Discovered in Time, at Hay
Finally, only a year or so later, we launch fab new archaeology book Discovered in Time. We had a lovely event on the Hay Festival programme - pretty small in scale, but all the more enjoyable for it.
I knew the author, Mark Redknap, was a bit nervous and I felt suitably guilty. But I also knew he'd be great. He's articulate, knowledgeable, engaging and can throw in a soupcon of humour - ideal speaker material.
We'd pitched the event as a discussion on issues like who are we (museums) to decide what's 'treasure', or are we the natural authors of the national 'story', or de we hand over the 'voice' to communities (yes we do), and how do we relate to amateur archaeologists - all stuff I think is fascinating. Mark talked about those issues and illustrated them with some gems of stories related to various objects featured in the book. However the audience were also clearly drawn by the archaeology, and wanted some good old-fashioned archaeologists 'in the field' stories.
BBC journalist Sian Lloyd was our host for the event and she brought a fresh face and a sound journalistic approach, keeping the whole event expertly on track. The Q&A at the end included questions ranging from 'what was your Howard Carter moment?', which Mark gently explained can happen many times either with discovering a new find or with a new discovery about an old find, as we keep studying the collections and applying new technology, to the role of science in archaeology - see point about new technology. (And, is archaeology itself a science? Hmmm...).
I was really pleased that the audience comprised a healthy mixture of men and women, and all ages. What they had in common was that enduring fascination, which perhaps we all have, with the light objects that survive from antiquity can shed on our shared human past. And that, I hope, is just what our new book conveys.
Taking Stock of the Block
After documentation, the next step was to take stock of the overall condition of the block, and to make a preliminary inventory of the types of archaeological materials I could see.
As can be seen in the birds-eye-view photograph, there are some large cracks running across the block: these most likely occurred during lifting and transportation from the site to the museum. Unfortunately, these extend through some of the exposed armour, and areas of thin, mineralized iron plate have broken. This kind of damage, whilst regrettable, couldn’t have been avoided.
I wanted to keep the broken pieces in place for as long as possible, as the positioning of the remains is important to our interpretation of the events taking place in these two rooms of the warehouse. In order to ensure that fragments stayed together (at least for the interim) I used a wax-like substance called Cyclododecane, which I melted and brushed onto the artefacts. The Cyclododecane will eventually sublime altogether, and so I will not have to remove it later.
In addition to the iron plates, there are also a range of other interesting artefacts visible on the surface of the block. There appears to be a scattering of copper alloy scale armour (see photograph for an example), which would also have been worn by a soldier.
At the edge of the block is a large copper alloy stud, its use in antiquity currently unknown: it is not an artefact which has been associated with lorica segmentata. As the photograph shows, the copper has corroded considerably and is very thin.
Scattered amongst these exciting finds are the usual types of artefacts found during archaeological excavations: pieces of red ceramic tile, fragments of pottery, bits of animal bone, and crumbly lumps of white plaster (from the building itself).
Excavating the block will be both time consuming and challenging: I have selected a number of small tools to use. I am unable to place a microscope over the block, and so will be using an optimizer (a visor with magnification lenses) instead- I do not want to miss any small artefacts or details during the excavation.