A Lust For RustOctober 20, 2012 Archaeology, Blogs, LAARC, LAARC VIP, Volunteers
I won’t lie. Working in an archive full of archaeology is pretty cool. Working with a great group of volunteers on improving archaeology is even cooler. Getting to handle amazing objects (that at some point in the past belonged to someone in London) starts to blow my mind. And doing all of the above and then watching how our finds work saves shelf space & improves the collections, well, that’s the kind of thing that keeps me smiling.
But then we get a week where we’re faced with metal.
It’s now our eleventh Volunteer Inclusion Project and without exception, when it comes to working on metal artefacts it’s not long before someone asks “why do you keep this stuff?” It’s a reasonable thing to ask. Rusty bits of iron in shapeless forms, red-brown dust corroding off objects, green blobs of copper and grey droplets of lead waste, well, they aren’t the most inspiring of museum artefacts. Or are they…
I’m not going to go into detail about the conservation issues surrounding iron and copper (check out Jill Saunders excellent blog for that) but what I will say is that even the most boring looking rusty lump of iron has an archaeological importance. At the very least it tells you something was going on in that area; it might have been metal production or an industry; it may have been a boat with nailed timbers where the wood’s rotted and long disappeared, the iron nails being the only remaining evidence that it existed; it could be a copper button that fell off as a Elizabethan was walking home from the pub.
And there are of course times when metals come up trumps. We did come across a rather nice (and pretty chunky) roman key, a post medieval copper candle stick and several decent coins from all periods. And even when things aren’t obvious with the naked eye, when you take a look at the x-rays, it’s pretty awesome to ‘see beneath’ the corrosion and get a glimpse into what the thing would have looked like originally.