Its been a busy week in Colchester celebrating our heritage as part of the Festival of British Archaeology
The festival kicked off in Colchester with the opening of our Medieval Treasures exhibition in Colchester Castle. Helen Geake (one of the Schemes Finds Advisors and regular on Time Team) came along to open the exhibition which contains artefacts and documents relating to civic pride, regal image and religious art.
The exhibition contains a cross loaned from the the Royal Collections, a late medieval enamelled gold cross which is still worn by the Abbot of Buckfast Abbey (Devon) each Christmas and several objects found by metal detectorists throughout the county including a gold finger ring (PAS record @ ESS-A3CCF3 ) and a copper alloy devotional badge depicting the crucifixion ( ESS-302D31).
The first weekend of the Festival saw our local Young Archaeologists (YAC) conducting a survey of the ruins immediately outside the front of Colchester Castle. As well as forming part of the defences of the Castle, there is also the remains of a Medieval Chapel, with origins going back to an Anglo-Saxon wooden chapel with painted wall plaster (part of which can be seen in the Anglo-Norman gallery of the Castle Museum). The YAC members learnt how to draw scale plans and looked at Roman material recycled by the Normans for their building projects.
Across town from the Castle, there was a Medieval Fun Day at St Botolphs Priory, complete with medieval reenactors, music and crafts. There was even a chance to discover more about the beasties and bugs of the natural world, such as a stag beetle (called a Thunder Beetle) was believed to summon thunder and lightning storms!!
And if all that didn’t provide enough of a chance to find out more about archaeology and history in the area, there were opportunities to handle objects from the museums collection at two events in the Castle. Working with artefacts everyday and meeting metal detectorists can almost make you forget just how privileged we are to hold objects from the past, giving us a direct connection to people who lived in your area before you. These handling sessions were great for children and members of the public who are used to seeing history through textbooks and TV, and artefacts through glass cases in the museum. The reaction of both adults and children, when they realised they were holding a palaeolithic flint axe (one of the oldest human artefacts people are ever likely to see!) was just fantastic and really helped to bring history and archaeology to life.
The festival continues until the end of the week, and there are still more oppertunities to get involved. On both Thusrday (29th) and Friday (30th) between 10am and midday come along to the Castle Museum to hold some history – from stone axes, medieval horse decorations down to Victorian clay pipes! And if you want to hear me talk instead of typing, why not come along Friday to the Castle’s afternoon talk “The Public Contribution to Anglo-Saxon Archaeology” where you can find out how metal detected finds are helping to change our interpretations of the past.