Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Horton Exposé


This afternoon Florence Hunter and Abbi Robertson, members of our social media team, conducted an interview with site director, archaeology Professor and Worcester sauce aficionado Mark Horton. Read on for the results.

Q:What drew you to archaeology and what is your favourite archaeological period?

A: I was first interested in archaeology when I was nine or ten, just fascinated by everything in the past, I went on my first dig at 14/15 and carried on digging ever since. What's that, 40 years of digging plus!

Q:Archaeological period?

A: I Generally do the last two thousand years, historical archaeology. But I'm not restricted in what I do. I work all round the world, Sri Lanka, East Africa, North America and here at Berkeley. 

Q:As a Professor at the University of Bristol, what area of archaeology do you specialise in?

A: I mainly specialise in the period where we have historical documents. The period commonly described as historical archaeology. Where archaeology can tell something completely different, often, to what the documentary narrative has. I'm also interested in the globalised world as it's emerging over the last 2,000 years, starting off with, for example, long distance trade across the Indian Ocean (by Romans, Indians, Africans) but also how the Atlantic is drawn into the globalised world in terms of European colonisation in the new world, the discovery of the new world and so forth. I'm also interested in the archaeology of cult and religion; having done a lot of work on Islamic archaeology and early Christian archaeology. 

Q:Bear with us here but a rumour has reached the Social Media Team that you are related to the late, great, Sir Mortimer Wheeler. 

A: Yes, that is actually true! Believe it or not.

Q:Do you think that that may have, in any way, influenced your career as an archaeologist?

A: Maybe there's a bit of genes somewhere that made me into a bit of an archaeologist. I never met him, but he is related to my great grandmother, whose sister was his mother. 

Q:What would you say has been your favourite dig and why?

A:That is almost impossible to say! Because we've done so many over the years. I suppose my favourite excavations, and the most important excavations I've done over the years is my work in East Africa, at a site called Shanga which we excavated over eight years, between 1980 and 1988. There is a big monograph about it and it's very gratifying because people are still referring to it and it is still a bit of a standard for people to use. 

The enigmatic Prof. Mark Horton

Q:What do you think of this year's Social Media project?

A: I think it's a very good idea and I think we have got to move with the times. One of the problems though, with social media is to what do we divulge? And what we're finding is that there seems to be some slight tension there between reporting the every day life of the dig and what's going on and being as candid as we can about what's being discovered. And of course archaeology is constantly changing its mind so one of the problems is that we might have an interpretation one day and announce it on social media and then we change our mind the next day and people may not understand that this is the nature of archaeology. 

Q:Tell us a little about your role as site director here at Berkeley. 

A: I set the project up about ten years ago, initially with Berkeley castle and later with Jenner museum and thought we have a lot of potential here to try and investigate the site of not only a medieval castle but its antecedents and incredibly interesting Roman and Anglo Saxon landscape. And so basically we set out a research design. Probably now needs revision. Where we try to investigate in detail and because we've had such fantastic collaborating with Dr. Jenner's house and the castle we've been able to keep it going for over a decade and made the most amazing discoveries.

Q:We hear that you've just got back from Sri Lanka. Tell us a little of what you've been doing there?

A: Looking at long distance trade in across the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka is a dividing line of east and west part of Indian Ocean and so it acted at different times as a place where people had to circumnavigate to go from one part of the ocean to the other. Worked as an important area where traders from east and west could meet and exchange goods and so was always an important place as in terms of the developing global economy. Investigating a port site right in the south of Sri Lanka where we hope to find evidence of trade both east with South East Asia and west with the Persian gulf and maybe even further afield. 

Q:Do you think that your career on TV is helping to bridge the gap between archaeology and the layperson? 

A: I hope so. I think that we have to understand, as my late cousin said "We don't dig up things, we dig up people" and I firmly believe that archaeologists have a complete role to share their findings and to publicise them and to make them understandable by the lay public. Some people may think that this lessens the academic quality of archaeology because its more accessible. But i think this is  absolute bunkum. I think the more understandable and accessible archaeology is, the better it is for the discipline as a whole. 

Q:Wikipedia (that source revered by university lecturers the world over) tells us that you are a fan of Brunel. Is that one of the things that drew you to teach at Bristol?

A: Not really, I came to Bristol and discovered that we had this fantastic archive for Isambard Kingdom Brunel. I suppose this represents the far end of my interests as industrial archaeology and historical archaeology. The amazing thing about Brunel is that he is one of those people who is really responsible for the globalisation process. That final stage which was begun by the Romans and Chinese and fulfilled by the construction of his great ships the S.S. Great Britain, Great Eastern and Great Western that enabled as it were, long distance liner traffic to move around by mechanical ships but also the cabling of the world. The Great Eastern was very much involved in creating telegraphic cables, undersea cables and laid the first cable between Great Britain and Canada and the cabling of the Indian Ocean which is of course what the globalised world is all about and the Internet age was prefigured by the laying of these undersea cables and enabled telegraphic communication. 

Q:And finally, we've done our research and hear that you always take Worcester Sauce with you abroad. Why?

A: As you can imagine, living in Sri Lanka, living off of fish curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner one might need a bit of comfort food to keep you going. 

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