From guided tours around an ancient nail forge to a rare chance to see inside Leeds’s oldest secular building, this year’s Festival of Archaeology will be a chance to dig into Yorkshire’s past. Grace Hammond reports.
There was a time, not all that long ago when archaeology was the closely guarded preserve of trained experts.
Back then, excavations were off-limits to a public who paid little interest to what was going on behind the hoardings. Then it all changed.
Partly it was down to high-profile digs like the one at Coppergate in York which laid bare life in the Viking city with a hoard of more than 40,000 objects. Partly it was down to television producers who came to realise that done right, history was a ratings winner.
The Council for British Archaeology realised a while ago that there was a wider appetite for the past. Community groups are frequently used to carry out digs and its annual festival, run by more than 400 museums and heritage organisations, is now in its 24th year. This year, the event will be fronted by by CBA President Dan Snow and over the next two weeks there will be more than 1,000 events across Yorkshire and the Humber.
“Archaeology gives us a tangible connection with our past, telling us not just about how our prehistoric ancestors lived millions of years ago, but what everyday life was like for our families in the Industrial Revolution or during Britain’s First World War Home Front.
“The CBA does great work in getting people into history in a hands-on and engaging way. We have some serious challenges ahead of us and in this role I intend to make the UK sit up and take notice of the threat to our heritage which is growing every day – and get more active in its defence.”
Snow was appointed last year as part of the CBA’s efforts to appeal to the voluntary community and the wider public to encourage participation in wake of inevitable funding cuts and the festival hopes to further raise awareness of the importance of archaeology.
Bordley coal pits, Hetton, North Yorkshire At first glance it looks like just another field, but like much of rural North Yorkshire there was a time when this area was a hub of industry. The land is now in private hands, but as part of the festival there will be a rare opportunity to visit the site for a 5km walk around the old coal workings. Today, July 12, 2pm.
Community Excavation, Keighley
Our Lady of Victories Primary School has offered up the adjoining guard house gardens for a two-day excavation. Open to novices and families, it’s a chance to experience archaeology first hand. July 18, 10am-2pm, July 21, 10am-2pm (meet on the corner of West Lane and Guard House Road).
For centuries, Bedern Hall was the refectory for the Vicars Choral of York Minster. Learn how they built the hall, see some of the items they left behind from the Bedern Kitchen Books to the Bedern Tablets, find out more about the restoration and for those feeling in good voice, there will also be choral singing workshops. July 12, 10am-5pm, Bedern Hall, York.
Swaledale Big Dig
As part of a Heritage Lottery Fund project to explore the history of three Swaledale villages, archaeologists will be digging test pits on the village green in Reeth as part of their search for evidence of the medieval village before the market charter was awarded in 1694. There won’t be a public dig, but members of the Swaledale and Arkengarthdale Archaeology Group will be on hand on to discuss the project and there will also be a display of finds so far. July 19 & 20, 10am-4pm, Reeth.
Hoylandswaine Nail Forge
The Grade II listed nail forge, which has been maintained by a team of volunteers since a major restoration in 2012, will be holding two open days as part of the festival. The only nail forge in Britain with its original hearth and and chimney, there will be guided tours around the forge, explaining its role in the history of the village, how nails were made and how the building was preserved. July 19 & 26, 11am-4pm.
Linton Falls Hydroelectric Power Station
After being redundant for years, the building has been restored to its former glory and is now a working hydroelectric power station. Normally closed to the public, the open day will give visitors the chance to see the restoration up close. July 24, 12-3pm
Great Excavations: YAC Family Conference
Join some of the UK’s top archaeologists for a family friendly conference. Highlights include a talk by Hayley Saul on the challenges of doing archaeology in the mountains of the Himalayas, from the perils of altitude sickness to the dangers of climbing trees to record caves and Martin Carver who led the first excavation of Sutton Hoo. July 26, 1.30am-5pm, University of York.
Stank Hall Barn
Rare chance to see inside one of the oldest secular buildings in Leeds. The Grade II medieval building dates from the mid-15th century and archaeologists have already recovered a substantial number of finds from prehistoric flints to Roman pottery. With a group of volunteers are now campaigning to save the site and bring it back into use, the day is a chance to explore the past and future of the site. July 27, 12-4pm.
For more details about all the events visit www.archaeologyfestival.org.uk/whatson.