Week 1 – Museum of London – Well this is a LAARC!

Week 1 Roman jigsaw

Thursday 23rd May 2013

So today was week 1 of my latest museum challenge an amazing opportunity to get my hands on archaeology at the ‘World’s Largest Archaeological Archive’ – sounds very impressive doesn’t it ?

I am part of VIP12 which is the 12th incarnation of their award winning ‘Volunteer Inclusion Programme’. It is run by the Museum of London team at The London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre better known as LAARC. It lasts for 9 weeks and requires me to turn up once a week (10-4) at their site at Mortimer Wheeler House in Hackney.

There are 6 of us on a Thurs and another 6 who turn up on a Tuesday and I can confirm we are all overly excited about working on this project.

We are in essence repacking archaeologcial finds from a site just down the road from where I live. The Iron age settlement and Roman Villa site at Warbank in Keston was the focus of various digs from the late 1960s through to the 1980s. The finds are now in dire need of a bit of ‘tlc’ a bit of repackaging/labeling/sorting. So each week we turn up, empty out the bags and get to work.

My first bag !
My first bag !

The work is supplemented with tours and talks to help widen our knowledge and understanding of archaeology and how the Museum of London works. Week 1 involved a tour of the Ceramic and Glass Archive at LAARC which on its own was pretty amazing, everything from Iron Age pots to Whitefriars glass and everything in between. We were shown strange drinking vessels and the Roman equivalent of a ‘George Foreman’ grill!

Week 1 ceramic store jug

We had an amazing day but there were 3 things that really struck me about Week 1 of LAARCVIP –

1- Bonding – Who knew Roman Pottery was so good for bonding ! – After our introduction once we got to work on the first bags of pottery with in 1 hour we were working together as a team, chatting, comparing pot sherds, helping each other when we weren’t sure. I have worked at different places, been on courses and conferences, but I have never seen a team gel so quickly. So if you ever need to get people to work together as a team, throw a bag of broken Roman pottery at them and get them to sort it out. You will never have a problem again.

2- Knowledge and Passion – Next is the knowledge and passion of the LAARC team and their willingness to share both with us. They put you at your easy from the start and are happy to answer any questions however silly they might seem. It is really inspiring to meet people who have a real passion for their job, the outreach work they are doing is something many, many museums could learn from.

3- Enthusiasm – Enthusiastic volunteers! My lasting impression of the day is how enthusiastic every one of our VIP team is for the work we are doing. You should hear us ‘ooohing’ and ‘aaaahhhhing’ over the smallest sherd with a tiny bit of marking on. Or the indentation of a finger nail, we ponder the Roman who took the time to decorate their pot or cup or bowl with tiny finger print marks. Give us a bit of glaze and we go into raptures! We get excited when we get something a little unusual, we share and pass it round, we comment and wonder. We love every minute of it and we feel privileged to have been given the chance to learn hands on about our past.

I will wrap up my first LAARC blog by sharing my find of the week which has to go to this rather lovely 14th Century Medieval jug with green lead glaze (no, I didn’t break it). I kind of wanted to get the glue out and piece it back together but I don’t think I am allowed to go crazy with the superglue.

Medieval drinking cup with green glaze
Medieval drinking jug with green glaze

All this and it is only week 1 ! I will endeavour to blog every week, let you know what we are learning, what we have seen. I hope at the end you will seek out LAARC for yourself, they have regular tours and events. You may even be inspired to get a place on the next Volunteer Inclusion Project in 2014, judging by week 1 you won’t be disappointed.

Note: Any inaccuracies are purely my own and not down to LAARC staff!

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