Friday, 2 August 2013

Class 5: The London Archaeological Archive Center (08/07/2013)

Entrance to the Mortimer Wheeler House 

The London Archaeological Archive Society, LAARC, is housed at the Mortimer Wheeler House. It is one of three departments located in the building and it is only open to those that make an appointment to see materials beforehand. What's interesting about LAARC is that with over 25 thousand pieces in its collection, they are constantly loaning out items to museums, companies, exhibits, etc. so there is always something different going on in the building. Our guide, Dan Nesbitt, showed us all around today. 

Before talking about the tour, here is a bit of history we learned about LAARC. It is the world’s largest archaeological archive, and even holds the Guinness Book of World Record for it. They have a small staff and rely heavily on support from their amazing volunteers. In fact, their volunteer program is widely recognized, has received numerous awards and serves as a model for a lot of other organizations. First time volunteers are signed on for a ten week project, and once that’s completed can opt to sign on for a longer term. LAARC believes in the 4 motifs of curating, researching, leadership and learning. They are constantly reaching out to teach others in the community and garner interest in their efforts. It’s no wonder this association is world renowned. 

Original Model of the
Telephone Booth
One of the first rooms we went into was a toy room. From Furbys to board games to dolls, this room was filled with hundreds of collectibles from over the years. What really stood out was the red telephone box. This was the original model that G.G. Scott designed to create the winning design of the telephone boxes that are still on London streets to this day.  In a different room, and inaccessible unless you part of some magician’s organization, was an original Psycho. A psycho is those glass boxes with a fortune teller in them, usually found at fairs or carnivals, that gives a fortune on a slip of paper. Only those belonging to an organization are allowed to see this piece of history and learn how it works. I may or may not have considered changing careers for a hot second to gain access to this item. 

Leather boot used in Shakespeare's
 time and plays 
After looking at toys, Mr. Nesbitt took us all around the facility. We learned about prehistoric flints, arrowheads and whatnot, which are among the oldest items in the collection, we saw how mud was sifted to find items that have been buried and got a behind the scenes look at the processing area. It was in this area that another staff member, Graham, gave us a first hand look at how items are processed and showed us old pieces of lamps, pewter tins, needles and shears. The most awesome piece of history we saw was a cannon ball in a bucket. Mr. Nesbitt told us that one of these had been found at every Shakespearean theater excavation site. Found in 2008, these balls were believed to be used as props during shows to create different sound effects. Another Shakespeare artifact we saw was a piece of a leather boot believed to have been used during his shows.
Outdoor Area
Full of dirt waiting to be sifted
In college, my roommate was studying, interned and ultimately worked as an archaelogist for the New York State Museum. I remember her telling me about what she had found at various sites, and I’m not going to lie, more often than not I wondered to myself how in the heck can someone find this interesting? Well after today, I can now understand. Looking at animal bones, pieces of clothing, old glass from the 19th century and thing else our glass saw today, I was fascinated by it all. It’s such an interesting world to see what has survived over time and learn about how life used to be. 

For more information on the London Archaelogical Archive Center, please check out their website,  or give their blog a read,

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