Frontiers Past and Present

From the Great Wall of China to Hadrian’s Wall, from the Berlin Wall to Trump’s Wall – frontiers and boundaries in the past, in the present as well as into the future, are a key concern of archaeological researchers. As monuments, as projects, but also as zones of interaction and transformation, frontiers divide and connect people past and present.

This Day of Archaeology post outlined one key thing I did today relating to my archaeological interest in frontiers: sketch out plans for a new interdisciplinary journal:

Frontiers Past and Present:

The Journal of the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory

Offa’s Dyke on Llanfair Hill, Shropshire, view from north-west

Introducing the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory

Together with colleagues in a range of institutions and organisations, in April I launched the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory – a research network for Offa’s Dyke, Wat’s Dyke and Early Medieval Western Britain. Following the publication of Keith Ray and Ian Bapty’s book Offa’s Dyke: Landscape and Hegemony in Eighth-Century Britain (Windgather, 2016), the aim is to support and develop new collaborative projects on the linear earthworks of the modern Anglo-Welsh border. The Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory wants to support a network of individuals, groups and organisations working to manage and investigate Britain’s largest monuments – Offa’s Dyke and Wat’s Dyke – as well as related monuments and their wider landscapes.

We held our very successful inaugural workshop at the University Centre Shrewsbury on Friday 28th April 2017, and we have also launched a website for the ODC.

We are working in close dialogue with the Offa’s Dyke Association.

Delegates at the inaugural workshop of the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory, held at University Centre Shrewsbury, 28 April 2017

What is Offa’s Dyke?

Offa’s Dyke is interpreted as an intermittent linear earthwork stretching from the Wye Valley to Flintshire, associated with the Mercian Frontier of the late 8th century AD and traditionally ascribed to be work of King Offa.

Wat’s Dyke near Ruabon, Wrexham

What is Wat’s Dyke?

Equally significant is the lesser-known Wat’s Dyke: a linear earthwork running from Maesbury Marsh (Shropshire) to Basingwerk (Flintshire) and runs broadly parallel to Offa’s Dyke in its southern stretches. It is again regarded as a Mercian frontier work, perhaps of Offa’s successor Coenwulf, and dated to the early 9th century AD.

Other Frontiers?

There are also a large number of prehistoric and early medieval ‘short dykes’, and many more undated linear earthworks, running through what was to become the English-Welsh border, and the still-undated Whitford Dykes are sometimes associated with Offa’s Dyke.

The logo of the ODC, designed by University of Chester archaeology student Jonathan Felgate

Aims of the ODC

The ODC hopes to see future research projects investigating the dates, compositions, design and functions of these linear earthworks, as well as their biographies, landscape settings, associations with other ancient sites, monuments, routes and rivers.

A key focus of the ODC will be exploring the relationships of the dykes to the creation and fluctuation of Mercia’s western frontier. In doing so, the relationships with the broader tapestry of early medieval communities and polities in western Britain during the Early Middle Ages is essential.

Moreover, the ODC is interested in research exploring the ‘prehistory’ of the dykes and communities living in and around the landscapes of the English-Welsh border prior to their construction in the Early Middle Ages. Likewise, the life-histories of these monuments down to the present day is also a focus of future enquiry supported by the ODC.

Furthermore, the ODC aims to focus on the future of these monuments: their heritage conservation, management and interpretation for local communities and visitors from across these islands and from around the globe.

Future Events

In addition to ongoing dialogues regarding research projects up and down the line of these linear earthworks, we have three future events planned in 2017:

  • Following on from the success of the Shrewsbury workshop, we aim to hold a second ODC workshop at the Offa’s Dyke Centre in Knighton in October (dates and details to be confirmed)
  • A University of Chester student-led day conference on 13th December 2017 at the Grosvenor Museum Chester: Frontiers & Archaeology: Past & Present
  • We have a session at the 39th annual Theoretical Archaeology Group conference at Cardiff University, 18th-20th December 2017. The call for papers is still open.

