I work archaeology, study archaeology, volunteer archaeology. Each day my archaeology is everything from reminders of the First World War to traces of Stone Age life. Here is a little collage of some of the things I was thinking about on 29 July 2016.
All over the UK you can find First World War battlefield crosses. These timber crosses had been salvaged and often put up in places of worship. Servicemen’s grave are marked with headstones maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. They are the evidence of how the fighting men treated their fallen comrades on the battlefield, and what it was like in theatres of war before the CWGC was able to build the cemeteries that you can visit today.
Who would have thought that in England there are more protected telephone boxes than war memorials? I and my colleagues are working on First World War projects to make sure that we recognise and understand the remains of the First World War on the Home Front. This includes things like very early aviation buildings, practice trenches and army camps, munitions factories, and war memorials.
There are war memorials wherever you look. This mighty screen is at Liverpool Street Station in London. It lists the names of people who worked for the railway company, who died in the conflict. All sorts of communities decided to make memorials, not just towns and villages.
Much of my work is desk-based. Research using existing records and data is really important. The Imperial War Museum keeps a register of war memorials in the UK. This includes everything from stone crosses to furniture: anything that was intended to be a war memorial, for any conflict. This data was created by volunteers and we still don’t really know exactly how many war memorials there are. The Museum has c70,000 records, but there could up around 100,000 war memorials in total. There is always more to be discovered about how people chose to remember their dead and the impact of conflict on communities at home.
I am researching sarsen stone, the hard grey rock that much of Stonehenge is made of. Sarsen boulders often lie on the ground surface, just like this spread behind Delling Wood on Totterdown, Wiltshire. Today this is a quiet, hidden place. At different times in the past, however, it was busy and noisy. Some of the stones were quarried away for buildings and you can still see cut marks and splits where work was abandoned. Some of the stones have evidence for prehistoric use: they were used to grind and polish stone axe heads, for example.
My research into sarsen stone includes studying the modern stone industry. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century the rocks were cut up by quarry-men for building stone. Many abandoned half-cut boulders show how they did their work. The areas where the stones are found are now usually protected, but sarsen is still needed. Buildings made of sarsen have to be maintained. Sarsen boulders are used for markers, grave stones, walls, and paths.
2016 is the thirtieth anniversary of the UK’s first World Heritage Sites. Seven places were inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1986. One of these is the Avebury and Stonehenge World Heritage Site. In November we are holding a conference in Wiltshire, all about Avebury and Stonehenge. This will explore what is so important about these places and how a huge range of people help to look after them. Everyone from farmers to professional archaeologists has a part to play.
We had our annual Summer planning session for the North Wiltshire Branch of the Young Archaeologists’ Club. The Leader Team spent the evening over dinner thinking up a year’s worth of activities. We’ll be taking our members on fieldwork and teaching them archaeology skills.