So what do archaeologists get up to on a typical day? Report writing? Site recording? Excavation? Finds analysis?
Well, yes, I’ve done all those things in my time but often nowadays when I’m not working for the Prehistoric Society, I can be found in the kitchen….melting chocolate!
That’s what comes of working with a replica maker: in this case, Roland Williamson of Bodgit & Bendit. Roland makes marvellous replicas of all manner of objects from swords to delicate bone combs. If it’s a replica that needs casting he has to make a model of the object so that it can be moulded and then cast. And this is where the fun comes in….
If you’ve got a model, you can then make many more moulds from it…and if you do it in food grade silicon you can cast an exact copy. In chocolate.
Roland and I spend a lot of our time looking at torcs and trying to work out how they are made. The answers are not always obvious and the very special Netherurd terminal held in the National Museum of Scotland has become a bit of an obsession. This exquisite 1st century BC terminal was found, as part of a hoard, in Peebles in 1806. Having been found so far to the North of the core East Anglian area, it is an oddity, which however shows many of the decorative traits seen on many of the Snettisham torcs etc. It is our belief that, if complete, it would easily rival the Snettisham Great Torc in craftsmanship and beauty. So obviously it was prime candidate for a chocolate copy…..
First, I made a wax model, which I then silicon moulded. Miraculously after cutting the silicon encasing in two I actually had something which looked like it might work. So the mould was put back together and held with plasters (funnily enough non-stick silicon is, guess what? Yup, non-stick), a small hole made in the top and I poured melted chocolate into it and left it in the fridge! Some hours later, the mould was removed and there it was….a chocolate torc terminal! Hehe! But it wasn’t the right colour and I couldn’t very well spray it with metallic paint! So a trip to the craft shop was needed.
Now, to you fancy cake makers out there, the array of cake decorating possibilities will be familiar. However, to this archaeologist, the fact that you can buy not just edible paint, but sprayable edible paint in a wide range of colours was a revelation. The fact that this spray paint came in silver, bronze…and gold….was a real find.
Sprayed and finished I was quite proud of my work….allowing for my slightly poor wax copy, it was a faithful copy of the model. And good enough to eat.
So what next? Hmmmmm….I clearly needed better models. Luckily James Dilley of Ancient Craft had recently made me a rather nice glass handaxe…..which certainly deserved a try!
From there, I wanted to have a go at something a bit more intricate. Knowing Roland had recently completed a model of the huge Anglo Saxon, Mrs Getty’s brooch from the Butler’s Filed excavations (now on display in Corinium Museum), I borrowed the model and set to work…
The difficulty with this one was getting the 6 inch long, thin, chocolate out of the mould without snapping it but, after a couple of attempts, and painted up I was pretty impressed with the result. It even made it into the pages of Current Archaeology in the Edible Archaeology section!
From that day on, the chocolate replicas have kind of got a bit out of control. From chocolate Bronze Age Sussex Loops (well…it was a 3D challenge…had to be done! And I could wear it too!) to a chocolate Prehistoric Society presidential medal, bitten into by our President Alex Gibson, in front of a shocked conference audience the list is endless….
My next challenge? Well Roland has just made a beautiful replica of the magnificent Oxborough Dirk, now held in the British Museum. But at 70cm long and weighing in at around 2.5kg that’s one heck of a lot of chocolate…..