We interview the Head of Archaeological Archives at English Heritage [Part 1]

This week we were pleased to welcome Duncan Brown, Head of Archaeological Archives at English Heritage, for our lunch time lecture. Duncan talked about the process and importance of archaeological archives as well as outlining procedures for good practice. It was good for the students to understand what happens beyond digging in the trenches and how and where their context sheets, drawings and finds will ultimately be used and stored.
Duncan Brown of English Heritage talks to University of Bristol students about archaeological archives

The social media team’s interview with Duncan Brown is in two parts: part one covers Duncan’s views of the archaeology at Berkeley; part two (published on Saturday) details his reflections on archaeology and archives, the media, and student careers.

What were your initial reactions to the site?

When you visit the trenches, it doesn’t look much different to other archaeological excavations, but actually when the sequence of archaeology is explained, the context of the site in relation to the minster and the river, and the quality of some of the small finds shows that it is a very important project.

How does this change our understanding of the Anglo-Saxon period?

Well, it is not going to change anything yet but there’s potential to change the understanding of the mid-Saxon period. There are certain mid-Saxon finds at Berkeley that have been found in a very high number for a rural location, and those are typical of trading sites especially in coastal trading areas. It is very interesting to find such a high number here, given the location close to the waterway presumably related to the minster foundation.
From your experience in the field, have you noticed any parallels with this site?

In Lincolnshire, there is a domestic foundation close to the coast that has high evidence of trading activities. From my own experience working in Southampton at this period there’s a mid-Saxon port. In the late-Saxon period, Southampton is also a port. I supposed the difference between most of those sites is the presence of imported middle Saxon pottery that we don’t seem to have here at Berkeley. I think what is missing here is the imported commodity but you’re not necessarily expecting to find them in the trenches that we are looking at now, so maybe those should be around the minster area. I think there are parallels but they need to be explored in more detail.

How significant are these discoveries?

As the Head of Archaeological Archives at English Heritage, everything is significant. The main trenches are fantastic and the marvellous sequence of material in this site that I can see it has potential to be very significant. The relationship between Berkeley and other production centres needs to be explored before English Heritage can really understand the significance of it. I think we know already that Berkeley is an important site and we need to understand how it fits into the landscape, the economics and the social structure of this region in order to understand its true significance but there is potential here for sure. 

Check back tomorrow to read the rest of Duncan's interview!