Archaeology at Museum of Liverpool

I am Curator of Archaeology and Historic Environment at the Museum of Liverpool. My functions are wide-ranging, which makes for a varied and interesting job. My role is about facilitating access to the archaeology of the region – whether it’s developing collections, sharing knowledge and information, providing opportunities for people to gain experience of archaeology, or giving opportunities to discuss or report finds.

This morning I attended a meeting about the forthcoming exhibitions and events at the Museum of Liverpool. I find my work getting the regional archaeology collection and information about the archaeology of north-west England out into the public domain some of the most fulfilling elements of my work.

I worked on the development of the Museum of Liverpool’s content from 2005 until it opened, and that presented the opportunity for hundreds of items from the archaeology collection to be out on display for the first time. The museum is place-based – centring on Merseyside’s long and varied history; and story-led – using collections to illustrate the stories of people’s lives in the past. Items from the regional archaeology collection have been used to tell a range of different stories, from the changing sea level and formation of the Mersey in the ‘Great Port’ gallery, to the ways in which individuals have literally or metaphorically ‘left their mark’ in Merseyside in the ‘People’s Republic’ gallery. Many items from the regional archaeology collection are on display in a 38 metre-long timeline on the first floor of the museum which explores Merseyside from the last ice age until the present.

We currently have a temporary exhibition on display in the atrium of the Museum – one of the very first things visitors see as the come through the door. This is about recent excavations in Rainford, near St Helens. A community archaeology project, Rainford’s Roots, has explored the early industrial history of the village, which produced ceramics from at least the 16th century and clay tobacco pipes from the 17th century. See for more information.

We’re planning a number of small exhibitions over the coming months to feature some other recent finds, but with funding being ever-increasingly tight we’re not able to do everything we wou;d like to. The meeting I attended this morning brings together all the curatorial staff from the museum, who’s remits range from prehistory to contemporary collecting, and encompass military history, collections of vehicles, and social history as well as archaeology. The Museum is special and important to innumerable communities and individuals in different ways, and our programme of events and activities goes some way to reflect that. Museum of Liverpool is nothing if not varied – the exhibition which follows the Rainford display of 16th and 17th century ceramics consists of hundreds of colourful plastic ducks sailed down the River Mersey in a race as a great annual charitable event for the local Claire House children’s hospice.

Another area of my work I especially enjoy is working on community archaeology fieldwork. This afternoon I undertook some research towards an Archaeological Desk-Based Assessment (DBA) and a Project Design for a forthcoming community archaeology project we’re developing within Liverpool (still top secret until funding is all in place!). Doing all our planning work in advance of excavation is vitally important, whether it’s a DBA considering the existing archaeological knowledge of the area and archaeological potential, a project design planning where to excavate, methods, equipment, timescales and potential outcomes, or a risk-assessment – they’re all important parts of the picture to ensure we’re as well-informed as possible before a spade is thrust into the turf!
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