Establishing a tradition, this year’s Archaeology Festival provided a venue for lively debate, scenic tours and seasonal snow. A tough act to follow!
The Archaeology Festival Cardiff was a feast of archaeology with speakers and delegates able to indulge their enthusiasm for the subject. The weekend got off to a cracking start with tours to the Roman sites of Caerleon and Caerwent, and to the medieval sites of Cosmeston and St Fagans, before settling down to the nitty-gritty of lectures and discussions throughout Saturday and Sunday.
Opening the sessions at Cardiff University was co-organiser, Peter Guest of Cardiff University who oversaw the hugely popular Roman series: Andrew Gardner (Institute of Archaeology, UCL) spoke on Exploring Isca – the subject of the previous day’s tour and featured in CA 226; then David Breeze, co-ordinator of the Antonine Wall WHS, Historic Scotland, who was awarded the title Current Archaeology Archaeologist of the Year, discussed his work on the Antonine Wall. The Romans are perennial favourites and once again attracted a large audience for the Sunday session Romans and Barbarians, with Peter presenting his own work examining the Roman emperors’ use of gold in the 5th century in an attempt to forge relations with Attila the Hun.
From Genetics to Stonehenge
The venue at National Museum Cardiff kicked off with CA’s Chris Catling who was moderating the sessions on Bio-Archaeology, opening with the world renowned Stephen Oppenheimer. Dr Oppenheimer is using genetics to examine prevailing theories of human migration into the British Isles – and to present some new ones.
Stonehenge is another favourite topic and Andrew Fitzpatrick, of Wessex Archaeology, presented his paper on the competing interpretations of Stonehenge as well as evidence for the Beaker culture in Copper Age Britain, following major excavations at nearby Boscombe Down. Fellow Wessex archaeologist, Jacqueline McKinley then gave a fascinating talk on the Amesbury Archer and the Boscombe Bowmen, whose skeletal remains have revealed much about not just this individual but about the movement of people in prehistory.
Discussion and debate
The conference covered more than simply British archaeology: television broadcaster and historian Bettany Hughes gave a lively and enlightening talk on one of the most famous characters in history: Helen of Troy. From 3000 BC to the 20th century AD, Helen of Troy has been portrayed variously as ‘goddess, princess, whore’; but is that more a reflection of the different societies’ perceptions of womanhood rather than of the woman herself?
Regular contributor to Current World Archaeology, the indomitable Brian Fagan, stimulated discussion with his debate on the relevance of archaeology to the present day: drawing parallels with the Medieval Warm Period and our current climate, archaeological evidence on changing human sustainability will, he argues, be relevant to people living today. Richard Brewer, National Museum Wales, and fellow organiser of the event, moderated at the sessions devoted to the archaeology of Wales. From Tudor London to Neolithic Jordan, from prehistoric rock art to 18th century trading and from plague pits to Babylon, new ideas were postulated: Nick Ashton, British Museum, argued human migration into Northern Europe began 200,000 years earlier than was previously thought; and tough issues debated – Brendon Wilkins, Headland Archaeology, pitched progressive development against maintaining archaeological heritage.
All in all, for the 400 or so people who took part there was something to interest everyone.
WHAT THEY SAID:
It was one of the best conferences/dayschools that I have been to in years and hope to go next year.
John Owen, CA subscriber.
I got a chance to talk to all sorts of interesting people – public and speakers alike. Thank you!
Bryan Ward-Perkins, Lecturer in History, Oxford University.
Did it inspire? YES. Did it give me information that as a professional I found fascinating and relevant? YES. Did it talk down to the public who attended? NO. If you go to one conference in 2010…go to the next one in London.
David Connelly, British Archaeological Jobs Resource.