Offa’s Dyke in the Clun Valley, Shropshire

Frontiers Past and Present – Journal of the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory

So how does this all relate to the Day of Archaeology? Well, today I firmed up a provisional idea for another dimension of the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory‘s work: a new open-access journal.

I’m looking for funding and for a publisher and I’ve had fruitful and helpful discussions in both regards. The provisional idea is to create a journal focusing on heritage conservation, management and interpretation, history and archaeology of linear earthworks and other frontier works. The focus will be on Offa’s Dyke and Wat’s Dyke and other early medieval linear earthworks. However, there will be scope to invite and incorporate a range of studies regarding the biographies and landscape contexts of frontiers, in both the past and the present, from Britain, Europe and beyond.

All suggestions warmly welcome, especially regarding potential publishers and funding sources!

East Wansdyke on Morgan’s Hill, Wiltshire

Anyone can be an archaeologist!

You don’t have to be an academic or a commercial field archaeologist to appreciate and theorise about the past. Although most people are aware of and agree with this view, archaeology as a discipline (arguably) retains an exclusive membership of ‘experts’ who are given responsibility for the majority of construction and discussion of narratives that are made on the past. For these narratives to be intellectually well-rounded and personally relevant, it is essential that the discipline is accessible to as many people as possible and participation is encouraged.

I am a student at the University of York, have just graduated with a BSc in Bioarchaeology and am about to commence an MA in Mesolithic Studies. During the past year I have had the privilege of being Editor-in-Chief of a journal called The Post Hole. The Post Hole is run by undergraduate students at York and other universities across the UK. It stands out against many other journals by its inclusivity and engaging tone, making it a brilliant platform for literally anyone to share their research and views on the past.

A diverse audience of people read and have written for The Post Hole, including: Undergraduates, postgraduates, post-doctoral researchers, lecturers and professors, commercial field archaeologists, conservators, professionals from public and private-sector heritage organisations, community archaeologists and even one or two members of the public not formally involved with archaeology. Consequently, each monthly issue of The Post Hole is always interesting to read!

Covers of recent issues of The Post Hole

Covers of recent issues of The Post Hole

I am proud to have been involved with an initiative that has put me into contact with so many people who have fascinating interests and involvements with the past – whether it’s a student with a unique and otherwise under-acknowledged dissertation project, a member of the public running a community project that engages local school pupils with the past, or someone reflecting on their experiences of interacting with the past in their job or visit to a museum. I recommend a browse of the journal’s archive to find out more about what The Post Hole publishes.

Beyond The Post Hole and focusing specifically on the involvement of students with archaeology, I and two other students at the University of York held the 1st Annual Student Archaeology (ASA) Conference in June 2013. The two-day conference brought together undergraduate, Masters and doctoral students from universities across the UK, from as far afield as Aberdeen and Southampton. The purpose of the conference was to establish a new forum for students to engage with academic archaeology by sharing and discussing their research and volunteering activities with each other and people following the conference on Twitter and via a live-streamed video.

The 1st ASA Conference proved to be an enormous success. More than 70 students came to York and left with new ideas, new connections and well-deserved recognition for their contributions to archaeology – whether it be running the Edinburgh Archaeology Outreach Project in schools, carrying out innovative experimental research on the phenomenology of Old Babylonian oil divination, or zooarchaeologically revealing undiscovered practices of cock-fighting in Roman Britain.

Reproduced with kind permission of Ben Wajdner

Reproduced with kind permission of Ben Wajdner

I do occasionally find time to carry out my own research on the past. I specialise in the chemical identification of organic residues that have been absorbed into archaeological materials, such as pottery. My undergraduate dissertation involved me carrying out analysis of organic residues from modern food that was experimentally cooked in replicas of Jomon pottery from Japan, some of the earliest ceramic vessels in the world. The purpose of this work was to build a reference dataset for analysis of actual Jomon pottery that my supervisor is currently carrying out. Current results have been published and I hope to begin my steps towards becoming a lecturer by making further publications and conference presentations.

Although I would like to become a lecturer in order to research the past for a living, I hope a result of many of the activities you will read about via the Day of Archaeology will be that my career aim will not exclude me from fascinating and truly-valuable individuals who follow alternative paths to mine.