This week we have mostly been working on impact. Research funding councils are very big on ‘impact’. By impact they mean the influence that a piece of research has in the wider world, beyond the results of the original study. Impact in archaeology is a bit difficult to measure. In science and medicine it is easy to see when a piece of research has a tangible benefit to society. In archaeology we just hope that knowing more new stuff about the past makes some people happy.
Ultimately this is the best justification for doing archaeology, people enjoy it and enjoy learning about it. Of course, to spread the joy, this means you should talk to as many people as possible about your research whenever you get the chance. Apart from the small matter of a few exams, I don’t seem to have been doing anything this week except explain the research project.
On Saturday last week I was part of the Lancashire Archaeology Day, which we host on campus at UCLan. This is a yearly event which is jointly organised between UCLan Archaeology and Lancashire County Council where local archaeologists get the chance to explain to the public and to each other what they have been up to. I talked about the New Laund enclosure and the outline results from the Fairy Holes cave dig. Steve Rowland from Oxford Archaeology North gave an update on the excavations on the site of the Franciscan Friary in Preston (this is the site which was underneath what is now the Preston Legacy hotel on Marsh Lane). This is a particularly cool site, not least because I used to be able to watch them digging it from my old office window.
Then we had two papers on two fantastic industrial period projects. Brian Jeffrey talked about the amazing excavation and reconstruction work that has been going on at the ‘Constant Mary’ site. Here there is a mass of 18th century wagon roads associated with a massive water-powered winding mechanism for drawing coal wagons out of the drift mine. Ian Miller, also from Oxford Archaeology North, talked about the textile mill survey they have been carrying out, recording and hopefully helping to preserve some of these highly significant sites. I was pleased to see the second slide was the vast Tulketh Mill in Ashton (now used by Carphone Warehouse as a training centre) which I walk past every day on my way to work. Peter Isles, the County Archaeologist, also pointed out to me on another occasion that it is the distinctive chimney and tower of Tulketh Mill you can see in the backdrop townscapes during the Wallace and Gromit film Curse of the Were Rabbit.
Nigel Neil talked about the ‘Loos trenches’ of Blackpool. These are first world war replica training trenches dug by soldiers billeted in the town which then became fund-raising tourist attractions during the rest of the war. John Hudson, an extremely accomplished craft potter with longstanding expertise in the archaeology of all kinds of ceramics was on last, talking about medieval tile production. Sadly I had to leave before he started. Ceramics is one of the many things I find completely absorbing. I’ve also heard John speak before and he is a brilliant speaker. If you want a flavour of his work have a look at his website here.
Today I have been explaining what a henge is to the listeners of BBC Radio Lancashire. I got an invitation to be a guest on Sally Naden’s daily lunchtime chat-show. Given the importance of impact, as explained at the top of the post, it was obviously my duty to accept this. It was just a co-incidence that it involved being one of three people been given licence to talk about ourselves for two hours to the wireless audience of the county. I got a bit lost in Blackburn trying to find the studio but otherwise had a great time. After all, no one becomes a University lecturer unless they like the sound of their own voice. We even had to choose a Desert Island Discs style ‘track of my life’. I chose Yazz and the Plastic Population’s version of ‘The Only Way is Up’ but if you want to know why you’ll have to go and do listen again here.