Friday, September 21, 2012

A mammoth undertaking : Hidden Londinium


The bid has now been submitted to the customer, and I've had a badly-needed breathing space before we get on contract and the fun and games really start. So I took advantage of the lull in activity to visit my parents for a long weekend. On Monday my father and I spent a day on a guided walk around the remains of Roman London. That may not be everybody's idea of some father-daughter quality time, but we both enjoyed ourselves.

Inline image 1The walk was organised by my favourite holiday company, Andante Travels. They run very good holidays with a strong archaeological  theme, led by practising archaeologists, and Christopher and I really used to enjoy them. Andante have been unable to run much of their traditional programme of archaeological trips to North Africa / Middle East for the past two years, because of the Arab Spring / unrest in Tunisia / Morocco / Algeria / Libya / Egypt / Syria / etc. So they needed to find something else to keep both the holiday-makers and their small army of academic experts engaged until it's viable to return to some currently dodgy parts of the world. They hit on "Study Days", one day in-depth introductions to specific topics, based all over the UK, using leading experts to explain topics to small groups of non-expert but interested guests. And they have the significant advantages that, being only a single day in duration, they're easier to fit into a busy diary than a full week's holiday, and they're dramatically cheaper.

My father and I went on the Study Day on Roman London, co-hosted by the former curator (and indeed original creator) of the Roman gallery at the Museum of London, and a now-retired academic who started out as the research assistant to the Prof who originally excavated much of what has been found of Roman city of Londinium. So between them they knew a huge amount about the subject and indeed had participated in most of the significant recent archaeological "rescue digs" which happen each time part of the City of London is redeveloped.

We met our guide lecturers at 10am just outside the Museum of London in the Barbican, and spent the rest of the morning being taken around the Roman gallery, and having all the main exhibits explained to us, with interesting details about how they were found and what the significance was. The lecturers were both at pains to point out that they were retired now, and most definitely not responsible for the current state of the the gallery. What they were both so animated about was the museum's contribution to the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, whereby school children had been invited to"interpret" the Roman displays by adding modern objects to the historical items in the display case.

So a display about Roman legionaries was augmented by a policeman's helmet; a fascinating recreation of a Roman kitchen had a microwave oven in the corner; and a mock-up of a Roman living room included not only a historically-accurate wooden table and oil-lamp, but also a table and electric lamp that looked suspiciously like they came from Ikea! The ex-curator almost had an out-of-body experience when she saw that – the unspoken term "over my dead body" was hovering clearly in the air! The eight of us on the Study Day were all well able to excise such supernumerary additions from our interpretations of the exhibits, but I did wonder what the gaggle of 20+ six-year olds who were there on a school trip at the same time as us made of it all. I suspect that there are some very confused school children convinced that the Romans used microwaves to heat up convenience food!  One of the displays I found interesting was of some very well preserved leather women's underpants, which looked very like today's bikini bottoms. One of them was pierced with lots of little holes, and would originally have been lined with a contrasting coloured fabric. I was just pleased that nobody had added a pair of M&S frilly knickers to the display case!

Via A mammoth undertaking : Hidden Londinium