Thursday, 14 February 2008

Bulletin 11 (Feb 2008)

Archaeology 2008 - The British Museum Conference Report

Archaeology 2008 - The British Museum Conference Report

The conference was hosted by Current Archaeology, Current World Archaeology and sponsored by the Traveller and the Portable Antiquity Scheme. It took place at the British Museum the 9th and 10th February 2008.

The places sold out; there were delegates, speakers and moderators, at least 500 people. The place was packed, so much so that one theatre had a dearth of spaces for the audience and an overflow facility with sound-only had to be hastily arranged. The British Museum staff, frazzled as they must have been with the simultaneous Chinese New Year celebrations, were unfailingly kind, polite and couldn’t do too much for everyone.

It is impossible to précis all the presentations, as two theatres were in use concurrently, and delegates had to choose one or other talk to go to. The topics were generally well presented with power point, and it was a pity the time slots for each were not longer, although the moderators did a fine job reminding the speakers when it was time to make room for the next presenter. There was a few question time sessions, but not enough and at the end of most sections of talks, although time for these was also limited. However, the breaks allowed everyone to meet and discuss issues, and the speakers were happy to mingle with the crowd and answer queries or to expand on their topic.

The speakers came from all walks of archaeological interest; diggers, historians, geophysicists, freelance and amateur, we saw and heard them all. Topics were presented of projects yet ongoing, nearly and newly published –we got some crafty book plugs- as well as topics old and new, all presented with verve, humour and some gorgeous illustrations. All areas of the U.K. were represented in the talks as well as further afield, as well as many eras of history. Pre-historians and Romanists were catered for; although Dr. Neil Faulkner’s passionate view of Roman Empire atrocities caused some to re-think their ideas of ‘Jolly Good Chaps and a Good Thing’ and shocked many into seeing modern parallels.

New to many was the subject of Conflict Archaeology, presented by Dr. Nicholas Saunders, an archaeologist and anthropologist. He introduced the topic as a multi-disciplinary subject that traced and recorded modern industrial warfare in the 20th and, alas, the 21st centuries. His interest as an anthropologist was very much to the fore. Instead of reciting the counting of bullets and shell casings, he took pains to present some of the victims, the 18 year old who never got to go home, the lost man killed on the Somme, with a pre-historic knapped flint in his bag, named when found decades later with a family who still wondered what had happened. Oral history was of paramount importance in pin-pointing places people lived and died in, of the feelings and thoughts of those who did go home, and it should still be of paramount importance as we are losing so many of the generations who fought in later conflicts. It was brought home quite forcibly that the legacy of these recent conflicts affect us all, no matter which flag we stand beneath.

Continuing on from this theme was Nadia Durrani’s presentation of the Archaeology of the first Blitz to hit our shores, with an account of Zeppelins over Britain in 1917. GWAG members were involved in a series of investigations in 2006, looking at World War One airfields, gun emplacements and a Zeppelin crash in Suffolk. Nadia ably conveyed the amount of detail the group managed to elicit
from desktop research, site surveys and excavations. Time constraints caused some points to be missed –although there was a book plug squeezed in- but the GWAG members present felt the excitement and interest of such new archaeology was well put forward.

As with every dig, details of moments of laughter and perhaps more importantly, those of extreme sadness when contemplating such recent lives lost, are unconveyable to another audience, but as with Dr. Saunders talk, many felt a poignancy and emotion not often experienced in history further removed from our memories.
Odette Nelson - Feb 2008

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