Week 3 – Museum of London – LAARC – Interpretation is the key!

Intrepid LAARC explorer
Intrepid LAARC explorer

Week 3 at the Museum of London’s archaeological archive (LAARC) and Mortimer Wheeler House is beginning to feel more like home. I have my own pass that opens doors! I am quite tempted to channel Indiana Jones and go on a treasure hunt along its 10km of shelving, but I think that might get me into trouble or I will get lost.

This week we are looking at registered finds, first out of the box a rather lovely antler pick. The task today was to take a digital record of the find, match it to the relevant illustration in the Warbank catalogue and repackage the item along with a copy of the information.

Pick of the bunch -Antler pick
Pick of the bunch -Antler pick

After a few weeks of pot sherds, moving on to registered finds of different materials, textures and functions has given us a small indication of the thrill of discovery, not knowing what will come out of the box next; an Iron Age flint, a Roman key, a spindle whorl, a Roman ring. I get the feeling we won’t look at pieces of pot in the same way again now we have been spoilt with such riches. It is amazing how proprietary we have become over our items, like we have discovered them ourselves. We still share and debate but there is a certain amount of jealousy over one box where the really interesting items are coming from. My first item is a lump of chalk and I have to say I am not blown away! I feel hard done by when my volunteer buddy pulls out delicate Roman glass.

Roman treasure from the best box (I didn't break)
Roman treasure (I didn’t break)

The next item I came across is below, the initial label told me it was an iron object, Roman, but no more. It was fragile and flaking, delicate. I was not overly excited, who knew its purpose or function. When I looked at the catalogue I found it was actually a Roman knife. All of a sudden I let out an ‘aaahhh’ of recognition and connection. Suddenly the object had more meaning for me. Questions popped up in my head, was it used for preparing food? How was it made? what was the handle made of? Who owned it?

Iron object that is a knife -Ahhhh
Iron object that is a knife -Ahhhh

It was still the same object I had first looked at but for me it was now more important. I showed it to my colleague and she did exactly the same as me.
“It’s an iron object”
“It’s a knife”
“Ahhhh, cool!”
It made me think about how we need to connect to an object to understand it, for it to have meaning. I was with a colleague talking about Bromley Museum’s collection review as part of their Heritage Lottery bid, we discussed Roman artefacts. What did the public like? What did they want to see? All the items we named were easily recognisable, Jewellery, tiles with animal prints, complete pots. It made me think about the need to understand the past for it to mean something in the present.

These thoughts are all the more interesting when you look at what we decided on as our object of the day. We chose this fabulous Roman buckle and as a extra bonus it looks like a skull! This was our group choice, something recognisable, something we could understand, something that looks really cool.

Skull buckle - we will all be wearing one next week
Skull buckle – we will all be wearing one next week

Museum interpretation, how we see, read, experience and understand an object helps us to connect and relate to the object. So bearing that in mind, I am actually going to break with my Thursday group of volunteers and go over to the ‘otherside’. Tuesday’s group of volunteers came across this small but beautiful and to me totally amazing Roman bell, if you folllow the link below you will see why this is so fab. I have chosen this as my object of the week, because not only can you see, and hold history in your hand you can hear it as well.

Roman bell

Interpretation is so important, but sometimes your senses are enough to take you to a different time and place. It is the immediacy of sensory connection – sight, sound, touch, taste that we don’t always have but makes a more visceral experience, one you are unlikely to forget.

Yes this actually is a key
Yes this actually is a key

With thanks to Adam Corsini for the Vine video clip.

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