Often when I see an interesting object from antiquity in a glass case at a museum, my first thoughts are of the time it was made; who it belonged to; and what this object meant to them. A tangible link to a person who lived a long time ago. Someone you will never meet, but you feel somehow connected to, through that very object, in the here and now of 21st century life.
What I hadn’t considered previously is the even stronger connection that an archaeologist could feel towards something they had discovered either personally or as part of a team.
Back in Week 1 when I first started work in Trench 19G I noticed that a team mate (John) took extra care to check though the quantities of dirt we were removing from its surface. Using the pointed end of his trowel to fossick through bucketloads of dirt and rocks as they were tipped into a wheelbarrow prior to being trundled off and deposited on a spoil heap, John explained that he was extra vigilant now, having very nearly missed an important find a few years earlier at this very site. A terracotta-looking Hellenistic head in the style of Alexander the Great.
A few weeks later, I was assisting at the sorting table - just across from the conservator’s desk, when our conservator (Grace) was showing those nearby a small head she had just glued together. About the same size as a walnut shell, it was in remarkably good condition with clearly delineated facial features and curly hair, and I found myself wondering, “Was this the very same head John had mentioned in Week 1?”
The short answer is yes. And he was most pleased to see it again – now glued together in one piece.
Later that afternoon our fresco specialist, artist and archaeologist Diana Wood-Conroy came to see it and she too was delighted. Holding it briefly triggered a memory of the season it had been dug up (2014) and an amusing anecdote about something that had happened as she was recording this particular find by drawing it. Deep in concentration, a bird had landed on her head – something she said had never happened to her before or since.
Which brings us back full circle to the point made at the beginning of this post – the strength of the connection an archaeologist or volunteer could feel towards something they had discovered or worked on, either personally as part of a team. Neither Diana nor John had seen this object in the five years since it was unearthed, but their memories, and their connection to it, were part of Alexander’s story now.
And he a part of theirs.
- Geraldine Higginson
Each season our team including the directors, students, architects, volunteers, ceramicists and other finds specialists will blog about the day to day sweat and adventures that come with life on an archaeological dig.