Archaeological face-off: London vs Lincoln

By Natasha Powers

Last October I left the smoke to head north and work as Senior Manager at Allen Archaeology. I think it would be fair to say that I got some pretty odd looks when I said where I was going but actually they have a lot in common…They both begin with L for starters…

London and Lincoln both have a mysterious prehistoric past, we know it’s there but only little glimpses of it come through at the edges from time to time.

The archaeology is dominated by the Romans: Londinium and Lindum were joined by Ermine Street. Both cities have considerable and visible remnants of City wall, amended and added to over the years, but here Lincoln wins as it has the only Roman gate still in use for traffic (some of it less than welcome). The City wall actually runs down the back gardens of the terrace of houses I live in, which I think is pretty cool.

Roman City wall, Lincoln

Roman City Wall (and the wall of my garden)

The Saxons also made a home in both places but left the perfectly good Roman ruins in favour of the watery bits downhill.

London might have the Tower and the Crown Jewels, but Lincoln has a newly restored castle and the Magna Carta (paper-y version and pub).

London was a little careless with its medieval buildings – apparently there was some big fire or something, whereas Lincoln’s medieval past is still very much on display, there’s even a bridge with houses on it…ahem…ours didn’t ‘fall down’…and whilst no-one can doubt the architectural or iconic credentials of St Paul’s Cathedral, Lincoln Cathedral is frankly incredible and, of course, home to an imp.

Lincoln Cathedral looking up!

Lincoln Cathedral…it’s big!

All in all I reckon Lincoln can give London a run for its archaeological money…Oh, and I’m still working in an ex-industrial building with a conveniently located pub nearby and a storeroom full of skeletons.

Returning to archaeology

In my ‘day job’, I’m an IT professional at the University of Nottingham: my alma mater from which I graduated in Archaeology and Geography some time ago. However, I’ve retained my fascination with archaeology and I’m excited to be starting a part-time MA in Archaeology here in September. In the year leading up to this, I’ve read academic books and papers voraciously, enjoyed the regular research seminars in the Department, joined The Prehistoric Society  and attended some fascinating conferences. I’m really looking forward to studying the subject again in depth over the next two years.

Today, however, archaeology had to be set aside for the morning, as my wife and I attended a friend’s funeral. It was an occasion to share happy memories with her family and to celebrate her life, so in that sense, it was a positive event and we were glad to be there. Recently, I was reading some of the papers regarding the Neolithic landscape of Avebury and Stonehenge in Wiltshire and Mike Parker Pearson’s suggestion of the landscape being divided into domains of the living and of the ancestors, with the transition from life through death to the realm of the ancestors perhaps being related to ritual passage through the landscape. During moments of reflection at the graveside before the committal, I realised that the ritual in which we participating was one which people and communities have shared for thousands of years and that, just at that moment, we had something intangible in common with our Neolithic predecessors.

On a happier note, my archaeological activity today involved some preparation for a conference on Deer and People which is being organised by our zooarchaeology lecturer in the department, Naomi Sykes. It’s to be held in September in Lincoln and I volunteered to help. We’ve discussed some issues for supporting the conference, so I’ve set up an e-mail address for it and provided a link to the conference web page on the University’s web site. Today, I’ve done some work on Powerpoint slides for the conference to be displayed on screen before or between speakers, themed to the colours of the various sessions in the programme.

Lastly, we’re packing tonight for our regular family holiday in Northumberland, my home county and the original inspiration for my interest in archaeology, with its landscape rich in remains from the past. I’m looking forward to the luxury of some time to sit and read. I have some papers in PDF format to catch up with on my laptop and iPad while we’re away but I won’t be able to resist packing a few of the archaeology books I have on loan from the University Library and of course there’s Barter Books to visit in Alnwick. Can one have too many archaeology books? My wife may disagree but I think not!