Monday, July 7, 2014

Sifting through the soil

Each day I grow more and more impressed with the libraries I see as part of this trip, but today's visit to the Museum of London Archaeological Archive (LAARC) truly surpassed my expectations.

Items are brought to the LAARC for processing
As the world's largest archaeological archive, the LAARC houses millions of items in 10km of shelving. Any construction project in London requires that the site be excavated before building can begin. The items that are found during the excavations are brought to the LAARC for processing. Artifacts are sorted and cleaned, and if no conservation work is needed the items sent upstairs for processing and cataloging.

After sorting, items are cleaned
Soil samples from the site are kept
Long rows of shelving to hold millions of artifacts
Today the processing of materials is accomplished by following a set of standards, but there are thousands of older items that need to be reprocessed for proper storage. Today, objects are stored in bags with foam padding around the object (or sometimes small boxes), and then placed in an acid free box. Unless the object is extremely important (enough to receive its own number) many objects exist in the same box. On the box is a label describing the contents. The boxes are stored by year they were removed from the ground, rather than the era in which they were from.

Each of the items has its own story, and our guide gladly shared what they know about several objects. Before he began, my observations of the items were quite limited. My train of thought went something like "it looks like...a rock?" or "that's a piece of bone" or "that's a cute statue." As he spoke, those objects came to life. That "rock" was really a Roman footprint. The "piece of bone" was really a medieval ice skate. And that cute statue? It was a Victorian pepper pot! Later, we were all able to feel the soot from the Great Fire in 1666.

A souvenir from Canterbury to throw in the Thames
We explored several other rooms in the LAARC, including a pottery room that held jugs, statues and vessels of any sort in glass cases. These objects were sorted by time period and material, and I naturally gravitated toward the medieval items (it's one of my passions). There were so many objects, it was difficult to take it all in! I could spend a day in that room (just the medieval aisles even) and not grow bored.

Special storage units for pottery, organized by date
The final room was a telecommunications room, which seemed to hold mostly games. Or, at least that's what I saw with my tunnel vision. There was a Furby, all types of board games, puzzles--just the spark we needed to go one a trip down memory lane!

This archive depends on their volunteers to make any sort of progress, and many have been there for 6-10 years. After today's visit, I am wholeheartedly contemplating staying in London to volunteer in this fascinating place!

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