as this is the area I am most interested in. It would be good work experience for me, and would help me make decisions in terms of my future career. I sat down at my computer and tried to rack my brains for somewhere which might be willing to take me on. My Dad suggested Salisbury to me. We had been to the museum several times, having visited the Festival of Archaeology for two years in a row. I emailed, and soon found myself with a placement.
I was down for various jobs, all of which gave me great insight to the running of museums. I worked with the Rex Whistler collections with several lovely ladies, helped organise the many boxes of the Pitt-River’s collection (I have never seen so many models of ploughs in my life!) and worked with the team slowly going through boxes and boxes of clothes, describing them carefully and recording them properly. I also tried my hand at asking the public to fill in exit surveys after they had been around the museum, and a special thank you to the lady, a volunteer, who said, “People never filled them out for me, so I’ll fill one out for you!”
I was not able to completely avoid Britain’s magical weather. During the Festival of Archaeology I was photographing Phil Harding’s dig at the museum and was extremely thankful for the tent that was put up over us! But rather unfortunately I was not under this lovely, dry, non-leaking tent when the fire alarm went off during a particularly heavy downpour, I was in the building. The building which had to be evacuated. Into the rain.
Needless to say when I got home that evening I was more than a little damp.
As someone keenly interested in archaeology, the Pitt-Rivers collection was highly interesting. I was able to peek in at the items stored in the backroom; rows and rows of boxes piled high and filled with all sorts of fascinating and intriguing things. As someone who loves browsing bookshops for hours, I felt like I could be in there forever! One box contained skulls, others flint from Norfolk, many with models of carved crosses, I was like a kid in a sweet shop and wanted to carefully take each box out one by one and poke my nose in.
The costume and clothes collection was also interesting. Archaeology is defined as ‘studying the past through the physical remains’. Most of the time, we tend to think of this as pottery or tile or the ruined remains of an abbey where the jackdaws nest. However, when I thought about it, clothing is archaeology too. The items also have stories to tell, from which kind of intricate lace the item was decorated with to the type of hand-made button carefully sewn into the cuffs of a 1800s dress. The items were created, had owners and hold as much history as the flints and the axe heads in the Wessex Gallery. This was something that had not crossed my mind before, and left me intrigued!
I admit, art is not my forte. At best a wonky stick figure is all I can manage, at worse a lop-sided smiley face. So when I was shown to the Rex Whister room to go through his work, cataloguing and recording each item, I wondered if I was going to be a little out of my depth. Luckily, my nervousness vanished quickly as I looked over all the silly doodles Rex had drawn on the back on envelopes, and the funny sketches of couples dancing. A Volunteer and I had great fun trying to describe what was meant to be a pretty picture at in the opening pages of a book (‘The New Forget-Me-Not’). If, “Grotesque grimacing face with a flowing fountain and star above it and ribbon and plants at either side.” made any sense to the poor person transferring our record online I have no idea, but hopefully they will be so confused that they have to look the image up. It’s a great picture, so I hope they do!
In conclusion, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Salisbury Museum. The collections are fascinating, the staff and Volunteers welcoming, and it has given me great insight to the running of museums, something highly valuable to me as I make decisions for my future. I shall be recommending this experience everywhere I go!
Thank you Katy. We’re glad it was fun. Best wishes to you…