Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Archaeology and Poetry: The Lansdown Poetry Workshop

Last week, the excavation received a visit from the Lansdown poetry workshop, an informal network of Bristol-based poets who meet once a month in The Lansdown, Clifton. The tour was organised by recent Bristol graduate, Robert Beavis, to provide an educational and inspiring experience, in the hope of stimulating creative responses to the academic environment.

Although the processes of archaeology and poetry may seem worlds apart, they share many similarities. 
Archaeology makes the past present; poetry makes the past as experienced by somebody else present for the reader.

Poetry can be can be used to reflect on the past, much in the same way that archaeology provides us with a physical interpretation of history. There is also a romanticism to archaeology, in the ruins of buildings or holding an artefact for the first time in hundreds of years, that can be seen in many poetic styles. Robert wished to highlight this and inspire the visiting poets to create their own artistic interpretations, influenced by the excavations at Berkeley.
The Lansdown Poetry workshop at the site. Credit: Diane Taylor 2017
As part of the tour of the site, Robert showed the poets archaeological artefacts from previous seasons at Berkeley including Gloucestershire slip ware and worked flint. Robert used poems from the Classical era to the present day as the basis for discussions of taphonomic (the study of processes, such as burial, decay and preservation) processes, materiality and temporality (existing within or having some relationship with time). These are themes present in poems such as Heaney's work, 'Grauballe Man,' or the Roman poet Lucretius's De Rerum Natura.
When asked which elements of archaeology they found the be the most interesting many of the poets, such as Tim Burroughs, noted the paradox of archaeology - the destruction of history to better understand and record it. Martin Rieser also commented on the artefacts and layering of history in the trench. Some, as will be seen, were interested in the notion of 'the uncanny,' while others have been captivated by the reality of past lives that archaeological excavation can bring to the surface.

Over the next few posts we will be sharing poems written by the Lansdown poetry workshop that were inspired by the excavations and archaeology of Berkeley. Some of these poems are still in draft form;  they will be subjected to their own complex processes as they are reworked and rewritten.

Keep checking the blog over the coming weeks for even more poems! 

Excavation

The ground is hard, halfway to
Stone, packed safe round stone,
its secrets kept,
Layered away from curious eyes.
Flow has no place down here
in another time,
Meaning no validity. These
Things simply were, these black sherds
where the earth
Cradled them. Exposed to rain and measurement,
Trowelled up, a sacred confidence
has been broken:
The long concealment of walls is violated
With tools, with hands, with novel thoughts,
for unwanted scrutiny.

- R. C. Beavis

BERKELEY CASTLE REVISITED It begins in the ritual of meeting In the car park (Late Automotive Age) Early spider webs catching the sun The movie trucks are gone But I’m still here like a ghost Visiting a pasture of ghosts I was a leper here And I was a dead man in the dry moat Covered in muslin and dust I smell the ghosts of smoke machines I was English Irish French and Cornish I was a contractor for Disneyland We walk through the churchyard The inscriptions disappearing Rome reappearing in sherds of Severn Valley ware Bullet holes in the church doors and pillars Uncanny air in the pasture below the church Where an army of archaeologists swarms in the great trench We come to the tent of finds / above Coenwulf’s Anglo-Saxon silver penny (c800) Coins from Elizabeth I and Edward III A perfect iron arrowhead from the 14th century Neolithic flint and medieval tableware Slipware greyware black-burnished ware And an Aestle: a ritual pointer Not like King Alfred’s Aestle-jewel This is a humble monk’s pointer For pointing at a book of jewels And a whetstone neck pendent A beautiful beveled scribe’s tool With a hole for the leather lace A whetstone to sharpen the pen knife Used for cutting goose quills The pages are missing but the footsteps continue An archaeologist points with her trowel To the rocks of the inner outer walls In this trade of pastures plans and sections The plague is buried here Along with smallpox Milkmaids don’t catch smallpox Ask the hut / below A little bit of knowledge Is a visionary cosmos Even the grasses know New Worlds The artist installs ghost deer in the game larder Whiter than the fog of early hunting And again I’m the ghost in residence Archaeology is like a poem That is never finished Poetic closure only infill Some day we will be the ghosts And thrill the visitors of this changing landscape So completely changed by time and music Oh look what they have found Freed from the red protective clay A rare undamaged communication device No just a stainless steel wristwatch from 1951 Blinking again in the footsteps of the pasture Days later it’s raining and the trench will be slick But I’m sleeping with the spiders in the rain - Tony D’Arpino
Robert Beavis showing finds to the poets. Credit: Diane Taylor 2017.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Humans of the Trench - Part III


Our visiting scholars shared their views of the archaeological dig! We really loved welcoming them on site and were impressed with their hard work and dedication.

Bridgette

1) How has the Berkeley dig surprised you?

The variety of things that can be found has surprised me — yesterday we found animal bone fragments, joints and horse teeth!


2) Have you made any new friends?

