Thursday, 22 September 2016

Archaeology as memory

This week I revisited the sites of the excavations at Bradgate Park. One of the things at the excavations that intrigue me is the intensity of the activity, the time pressure under which they work, which suddenly comes to an end, and the archaeologists then disappear.

The excavation has only six weeks to run each season. As much as possible has to be uncovered during that time, which can be hindered by bad weather and rain that makes it dangerous to work on slippery stone and mud, or by hot weather which makes the excavators lethargic and work slower. After six weeks, everything that has been uncovered must be re-covered, until the following year when work can begin again.

This rhythm of uncovering, covering, uncovering again, along with every new layer lifted as they gradually move deeper through time, is fascinating. It's like an archaeology of the archaeology itself each time.

Archaeologists only dig for a reason; they already know there will be something to uncover before they break ground, but precisely what that will be cannot be known until they physically touch the layers underneath. But once this knowledge has been uncovered, they then cover it up again and return the landscape to what it once was, leaving those layers hidden underneath turf. A constant play between revealing the hidden and hiding the revealed.

I walk over the site that was exposed in June, only a particular stone and the occasional straight edge of turf now hints at the busy site that it was only a few months ago. As I stand there I listen through headphones to the sounds of the archaeologists that I recorded as they troweled, brushed and sifted. A memory caught of a moment in time, a moment of archaeology which has become part of the record itself; the excavation now part of the history of this landscape, and my recording is a new artefact.

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