Andrew Richardson

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I am a conservation student at the Institute of archaeology, currently writing.. I mean.. finishing .. yeah it’s totally nearly finished.. ..err.. my ..err.. dissertation on the reburial of England’s remains from a conservation perspective.So my day began like all good student days do: being awoken just before six, drinking three cups of coffee and setting about making a stop motion video entry for ‘day of archaeology’. Pretty early on it transpired that having never done this before and never having given it any thought didn’t pay off in the ‘wow you’re a natural’ way or even in the ‘it’s ..umm.. charming’ that I had hoped for.

Nevertheless, it distracted me from all the books for at least an hour.

The rest of my day was very similar to all my other 2011 summer days: reading, cereal, writing, reading,writing, tea, reading, reading, banana, writing, writing, writing, library, reading… etc.. however the day did end with an amazing onigiri I bought in Waterloo station and just moments before that the Mortimer Debate.

So it was a salmon onigiri and presuming it had sat in a transport hub all day it was pretty – pretty – pretty good, and the debate, yeah that was really good too and completely not overshadowed by the ensuing food. Mortimer is the new ‘campaigning mouthpiece’ for archaeology, it is aimed at anyone and everyone who cares about our past and wants to have a voice or listen to discussions or just to create a furore (I’m inferring this part). With the philosophy “Our Past, Our Future, Our Choice”, and having no political ties, the potential for debate is compelling.

The inaugural debate saw Cllr Alan Melton (recently reached the mass media by expressing a wish to disregard PPS5 whilst simultaneously referring to archaeologists as developer hindering ‘bunny huggers’), Tony Robinson (of time team fame and YAC), Andrew Richardson (Finds Manager for Canterbury and helped develop the Portable Antiquities Scheme) and Andrew Selkirk (editor in chief of Current Archaeology and a supporter of amateur archaeology). The debate was great, but then I am a fan of debate, who isn’t? It’s so nice in a really frustrating way to see people with differences hash them out in a public forum in search (under the guise?) of finding a solution. People did really seem to be trying to find ways of understanding each others opinion and appeasing each others sensibilities, which was nice.

I am so used to putting debate on to paper for the purposes of my dissertation that I may have forgotten where my opinions lie. My dissertation is a discussion on the two year reburial edict the government introduced in 2008 applying to all exhumations within England and Wales and how this will form consequences in conservation decision making. The first part of the dissertation has rightly or wrongly found itself in the throes of an abstruse philosophical debate regarding the rights of the dead, the rights afforded to the dead and the rights of the living. I have largely managed to avoid entering the mineshaft of ‘existence’ as I am ironically see-through and quite clearly couldn’t face it. So the rest harps on about the potential for conservation to involve itself in reburial. While I do not think reburial is wrong, like many I feel that it is currently being handled badly; appeasing no one and arguably causing more ethical issues than it is solving. That said I do think we should instigate a new fashion for tombs, ones powered by solar panels that maintain perfect environment control for the newly deceased, or maybe spray people like the mary rose, or freezing people..

So this is the room I spend most of my time in. I call it ‘lounge’. About eight months ago I took over the dining/only table as my desk and have been quite happy here although I do tend to get sunburnt on one side of my face – just like a real archaeologist *sigh*.

General antics of Public Archaeology student

As a student archaeologist, life is routine but fairly relaxed. I am currently finishing my Masters with only my dissertation left to do. I spend most of my time in the Institute of Archaeology library and talking to fellow Institute students in the park. I like the fact that we all do a range of subjects for our dissertations, from archaeology and art to conservation; it is surprising where archaeology plays a role. My dissertation is part of a project at the British Museum – I am helping to develop a new video-conferencing session, related to the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the work it does with treasure finds. The session is going to be structured around challenge-based learning – this involves a real life situation where students have to make their own decisions based upon the resources/evidence available to them.  Its main elements consist of allowing students to work by themselves with minimal input from an adult, using teamwork and applying technology. Having fun is a key aspect of the activity. I am currently making Top Trump cards of treasure finds… this should make my next presentation more entertaining, will also help me to decide which artefacts should be used for the session.

I am a Public Archaeologist. Frankly, I admit that my knowledge of historical periods/civilisations is very superficial. However, I am comfortable with this as I am primarily interested in how the public perceive archaeology – through television, newspapers, museums and even politics.  I work as a facilitator at the British Museum, a job I love and enjoy; it is always good to see children getting really stuck into an activity (trying to get a balance between entertainment and education, of course) and I like hearing the questions they ask. Sometimes they approach objects with a completely different perceptive, which is refreshing after reading so much academic literature. The activities I am involved in range from following museum trails, presenting arts and crafts to schools groups and making news reports. I actually spent most of my time in the Samsung Digital Discovery Centre, where we use technology and the museum’s collections to create both family and school activities. One example is the Sutton Hoo Headline, where  school children create a news report of the discovery using a video camera and a green screen – we get them to gather content by visiting the galleries using a video mobile phone.

On the ‘Day of Archaeology’ I attended the Mortimer debate, an organisation named after Mortimer Wheeler which focuses on archaeology and the future, using the tag line ‘our past, our future, our choice!’. There have been problems of late with the government trying to reduce the amount legislation that protects our environment and heritage. The debate had four panel members: Tony Robinson (Time Team), Cllr Alan Melton (who sparked recent media fury by calling archaeologists ‘bunny huggers’), Andrew Selkirk and Andrew Richardson. Some interesting points were made about sustainability and the costs of commercial archaeology, ie who should pay. The debate got quite heated, especially between Tony Robinson and Alan Melton. Melton suggested that the public were not that interested in heritage, with Robinson arguing that it is human nature to be interested in the our heritage. Does the past have value to you?