My name is Maddie Rodbert, and I have taken part in a placement week at the museum as part of my degree in Archaeology and Anthropology. As I could have been digging somewhere in the back-end of rainy Wales for a fortnight, this was hugely preferable. Although I am enjoying my course, I would much rather someone else hand me things that have already been dug up to look at; this means that the time I have spent at the museum has been hugely interesting as that is exactly what I have been able to do.
During my time at the museum I have been helping out a lot with the volunteers who go through every room, cupboard and shelf to properly label and record all the donated items, whether it be clothing, tools or bones. What is out on display is such a minor selection of what is in the museum as most of it is archived away on towering shelves in the areas off limits to the public.
I have been fortunate enough to spend the week in the labyrinthine corridors behind the rooms in which the public spend their time. It may seem strange that such a large building does not have more rooms for people to explore but in actual fact they are all full to the brim with… things. If I were to romanticise it for a child I could tell them “there is buried treasure behind the exhibits, things from Greek myth and Arthurian legend”. However most of it really is not the sort of exciting treasure one would expect to see at first glance. During the week we have been acquainted with everything from 150,000 year old hand axes to Celtic torcs, medieval flag poles to questionable thirties hats (the hat was a highlight – it really was quite awful). However, it was an amazing opportunity to work with the various volunteers who work on the many areas of research. It takes a huge amount of work to run a museum and when there is so much donated to them, it takes years to make sure everything is recorded and stored appropriately. The first thing we are taught on this at university is that the only difference between grave robbing and archaeology is the process of recording the finds, as the removal of the items is essentially robbing them of their historical context. Without the information written down, that moment in history is lost forever and this really cemented in me the importance of the work the museum does.
The Festival of Archaeology weekend was a time for all the work to be shown off to the public. I got my first insight into the immense fun of having a press pass as I made my way around photographing and documenting the festival. Covering multiple areas of history, prehistoric all the way up to the First World War, there was a lot that brought history to life for both adults and children. What most people learnt from the day seemed to be that archaeology is really quite vague; we can never truly know exactly what happened all those years ago but the fun of it is the interpretation. No matter how fantastic the condition of the items are, the stories we tell in the modern day are clearly as important as the ones we attempt to discover.