A very busy day, last Sunday.
We were up nice and early, to get to Oxford Castle where they were holding an event to tie in with the Council for British Archaeology’s Festival of Archaeology . We had a stall there and we wanted to get there early as I was taking down an enlargement of the plan of the trench we dug around Bartlemas Chapel – it has proved to be a good starting point for conversations in the past.
When we arrived, there was, of course, no room on the table for it (it’s mounted on an A0 size sheet of card) so it got stuck on the front of the stall. We then spent the rest of the day frantically trying to stop everything blowing away; note to self – always bring industrial amounts of bluetack to all outdoor events!
The day went pretty well, though a lot of the passers-by were coachloads of tourists with seemingly no English, so little chance of meaningful outreach opportunities there. There were a couple of sessions of talks, the first with Peter talking about the work our Place Names group is doing, and Jo giving an overview of the project’s work this year. They were followed by David Radford, the City Archaeologist, describing burial practices in Oxford through the ages. Sounded like good stuff, but I drew the short straw and had to man the stall. A pity, but as the air-con was out, perhaps not much of a hardship!
Chatted with quite a few people, including most of the re-enactors present, it seemed, and Gill got some useful hints about where to go for more information about medieval Psalteries – they are a family of flat stringed instruments. Gill got interested when it turned out that one of the Small Finds at Minchery was a tuning peg from a psaltery, so she is doing some background research – watch this space. We stayed until just after 3 then made our way home to grab a bite to eat before the real highlight of the day.
Part of the brief given to the project from the outset was to involve as many different people as possible, to make it inclusive and bring different viewpoints to bear on the core job of archaeology. We have had several artists on board but Lucy Steggals, Filipe Sousa and Tara Franks decided on a slightly different tack to express what they thought about the project.
They had come along to a number of events, the last time – an inking workshop – they brought along a couple of tape recorders and did a series of interviews. What had stuck in their minds (and gave the show the title) was the idea of the matrix; both the Harris matrix, where one uses a matrix to sort out the temporal sequence of contexts in a trench, and the matrix of squares you get in a drawing grid.
They then went through the recordings, selecting their favourite 25 words each (the squares in the drawing grid) and used them as a basis for editing the recordings, which they had playing on loops on headphones in the garden.
As you can see, the cubes had the selected words on their sides – there were a lot more in the barn itself. One of our favourite words was ~ish (as in early~ish, Roman~ish). It gets used particularly on big digs before any clear pattern emerges.
In the barn, there was a video being projected as a loop, with a recording playing and Tara accompanying on a cello – a bit I particularly liked, a rather ECM~ish (that word again) sound.
The cubes had various images which Lucy had edited out of the photos she had been taking when they had visited us, as well as the words they had extracted from the interviews. We could wander around and get different views of the projection.
We were invited to play around with the cubes, rearranging them as we saw fit, a task which some of us took to with enthusiasm.
I can’t really do justice to what was a visual, audio and (see above) tactile experience; as they say, you had to be there. It made for a great evening, and was fascinating to get an idea of how what we are doing can inspire other people to come up with a new insight. A nice way to round off a long day.
Thanks to William’s parents for allowing us to use his image in the blog.
Leigh and Gill