Today marks the last day of 2012 and as such the end of our Archaeological Archive’s 10th anniversary. As a final celebration of the LAARC’s previous decade of inspiring a passion for archaeology, I’m presenting the last object in our blog series: ‘A History of London in 10 Archaeological Objects’.
Over the last 12 months I have been unravelling stories around a selection of archaeological artefacts that occupy our Archaeological Archive’s some 10 kilometres of shelving. Staying true to my word these have not been the “shiniest” nor have they been “well known” but they have allowed us to explore the history of the city in novel ways.
My final object comes from an archaeological excavation close to the home of the Archive at Mortimer Wheeler House – the Shoreditch Park Community excavation of 2005 (NNR05). Sponsored by the Big Lottery fund, this excavation involved a range of archaeologists, including those from the Archive, in a dig that was later televised as a Time Team special episode: Buried by the Blitz.
The impetus for the excavation was the anniversary of the end of the Second World War. The project sought to explore evidence of bomb damage from the blitz and later from V1 and V2 rockets to the 1830s houses, involving the local community directly in this archaeological exploration.
Alongside evidence of bomb damage to the buildings through study of their surviving foundations, an interesting material assemblage was discovered, especially relating to the C20th. I could have selected an object pertinent to wartime such as a military cap badge, or perhaps something more evocative of the residents of the area such as a toy aeroplane. However, instead I’ve chosen something far more prosaic and that which you may even question as being ‘archaeological’.
Modern (C20th) Plastic BC Light Fitting
This light fitting is a small piece of evidence for the fabric of the many standing structures which were finally demolished, to make way for the area now known as Shoreditch Park, in the 1980s.
This artefact is made of composite materials, but predominantly plastic. Ironically it is this material that makes our 80 year old light fitting harder to conserve, and indeed preserve, than all the other objects in my top ten including our 40,000 year old Palaeolithic flint blade. This is all due to the inability of being able to stabilise the object which is most probably Bakelite, an early form of plastic and one of the first to be entirely synthetic. When I opened the box of plastic objects from the Shoreditch Park archive a distinct smell arose – a clear sign of chemical change, and one that is incredibly difficult to prevent.
Our light fitting is still worthy of being labelled an artefact. It was dug up under controlled conditions that accord to modern scientific archaeological practice and, despite its modernity, like all other artefacts it provides insight into the historical past, although this may at first be unclear.
Changing British Standards mean the wiring attached to our fitting will be out of date, as new colour coding systems have come into effect. Likewise the mechanism itself, although common, may also soon become redundant as new legislation for energy-saving light blubs are further developed, with a corresponding design change. Like all good artefacts we could even develop a typology (categorisation by its ‘type’) based on its morphology (the way it looks) for our light fitting.
Our tenth object is an historical electrical relic but more importantly it is part of a contemporary archaeological context. Although it may appear inconsequential on its own, when considered as part of an assemblage it adds to our interpretation of the Shoreditch site.
Although this blog may be the culmination of an archaeological ‘top ten’, it certainly isn’t the end of archaeology in London, as the city is forever being redeveloped. As such we may have to expand to a ‘top eleven’ in the near future or indeed rewrite the entire series as ‘new’ archaeology is unearthed and questions what we take for granted as ‘history’…