Discovering Secrets of Our Past

WhereGreat Broughton Village HallType of EventIllustrated Talk
WhenMonday 12th September 2011TutorJames Lawton

On a wild and windy night, in an entertaining and informative lecture, archaeologist James Lawton described how he became a professional archaeologist, and what an archaeologist does.  It was clear from the lecture that “Time Team” is not the model for the profession.  James’ interest began when he attended a local school and went on to take his degree in Archaeology and Geophysics at Bradford University, followed by a Master’s degree shortly afterwards.  James was quick to disclose that the interest he developed owes more to the influence of Indiana Jones than Howard Carter, a testimony to the romance of the subject which will be enhanced and not, hopefully, be overwhelmed by the science.

Although James had contacted “Time Team” in order to influence a decision to “dig” at Swainby, unsuccessfully he added, he went on to carry out his own successful geophysical survey of Whorlton for his undergraduate dissertation.  For his postgraduate dissertation he looked at the area in more detail. Determination pays off!

His interest had been sparked by the discovery of Roman pottery at Whorlton.  The history of the area is rich, commencing with Mesolithic and Neolithic settlement on the top of the moor.  Gradually, with change in the climate, the population moved down into the valley below to farm.  James’ survey confirmed there is also a later Bronze Age hill fort near to Whorlton but little evidence of Iron Age settlement. He did, however, discover Iron Age enclosures, although he reminded us of the danger of over interpreting results. He also discovered, as he had expected, evidence of Roman and mediaeval settlement.   

Modern archaeology has a scientific side to it.  The use of technology is increasing and we received an explanation of the use of resistance meters, magnetometers and radar machines, all of which can be seen from time to time on “Time Team”.  This programme, it seems, does have a valuable purpose in so far as it raises the profile of the subject and brings the subject into the public mind, but it is really more to do with telling a story than archaeology itself.  Archaeology has a more business like application and is very different.  

As a professional archaeologist his current work is concerned with environmental sustainability. Examples include working in schemes for pylons, hydro-electricity, wind farms and the redevelopment of a football pitch.  A lot of work takes place at the planning stage and is more to do with writing reports than working in a trench with a trowel.  Science over romance!

A short break, followed by a lively question and answer session, concluded a highly enjoyable evening.

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