Current Archaeology Live is an event hosted annually by Current Archaeology magazine since 2008, and incorporating the Current Archaeology Awards. Again, as last year, I attended and live-tweeted the event.
After a full first day, attendees arriving at Senate House found the entrance they had been told to use for Day Two was off limits – the Muppets were filming in the building for the day! So a quick leg stretch was required to circumnavigate the building to an alternate entrance. Despite this, the conference timetable was adhered to – kudos to the organisers.
Session 5. The Making of Medieval England
After a recap of last year’s award winners, Duncan Sayer started the day, taking us through Anglo-Saxon Oakington, northernmost of a cluster of Anglo-Saxon cemeteries in Cambridgeshire. Analysis of the graves showed no patterning according to age or gender, but there were lots of children interred. One couple buried together were shown – she was much the taller of the two, so much so that her knees were bent to fit her into the grave cut. However, analysis of finds showed a pattern of clusters of long and round brooches, suggesting two separate plots. Amusingly, two horse burials were uncovered, until one was found to have horns! A woman buried with a cow was a first.
Alexandra Knox then took us through the recent excavations at Lyminge in Kent, site of an Anglo-Saxon Timber Hall. A monastic abbey site, previous excavations have identified two distinct phases of occupation in the area, with no overlap. Evidence from excavated Sunken Floored Buildings (SFBs) shows that the area was important prior to the estalishment of the abbey there. The big find of the 2012 season though was the Great Hall, of double plank in trench construction and preliminarily dated to around AD600. Christianisation of the area is reflected in both the settlement shift and the diet – from mostly pigs to mainly sheep/goat, though over 10000 fish bones have been uncovered, some 10 miles from the (then) coast. Other finds have identified Middle Saxon Lyminge as a centre of production. Textiles, metalworking, bone working etc.
Finally for this session, Neil Faulkner returned to the stage, taking as his subject ‘Monarchy, Church and Great Estate, the making and remaking of an Anglo-Saxon village’ – Sedgeford. Neil made the point that while with Roman sites it’s easy to identify their function: town, fort, villa etc., no such typology exists for Anglo-Saxon sites. What is a monastery, what does a manor look like? He then discussed how far the social structures described in Anglo-Saxon written sources can be seen in archaeology. Sedgeford is a long term investigation of settlement and land use, for instance: Middle A-S Sedgeford is mainly located south of the river, with Medieval Sedgford to the north. Why the move? Many questions still unanswered, though the impact of the creation of petty kingdoms etc. needs to be considered – dynamism of society reflected in the archaeology?
After such a thoughtful talk to close the session, it was time for a coffee break and more browsing round the Fair stalls looking for some bargains.
Session 6. A Tale of Two Cities: Pompeii and Herculaneum
The World Archaeology session returned to Roman matters with three talks covering “two ordinary towns with a spectacular end”. Paul Roberts of the British Museum was up first to introduce the upcoming exhibition on the two cities, “Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum”, which promises to ‘provide vivid insights into ordinary Roman life’. Pompeii had a population of between 12-15000, Herculaneum was smaller. Up to 50% of the population of Herculaneum were of slave origin. The exhibition focuses on the home; for instance, a fresco of a baker and his wife was shown where she holds a stylus and tablet appears to show her doing the accounts for the family business. Many other images were shown in a slide show, including how a large mosaic had to be tilted to fit through the doors of the museum for the exhibition, and a bronze statue of Empress Livia squeezed through with just 2cm to spare. Tricky stuff. The exhibition reminds us that the artefacts aren’t just objects, they were someone’s possessions, like the carbonised baby’s wooden cradle, and the carbonised table that also appears in a wall fresco.
Andrew Wallace-Hadrill then guided us through Herculaneum, where just 5 hectares have been excavated to date, about a tenth of the area dug so far at Pompeii. Although both cities were wiped out by the volcanic eruption, there were doomed in different ways. Pompeii was suffocated by the initial ash, but Herculaneum was covered by the pyroclastic flows. Different ends, different effects (the organic material was preserved much better in Herculaneum), and different excavation methods are required for a total of ‘450 million truckloads’ of material covering the two cities. In Pompeii, pumice pebbles can be excavated, but Herculaneum is covered in solid rock. Much more difficult to excavate! But Herculaneum is in decline through neglect – hence the Herculaneum Conservation Project, but water management is a big problem, with regular flooding so reconstructing the drains is important as the Romans knew how to keep their city dry.
Sarah Court then took to the stage, all the way from Italy, to tell us more about the outreach aspects of the Conservation Project. The excavations initially created generations of local employment, but the area around Herculaneum is now very poor with high unemployment and very little tourism so far. The Project is involving the local community again, giving them a sense of pride and ownership in an area that could again be engulfed by another eruption at any time! Many locals feel that tourism is the only hope for their town, and local schoolchildren are being used as ‘ambassadors’, in a ‘peer learning’ scheme.
The session was closed with a Q&A section, where debate centred around the possible ‘Disneyfication’ of the area and moves to prevent this happening whilst still providing a sustainable future for the region. After which, the conference broke off for lunch before the final sessions of the two day event…
To Be Continued.