Thursday, June 22, 2006

Ironbridge Archaeology Van (ii)

This project aims to 'excavate' the old van in an archaeological manner, to try and learn what we can from it. Please scroll down for earlier posts.

Here are some more photographs from yesterday's removal of the van from Telford to Bristol. These photos were taken by Dr. John Schofield. Many thanks once again to Mark Grainger of the AA for his assistance with the move. We have also posted some comments on the merits (or otherwise) of project made by archaeologists and non-archaeologists. Please keep comments coming in, and/or vote on the BAJR poll.

Greg Bailey (back to camera) interviews Paul Belford before the van is loaded onto the truck.

The van passing Junction 10, south- bound on the M5.

Is there an engine in here? Mark Grainger of the AA inspects the vehicle after arrival in Bristol.

Some comments...

"I am racking my brains as to what I may have left in it.........."
Glen Lawes, Chief Executive, Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust

"I have a vivid memory of breaking down (clutch went) on the Eastern Primary in the van on the way to Birmingham some time ago - I had to borrow that one because the 'L' reg (the more refined of the two, bigger, cleaner and which had a cab wall for noise reduction) was in use."
Barbara Taylor, Graphics Department, Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust

"Whilst I have every respect for the discipline and the hard graft of all the Ironbridge archaeologists - this project does seem a bit of a waste of time/resources and the subsequent report following forensic investigation of the van may not shed too much new light on the socio/economic or indeed technological histories of vans or indeed archaeologists. Is there a danger of disappearing up the proverbial arsehole?"
Harriet Devlin, Lecturer in Historic Environment Conservation, University of Birmingham

"What a stupid waste of time... Haven't they got anything better to do with their time? ARCHAEOLOGY INDEED! WHAT IS THE WORLD COMING TO? ... we should be paid more so that we can drive around the country in the RED van and round up all of the people who think it is worth while to EXCAVATE A VAN and send them to Mars on a big space ship."
Sophie Watson, Field Officer, Ironbridge Archaeology

"I think it is useful as a way of questioning and/or refining archaeological methodology – as it shows how ridiculous some archaeological theory is becoming."
Katie Page-Smith, Landscape Investigator, English Heritage

"An excellent form of madness if ever I saw one. I love all this kind of stuff. I agree that a site would be better to excavate than a van though, perhaps a site hut on the last day of a long job... It is best if your analogous material has as much similarity to your subject matter as possible. What can you compare a van to? boats? cartwheels? ... If nothing else this kind of work highlights the fact that archaeology is a practice and process of inhabitation: building upon the activities of the people we study. Mind you, anyone who has looked down on a big ditch section at the end of a hard day's work can tell you that. After years of thinking about ditches I still can't say clearly what ditches 'mean', but I think I know what it 'means' to have spent all day cleaning the silt out of one and seen water flow down it again ... I suspect that your efforts are doomed to failure."
'Tom Wilson', via the BAJR website.

"Sounds like a load of old rubbish to me" [with a (presumably ironic) link to the Suffolk County Council ‘Garbology’ page].
‘Vulpes’, via the BAJR website.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Ironbridge Archaeology Van

Today was an epic day in the history of the Ironbridge van, which has served the Museum well over the last 16 years. It has now become part of a contemporary archaeology project at the University of Bristol. The project intends to dismantle and investigate the vehicle archaeologically. The reasoning behind the project, and some of the views of the archaeology team about its value, were discussed in an earlier post.

Today, the van was handed over to its new keepers...

The lonely van, almost the last occupant of Furrow's former compound.

Rear view, the old phone numbers date the van as well as the number plate.

Odometer reads 27,845, in reality this is at least 227,845; life expired at 3.03pm!

The formal handover took place today between 12.00 and 12.45. The Bristol team was represented by Dr John Schofield (English Heritage), Cassandra Newland (Bristol PhD student and also a former Ironbridge Archaeology staff member) and Greg Bailey (an MA student who was filming the event). The Museum was represented by Paul Belford, Senior Archaeologist. Many thanks to Mark Grainger of the AA.

