Saturday 24th was a very busy Excavation Open Day on the allotment site for the Discovering Dorchester Community Archaeology Project, with well over 250 people visiting the site. This was the culmination of the July excavations by Oxford Archaeology and University of Oxford students; as Education Officer for the Project, I was pleased with the very enthusiastic response of children and adults.
My name is Jo Richards (seen in background of picture below right). I have worked in professional archaeology throughout my career; for many years as an archaeological illustrator and reconstruction artist, and more recently in the field of archaeology education, heritage interpretation and exhibition design. As a freelance adviser I also demonstrate late medieval plant use and 14th century needlework. I believe the current term for this is ‘portfolio working’!
This is my second summer in Dorchester-on-Thames, since I was recruited through Oxford Archaeology South. I work closely with Oxford Archaeology and the University of Oxford, who are directly responsible for the archaeological excavation programme, thereby providing a broadly historical and site-specific educational programme. In conjunction with the educational work at the dig I collaborate with Margaret Craig at Dorchester Abbey and John Metcalfe of Dorchester Museum, and we have had a very successful season, with over 70 pupils from two local schools visiting the excavation on the allotments site.
On these visit days, we ‘rotate’ groups between the abbey, museum and excavation, where children and their teachers and helpers have a site tour to see archaeology in action. There is a dedicated education marquee, and children can experience a number of activities including finds-washing, using micro-digs, examining tiny snail samples under the microscope and design their own roman coin/roman road/roman pot. After a site tour, I give a brief introduction to timelines, local history and what archaeologists do, including a chance to try on a hard hat, high-visibility jacket and a pair of enormous steel-capped boots!
It doesn’t stop there! There are Roman and Saxon Loans Boxes available for Oxfordshire schools to borrow free of charge throughout the year. I am available for pre-visits to schools before the excavation season starts, and in 2011 we are looking to expand this opportunity further. A number of teachers and parents have been very enthusiastic about the opportunities for hands-on experience of archaeology – there is no better way to enthuse the local community about the impressive and unique historic landscape on their doorstep.
(Blogged by Jo Richards, Discovering Dorchester Archaeological Educational Officer)