Mia and Shauna! We’ll definitely stay in contact and we’re going to friend each other on Facebook.


3) Do you think about archaeology differently now?

Yeah I do - it’s way more tangible now (pun intended).


4) Describe your dig experience in 3 words

Intriguing, useful and teamwork — it’s all about working together.

Amber

1) How has the Berkeley dig surprised you?

I didn’t think I would find bones, so it surprised me that we found pre-Roman animal bones on our first day! And it’s a lot more work than I thought 

2) Have you made any new friends?

Yeah I have - Julia and Dan! Hopefully on social media we’ll stay in contact.


3) Do you think about archaeology differently now?

Not really


4) Describe your dig experience in 3 words

Exhausting, surprising, fun!

Anumta

1) How has the Berkeley dig surprised you?

I’m an anthropology major so this is my first exposure to archaeology. The stories that artefacts reveal is amazing, and it gives a real nuance to understanding British history. It makes the past people who lived here seem a lot more real.


2) Have you made any new friends?

Yeah I have at the dig, yesterday I was sieving with Katie, Alice and Paddy. The students here are really a great group of people.


3) Do you think about archaeology differently now?

I always had a positive perspective of archaeology. Now that I’ve learned about British archaeology, when I do my archaeology course next year at college it’ll be really interesting to compare the US system and the British system.

4) Describe your dig experience in 3 words

Tiring, exciting, interesting 

Natalie
 

1) How has the Berkeley dig surprised you?

It’s a lot more interactive than I though it would be — it’s great! The community is really lovely.


2) Have you made any new friends?

Julian and I are going to be pen pals!


3) Do you think about archaeology differently now?

Yeah - it’s so cool!


4) Describe your dig experience in 3 words

Rewarding, eye-opening, enlightening 


Ben

1) How has the Berkeley dig surprised you?

I didn’t have any expectations coming in really because I have never experienced a dig. It’s a completely new experience for me. One thing that did surprise me, when Mark was giving us the tour, is that we are digging up ancient history in a place where people lived, and we are discovering their history first-hand. We don’t have that at all in the US!


2) Have you made any new friends?

Yeah! Everyone at the dig is really friendly.


3) Do you think about archaeology differently now?

I think I just have a better understanding of what it is, and appreciate its importance more now.


4) Describe your dig experience in 3 words

Humbling, worthwhile, educational 



John

1) How has the Berkeley dig surprised you?

It was interesting seeing how the archaeologists created a cohesive story out of what looked to me like a pile of rocks!


2) Have you made any new friends?

Yes, 20 new Facebook friends and 1 real life one!


3) Do you think about archaeology differently now?

Finding rare artefacts isn’t as common as I once believed it was and it’s a lot of hard work.


4) Describe your dig experience in 3 words

I love digging

Elizabeth

1) How has the Berkeley dig surprised you?

It’s a lot of work! It’s interesting to see the difference layers of soil which reflect the different time period of history, so you can understanding layer upon layer of archaeology instead of it all clumped into one.


2) Have you made any new friends?

Yeah! I think so… I hope so!


3) Do you think about archaeology differently now?

Yeah because when you hear about archaeology you just imagine finds and discovery but it’s actually a lot of work, for sometimes minimal discovery!

4) Describe your dig experience in 3 words

Unique, interesting, difficult!

Maya
 

1) How has the Berkeley dig surprised you?

Found a lot more than I expected and I didn’t expect to jump straight into it! It’s really cool.


2) Have you made any new friends?

Yes, a lot, there are a lot of really interesting people here and it has been a great experience for me


3) Do you think about archaeology differently now?

Yes very, I have a lot more respect for archaeology now and it’s really hard work!


4) Describe your dig experience in 3 words

Dirty, deep, fun

Yvonne
 

1) How has the Berkeley dig surprised you?

The hot British summer is much nicer than I expected!


2) Have you made any new friends?

A couple, some of them took us for cream tea which was so nice and felt very British!


3) Do you think about archaeology differently now?

I have a much deeper understanding of it, and have realised how much of a hands on experience it is.


4) Describe your dig experience in 3 words

Explorative, taxing, collaborative 


Henry

1) How has the Berkeley dig surprised you?

It surprised me how intact walls and remnants of Roman and Post-Roman societies are still in the ground today!


2) Have you made any new friends?

Yes, there are really interesting uni kids here and we have lots in common, but also a lot of difference! It’s really interesting talking to them and seeing what it’s like being an arch and anth student at Bristol.


3) Do you think about archaeology differently now?

It’s a lot more careful analysis and piecing together of evidence than I originally thought and it’s more like solving a puzzle.


4) Describe your dig experience in 3 words

Shovelling, digging, scooping 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Humans of the Trench - Part II

After the success of the first Humans of the Trench, we thought you’d like to meet a few more of the many students we have here at the Berkeley dig and what they have enjoyed about their time with the project.