Cassie and John seem delighted with their new acquisition!

Loading of the vehicle onto the AA truck took less than 10 minutes. The whole process was carefully monitored and recorded by four archaeologists with at least 8 degrees between them.

Greg (with video camera), John and Cassie watch as the van is loaded onto the AA truck...

...the winch cable is run out...

...the van is winched up the ramp...

...and firmly lashed down...

...the ramp is retracted...

...and they set off to Bristol!

Dismantling of the van will start in mid-July. We are going to monitor this work and updates will be posted here. We will also gather together the various historical documents associated with this 'artefact' such as old MoT's, service records and the insurance description of the famous accident.

Anyone who now works, or formerly worked for, the Museum and drove this van is strongly encouraged to contribute their reminiscences to the project. If you can email the archaeology unit, or any of the Bristol group, we can make arrangements to interview you either at Bristol or at Ironbridge. The project is aiming to build up a social history of the vehicle as well as analyse the various changes that happened to it.

If you have any views on the project as a whole (and we have recieved a number of comments already) then please either add comments here, or email us, or vote on the 'Contemporary Archaeology Poll' that we have set up on the BAJR forum.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Staffordshire Graffitti

During building recording works at Tean Hall Mills in Staffordshire we have come across some interesting 20th century graffitti. This corridor passes between two of the mill buildings and was evidently the scene of illicit loitering for generations of mill workers, who left their names scratched into the brickwork.

General view of one of the corridor walls.

W.P. 1897; W.E.Dale 1928; T.A. 1931; D.M. 1980

Photographs by Sophie Watson.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Old Archaeology Van

An exciting new contemporary archaeology project by the University of Bristol will involve the 'deconstruction' of the former Archaeology Van. The van was bought by the Museum in 1991, and has seen a great deal of action over the years. It ceased being the exclusive property of the archaeology unit many years ago, (coincidentally) following an accident and various party-related incidents. However we continued to use it for various projects and personal adventures.

The aim is to disassemble the van under forensic conditions and in an archaeological manner. Pariticpants include Dr. John Schofield, Cassandra Newland and Greg Bailey. The project is entirely self-supporting, with no grant and people working on it in their own time.

The aim is to learn... ????

At Ironbridge Archaeology, despite our 'official' enthusiasm for contemporary archaeology, the team contains a wide range of perspectives on this project.

Some of us (for example Sophie) think that the project will show no more than that this is a well-used transit van with lots of mechanical wear and tear. Whilst undoubtedly the stratigraphy of damage/wear will be of interest, it is unlikely to tell us much about the use of the van over time, either as a functional entity or as social space. There are a myriad of more useful things to do in archaeology.

Others (notably Emma) are more sympathetic to the project and suspect it will develop into quite an interesting study which will have wider applications. Specifically, Emma says:

"The project is useful as an analogy, in that it helps us to reflect on the usefulness (or otherwise) of methods of excavation, recording and interpretation. In studying something so recent and familiar we can gain confidence (or not) that archaeological techniques give us information distinct from that gained by either oral or documentary history, or plain 'common sense'."

To which a sceptic (Paul) replies - "If the project is only useful as analogy then why not test archaeological methods on a site type more relevant to the majority of archaeological fieldwork such as a house, or a church or a fortification?"

To which Emma's response is to argue that archaeology is a discipline concerned with the relationships between human behaviour and the human environment (however constructed). Most of us spend a great deal of time in the environment of our motor vehicles, so this is an entirely valid investigation.

We shall see.

The scheduled pick-up date for the van (which is currently in a compound at Furrows in Telford) is 21st June. It will be towed to Bristol (with thanks to the AA) and then dismantled during July. We shall post news and photographs of this exciting and controversial project as it develops...