Carenza Lewis. © Chris Bennett
National Archaeology Week 2005 begins on Saturday 16 July and will feature nine days of UK-wide events that will bring archaeology to life. Carenza Lewis, archaeologist and star of Channel 4's Time Team speaks to the 24 Hour Museum about why she’s so passionate about her subject and why Archaeology Week is going to be special.
“I always wanted to be an archaeologist,” says Carenza Lewis. “I was into dinosaurs as a seven-year-old – I used to go out collecting fossils. I liked going out to find things, it really interested me that the evidence of the past was out there.”
The television archaeologist has just returned to her Cambridge University office from a fun but tiring tour of the country, filming Big Roman Dig. The experience has given her fresh examples of how archaeology really makes children tick.
“The minute they get the chance to do something practical they start to remember things and they just love it,” she explains. “Whether it’s making clay pots or going out to visit places, they really find it exciting.”
This 2000-year-old pot of cream was unearthed in south London at a temple complex. Courtesy Museum of London.
“There’s nothing better for them than seeing or touching something from the past, for example if you say this is a spur that a medieval knight would wear – they love it. On Big Roman Dig I was showing kids a pot of Roman cream that would have been used 2000 years ago – ” she continues, “it’s amazing to think it’s still here!”
It’s no wonder Carenza thinks there should be more emphasis on archaeology in school. She’s currently involved in projects promoting the study of archaeology and encouraging secondary school children to think about higher education.
There are lots of reasons why people should be aware of archaeology, reckons Carenza: “The evidence of the past is out there, now it needs to be understood and protected; you can’t do one without the other.”
She cites Seahenge as one historical structure that might have been lost forever without anyone knowing anything about it if it had not been interpreted as an important piece of archaeology.
Seahenge could have disappeared forever. © Mark Brennand, Norfolk Archaeological Unit/English Heritage.
“Historical documents aren’t sitting out there in a field in Hertfordshire – they’ll still be there to read in 10 years’ time,” notes Carenza. Sites like Seahenge, on the other hand, urgently need our active care and attention.
“99-hundredths of human past hasn’t been written down,” she says. Archaeological investigation, therefore, holds the answers to all the questions not only about how we lived in the past, but how we live today. “How did people manage without supermarkets? What did people wipe their bums with before loo paper? There’s no other way of finding out these things.”
She muses about how she would have fared without her contact lenses in days gone by: “I might have been trampled by a rampaging mammoth!”
“Science is contributing hugely to archaeology at the moment,” she points out and talks about the possibilities of isotope analysis (unfortunately rather lost on this 24 Hour Museum scientific ignoramus).
Excavation is an art that will be demonstrated at venues around the country during National Archaeology Week. © the British Museum
Summing up her passion, she says: “It’s just about everything that’s important to us as human beings.”
Carenza’s all for National Archaeology Week: “It gives everyone a chance to focus on it … It’ll encourage them to go to those places on their doorstep that they just never get around to seeing. It’ll make people think ‘we’ll go along that day because there’s something going on’.”
Indeed, there is something going on just about everywhere, so to get a taste of what Carenza has been talking about, get along to an excavation open day, guided tour, exhibition, lecture, ancient art and craft workshop or other archaeological event near you. Her advice is: “Decide whether you want to see medieval knights fighting, Romans dressing or Anglo-Saxons cooking,” then check out the comprehensive listings on the Council for British Archaeology website. “It’ll be a really good day out for everyone, especially for families.”
West Stow will be letting the public have a go at tablet weaving, as in this picture. Courtesy West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village.
Here are a few events picked out by the 24 Hour Museum.
Carenza Lewis herself will be on hand at West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village, Suffolk, on July 17 for Discover Archaeology Day, where visitors can have a go at Anglo-Saxon pottery, basket weaving and more.
On July 24 she’s off to the Museum of Kent Life at Sandling, to join in B.C.UK Prehistory – Life B4 txt. Cave art, body décor, tasting ancient recipes and discovering ancient plant uses are a few of the activities on offer for both children and adults. On this day, children will be admitted for free.
On the same day in Norfolk, you can lay your eyes on some real people from Saxon times. They have been dead a long time, of course, and now archaeologists are investigating their remains at one of the largest archaeological projects in the country.
More than 200 skeletons have been excavated so far from the mid-Saxon cemetery at Sedgeford and there are more to come. Re-enactments, weaving and pot-making will also keep visitors busy. Entry is free but there’s a small charge for car parking, the day will run from 10.00am to 4.00pm. Call 01485 570452 for more information.
Fragments of bones or just stones? See for yourself at Sedgeford cemetery. Courtesy Sedgeford Historical & Archaeological Research Project.
The Museum of Oxford is offering visitors the opportunity to re-excavate original objects found in a real medieval rubbish pit at Digging Up The Dark Ages on July 16.
For a real hands-on dig experience, junior ‘archaeologists’ are invited to a possible Roman villa site near the village of Sudbrooke, Lincolnshire. Lindum Heritage have set aside a special junior excavation area where youngsters can dig up finds, wash and process them on July 21 from 4.00pm to 5.00pm. Tours for old and young will take place on July 21, 28 and August 4 at 3.00pm. Booking for both activities is essential: call 01522 851388 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bishops Wood Environmental Centre, Stourport, Worcestershire is hosting living history re-enactors Combrogi in its reconstructed Saxon hall. While they furnish their home and cook Saxon dishes, you can take part in military training and watch all sorts of crafts from leather working to fishing net-making. The day will run on July 17 from 10.30am to 4.30pm, Adults £3.00, children £1.50, YAC members free. Call 01905 855494.
Caldicot Castle is to be bustling and ringing with the sounds of the past during its Hands-On History weekend. © Caldicot Castle
There are rich pickings for those who enjoy a guided walk in Lancashire. Click here and scroll down to Lancashire for medieval heritage on the move.
The castle kitchen is at the heart of events in Ashby de la Zouch, Leicestershire, on July 17. Follow the smells to find out about gastronomy before French fries and how Ashby de la Zouch castle residents managed not to starve during the Civil War siege.
Calligraphy, sword fighting and trying on armour are on offer at Caldicot Castle in Wales on July 23 and 24, when visitors will mingle with scholars, knights, alchemists and herbalists from the middle ages. Or try medieval archery at Prudhoe Castle, Northamptonshire on July 16 and 17. Just make sure you have a good aim!
Phil Harding unearthing a skeleton. © Matthew Reynolds
University College London’s Institute of Archaeology will be open to visitors on July 23, with a huge range of activities, talks and exhibits. Find out about animal teeth and bones, what the pyramid builders ate and how to get on the road to a career in archaeology, or take in a tour of the institute’s collections.
You can meet Time Team’s Phil Harding and see him flint-knapping at Archaeology Rocks on July 16 at Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum. Activities will include making gargoyles and decorating medieval goblets.
Trewortha Farm Bronze Age Village will let you in on the secrets of wheat querning and coin making amongst other activities on its Roundhouses Open Day (July 17).Address: Trewortha Farm Bronze Age Village, Twelve Men's Moor, Nr North Hill, Launceston. Call 01872 572725 or email email@example.com for more details.