Today was an interesting visit in that the class went the London Archaeological Archive and Research Center (LAARC) to view their collections and get a glimpse of how archaeologists keep their archives.
LAARC has a fascinating collection—I believe it’s one of the biggest in the world mostly because whenever something is built in London (and there is construction there all the time), LAARC is required to sift through the grounds and see if there is anything historic there. If they find something, they are usually given about two weeks to go through everything and see what they can find. As a result, the collection is vast, containing items all the way back from the Roman occupation. You can view their online catalog here to see what other exciting items they have.
Dan was the archaeologist who took my group (they split us in half again) around the collections, and we got to see some great things. The best was the back room that had the glass collection. There were old dishes from ancient times, porcelain figurines from the 18th century—all kinds of things. I enjoyed looking at all of it. (Photo obtained from http://www.dayofarchaeology.com/day-of-archaeology-laarc-lottery/.)
Dan showed us one of his favorite items, which was a shoe found at the Globe theater grounds. He says no one can prove it, but Shakespeare may have worn the boot considering he performed in his own plays. The shoe itself was a long boot made of leather that is now starting to rot. Nevertheless, it is a great addition to their collection. Another interesting Shakespeare tidbit: Dan said that at every site related to Shakespeare’s theaters, they have found these huge, rock-like balls. The theory is that they were used as props in the plays or perhaps even as sound effects—people may have rolled them across the stage to sound like thunder. Can you imagine a man rolling a ball down a stage as King Lear fights the storm?
Like all libraries and “information centers” in the UK, LAARC suffers from funding issues. Visiting all of these places has been educational and also very sad. I am not sure why there is such a growing apathy towards to libraries both in the UK and the US, but it is a startling trend, especially when one considers the future implications of a shrinking budget for centers like LAARC. I kept thinking about the tremendous amount of research these archaeologists have contributed and the breadth of records available—not to mention the wealth of knowledge LAARC has discovered—and the possibility of such a center either having too little a budget with which to work or it disappearing altogether. I doubt that will occur anytime soon, but it is a reality if the public allows this defunding to continue.
All in all, however, I had a good time that day at LAARC!