After a short hiatus, we’re pleased to be able to continue our ‘Inside the Mind‘ series, with the co-operation of Professor David Breeze OBE, FSA, FRSE, Hon FSA Scot, Hon MIFA.
David Breeze was educated at Blackpool Grammar School and University College, Durham. After graduating in modern history he carried out research on the junior officers of the Roman army, being awarded his doctorate in 1970. He was formerly Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments for Scotland and has written books on both the Antonine Wall and Hadrian’s Wall as well as Roman Scotland, Roman frontiers generally and the Roman army. David prepared the bid for World Heritage Site status for the Antonine Wall, which was successfully achieved in 2008. He retired in 2009 but continues to write about Roman frontiers and the Roman army. David is an honorary professor at the universities of Durham, Edinburgh and Newcastle, and is chairman of the International Congress of Roman Frontier Studies, on which subject he presented at the recent Current Archaeology Live! conference in London.
The Ten Questions
What sparked your interest in Archaeology/Heritage Protection?
I have always liked history. My longest running research project started when I was 10, which is studying my family tree. So I went to university to read history and happened to have Eric Birley as my first tutor. He sparked an interest in archaeology. After my PhD, I was appointed an inspector of ancient monuments in Scotland and therefore a cultural resource manager, which I found that I enjoyed!
How did you get started?
Who has most influenced your career?
In Durham in the 1960s, each student had a tutor and Eric Birley, Professor of Archaeology and a specialist in the Roman army, was my first tutor. He encouraged me to attend the university excavation and I was hooked. Eric asked Brian Dobson to supervise my undergraduate dissertation and Brian went on to supervise my PhD. I learnt a lot from his approach to archaeology and teaching.
Which has been your most exciting project to date?
I would like to offer two. In 1971, I excavated a complete Roman fortlet, Barburgh Mill in Dumfriesshire, and this became a type site. Then, from 1973 until 1982 I investigated the fort at Bearsden on the Antonine Wall. This has been the largest excavation project on the Antonine Wall since before the second World War, and led to the developer gifting the land on which the bath-house sat to the State and I was able to completely excavate it and lay it out for public inspection. We found the sewage which had drained from the latrine into the fort ditch and this showed what the soldiers ate, and, most interestingly, that the diet was mainly plant based.
What is your favourite British archaeological site… and why?
Hadrian’s Wall! This is marvellous monument, sitting in a wonderful landscape, with centuries of study behind it but at the same time with many secrets to reveal. I have written 5 books and guide-books on the Wall yet I continue to learn more about it year on year.
What is your biggest archaeological/heritage regret?
Missing the opportunity to visit archaeological sites in those parts of the world which are now off limits. This is, of course, a personal regret, but there are wider issues. For a proper understanding of an archaeological site, it is important to visit and seek to appreciate it in its setting: this is now denied to a whole generation of students. Over and above that, we are witnessing the terrible destruction of elements of our world heritage: this is a catastrophe for us all and diminishes us all.
If you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation, what would it be?
One problem with our legislation is that it is still site-based and I should welcome an approach which focused more on the landscape in which these sites sat.
If you were able to address Parliament for 30 seconds on archaeology what would you say?
What is important to all of us is a sense of place. This permeates so much of our life, not only the streets we walk along and the buildings we admire, but our attitudes and prejudices. Our sense of place is deep seated and extends well into the past. There is a reason that the treaty establishing the EU was signed in Rome, but we also want to understand Stonehenge and the people who lived in Skara Brae. This desire to understand where we came from and how we have related to our neighbours in the past is so important to helping us understand our position in the world today.
If your career hadn’t worked out, what would you be doing now?
Teaching in a school (I have 10 teachers in my family).
Away from the ‘day job’, how do you relax?
I have 3 grandchildren who I am lucky enough to see regularly, and I have a project to take each of them abroad – so far my grandson has been to Rome twice and this year my elder granddaughter goes to Paris for the first time. I also have a garden, and I enjoy walking and reading.
We’d like to express our thanks to David for his thoughtful and thought-provoking responses.
Previous articles in this series can be found here, or by using our Search Bar, and the term ‘Inside the Mind’.
If you work in community archaeology or heritage protection and would like to take part, or have a suggestion for a suitable willing subject, please contact us.