Monday, 14 September 2009

Campsite Archaeology

Image: Folding allen key set excavated during test-pitting at Worcester Lodge campsite, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, Summer 2009

One of the major purposes of the archaeological study of the modern period is to provide distinctive and complementary archaeological perspectives upon subjects previously studied only by social history, historical geography, and other allied disciplines. Lisa Hill, who is researching her PhD with us at Oxford, has been exploring this issues through the landscape archaeology of 20th-century leisure activities. She has been carrying out an extensive programme of oral history and archival research to examine this topic in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, focused especially on the reshaping of the post-industrial landscape by the Forestry Commission. 

This summer, in partnership with the Forestry Commission she gathered a team of volunteers and (with no funding) carried out a season of test-pitting at Worcester Lodge - a Forestry Commission campsite opened in 1971, which was the site (among other things) of the Forest of Dean Folk Festival. The campsite was used for 25 years, until closing in 1996. The field techniques employed were the same as might be applied to a mesolithic site: a series of shallow test-pits, plotted and sieved for surface-dropped material culture, rather than an examination of stratigraphy -- an exercise in examining the often very ephemeral traces of even the very recent past. A range of material culture was recovered, including this allen key (pictured above).

The excavations were the subject of a press release by the Forestry Commission, which was picked up as a news story by The Times, over the Bank Holiday weekend, and Lisa was interviewed on Radio 4's PM programme. As the media coverage showed, without doubt Lisa's work will contribute to the growing debates over the potential contribution of archaeology to our understanding of the recent past: questioning the definition of archaeology as the study of only the distant past, and drawing it more closely into dialogue with social history, anthropological material culture studies, and public debates about the value of heritage.

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