Abi


Abi is a first year student who enjoys mattocking and how effective it can be to get to the archaeology underneath. She loves how it can break through layers of the past.

Abi particularly likes the discovery that comes with working outside in the field. She has found a number of shiny animal teeth and has been impressed how something so old still looks so new. The best bit of archaeology and working at Berkeley has been applying that knowledge from lectures.









Mark


Mark is a first year student who found a nearly complete sheep jaw and the butchery evidence gave him a real feeling of connection with people of the past. Mark loves the whole process of archaeology. He loves being able to take part in everything from surveying and digging to processing finds.

The completion of the tasks is what makes Mark happiest and he will keep working until the job is done.










Ciaran


Third year student Ciaran is back at Berkeley before starting his masters. He has a love of digging with a mattock as it helps him move the most earth. He loves that in archaeology you never know what’s under the next clump of earth.

He has found that his time at Berkeley has improved his communication skills and helped him to manage people. Ciaran has been working with a tight nit team who have been moving serious earth and uncovered some amazing archaeology.








Lily



Lily is a second year student who finds using a mattock one of the most cathartic things she does, even going as far to say “I have a passion for mattocking.” We’re big fans of mattocks here at Berkeley.

Apart from hitting the ground Lily loved finding the finial from a medieval tomb and won 'Find of the Dig'. Lily has found the team work at Berkeley brilliant and has loved working with people to unearth some interesting archaeology.









We'll be back with Humans of the Trench - Part III including our wonderful guests, the Fulbright Scholars.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Berkeley Castle Archives: an interview with David Smith part 2.

Following on from our blog post yesterday, students Tatchiana and Hattie discussed conservation issues facing Mr Smith as an archivist and his other interests.


What do you personally consider to be the most interesting research that has been conducted using anything from the archives? Is there anything which stands out as particularly significant?
 

There have been several pieces of research that I’ve been really impressed by. The doctoral theses really are the tops because people have the time to really get into the documents in depth, and also read around them and compare them with documents in other repositories. The study of the development of the estate in the eighteenth century based on the Manor of Ham is a brilliant piece of work. He hasn’t quite finished writing it, but it will be brilliant, and he’s made a couple of presentations at Berkeley on what he’s discovered. And the medieval studies have been 
marvellous. [Bridget Wells-Furby] wrote an economic study of the Berkeley estate from 1281 to 1470, and she’s also edited the Great Cartulary of Berkeley Castle, which came out a couple of years ago.

What are the current conservation issues that you face as an archivist? 

Well, a lot of the documents were stored in poor conditions centuries ago, and what we’re trying to do is, as we’re cataloguing them in more or less chronological order - or at least by periods in slabs of chronology - we’re doing the conservation in the same way. But conservation is expensive because it’s a very 
skillful business. The castle conservator has been working here since 1989, and she comes about three times a year, so what I’m trying to do is to work systematically through the documents now, dealing with the oldest ones that need conservation through to more modern ones. I don’t stick rigidly to that because some of the bindings of the estate rentals and so forth are pretty poor and need rebinding. When you repair a document you can never improve it; as far as a document is concerned, you can only stabilise its conditions make sure no more text is lost, and that’s what we’re trying to do. So the issue of conservation really is one of resources - there’s a lot more to do and the estate doesn’t have the resources to get on with it as fast as it would like. 

The Muniment room.

What advice would you give to someone who would like to become an archivist?

If people really want to get into archives, I would say go and visit as many as you can within your range of travel, because most archivists will gladly spend an hour or so with you showing you round and talking to you, and it’s only that way that you can get a genuine appreciation of what a
rchives really mean. I would have to show you, or have you as a sort of work experience person for a day to get a better idea of it, so the best thing to do is to go and find other archives - as many different sorts as you can - and talk to the people to find out what they do and how they do it, and then you’ll know whether it’s the job for you or not. 

What are your other interests outside of the archives?
 

Well, I like walking in the countryside, I wish I knew more about how to read a landscape. I read widely, I read English literature in the broad sense, and I also read a lot of rubbish because it’s lightweight and undemanding, and it’s quite enjoyable. But a lot of the things I do are actually archives related. I do adult education part time, only three or four courses a year. I do one weekend for Oxford University every year, one or two day schools for the Society of Genealogists in London, and occasionally others as requested. These are things like learning to read old handwriting, understanding manorial records, that sort of stuff. I like to keep them fresh. I give talks, maybe ten or twelve a year, not tremendous. I have about sixteen talk titles that I would give, they’re all accessible on the internet, and half of them are about Berkeley Castle or Berkeley-related subjects while the other half are other topics that I’ve worked on over the years.

Oh, and I go to the theatre, film, concerts, West End musicals when I can find the time, or there’s one to go to, because they’re mostly reruns these days. I’ve got grandchildren in London who I go and see as much as I can. 
 
  
David Smith’s workshops with the Society of Genealogists in London can be booked at http://www.sog.org.uk/books-courses/events-courses/.