Like radio four, meals on wheels, incontinence pants and a flair for shuffling, archaeology is something people only ‘get’ once they grow old. Look around at an average week night archaeology talk, and most of the crowd look like they were dug up in Spitalfields in ’96.
Now I’ve nothing against the local Octogenarian Society – they make damn good cakes and their not afraid to use them. But I am worried by their… well… expiry date. What happens to archaeology when our natural constituency snuffs it?
‘Not a problem,’ the argumentalists say, ‘there’ll be a new batch of baby boomers along any minute.’
Or so they hope. The assumption being that the ‘point’ of archaeology will some how reveal itself mystically to people once they pass fifty. And maybe it will. Semi-retired, minus kids and basking in the glow of mature reflection, their search for a new direction and purpose may lead straight to our open doors, swelling our ranks with the enthusiasm of the part-time hobbyist.
But I’m not taking any chances.
After being invited to talk at the Spirit Store last night – a temporary arts café opened for just 6 weeks in the heart of one of Limerick’s most atmospheric bars – I’m convinced we need to take archaeology back to where it belongs. I’m talking guerrilla tactics. I’m talking black ops behind octogenarian lines. I’m talking… Archaeology Gigs!
We can start with the back room of pubs, but it doesn’t really matter where or when it happens – launderettes, railway waiting rooms, dental surgeries, corner shops, the swings next to the duck pond – just as long as we can get people talking about archaeology in a way that’s relevant to their day-to-day lives.
My talk at the Spirit Store was called ‘Recently reported road deaths on the N6 (3500 BC to 1500 AD)’ and covered some of the funerary sites I excavated on the Galway to Ballinasloe road scheme. Taking an anthropological view of mortuary ritual, I used the sites to explore some archaeological insights into Death in the distant and near past, and how that reflected on our own modern sensibilities. We got a great discussion going at the end, and as ever, Jonski worked his magic with the graphics, even dressing up as the grim reaper to get everyone in the mood before I began talking.
Death, quite literally, warmed up.
Thanks to all at the Spirit Store, and look out for ‘Archaeology Gigs #2’.
Weddings, funerals, bar mitzvahs.