Confessions Of An ArchiveOctober 27, 2012 Archaeology, LAARC, LAARC VIP, Volunteers
LAARC VIP 11 – Week 4
Sometimes we big ourselves up (The Museum of London’s Archaeological Archive & Research Centre has a Guinness World Record! Whoop!) At other times we must be humble and admit that it’s not all rosy in our stores just yet.
This week was one such occasion as our volunteer teams on our eleventh Volunteer Inclusion Project found out. The situation is that archaeology is not a wealthy profession and to be blunt when sites were excavated in the 1970s, there wasn’t much money set aside for any archiving work. Storage wasn’t deemed as important as the actual discovery of information. Hence we find ourselves faced with all sorts of everything which was cannily recycled as a form of packaging. There’s also the whole issue of trial and error; whilst objects are nowadays packed using acid free tissue paper, it’s not uncommon to find newspaper doing the job in the 70s and as you’ll see below plastic foam has come a long way in the last few decades.
The delights we were confronted with this week excelled themselves. Ladies and gentlemen, herewith are the confessions of the archive:
Not so fantastic plastic
Confession number one is that despite 10 years of volunteer work on collections we’re still coming across items that are stored on 30 – 40 year old plastic foam. Foam that when you touch it melts away in your hand or indeed has become a little bit tacky. Here’s some yellow plastazote that we found in one box. You can just about see in the ringed area in the picture the impression that was left where I put my finger.
The toaster that never was
Possibly my favourite bit of packaging in a long while was this toaster box. Hidden within was an incredible 17th Century pipkin, pretty much complete and undoubtedly without ever having had toast inside it. Although the object is lovely, in some respects it was disappointing – our archive kitchen could do with a new toaster.
The pot that never should have been
Second only to the toaster box was this pot (contained within a reused margarine tub) On first glance it looks great (always nice to find a complete vessel). On closer examination it’s basically a fairly small sherd (outlined above) with a whole lot of reconstruction. Not only is this a waste of time (the single sherd could tell you as much information without being reconstructed) it also makes this harder to archive now as the ‘complete’ pot will take up more space.
Oh well. It’s not all doom and gloom. On the plus side, the Volunteer Inclusion Project is fishing out these examples of bad practice and sorting things out, constantly making improvements. And we did come across some amazing archaeology too. Wednesday’s U3A team found a beautiful plate with King William (of William & Mary fame) on as well as a small copper cockerel shaped mount as they explored an archive from Southwark.
There was a fab piece of roman stone furniture, a head of a roman figurine and a fancy knife handle from a 1981 City site and despite the bad packaging, the Brentford site included loads of decorated clay tobacco pipes and a rather nice medallion from a glass bottle with the depiction of a griffin’s head.
Our favourite finds of the week though were this set of unfinished strap loops as well as a mould that would have produced similar ones (though not these). Both will be contenders in our forthcoming Object of Project competition (watch this space)
To finish things off, MOLA’s zooarchaeologist, Alan Pipe led a workshop based on the identification and historical information that can be derived from animal bone.
You can follow the project’s progress on Twitter #LAARCVIP #VIP11