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Community Action

Getting Our Medieval On

Today’s post is part of our continuing series on public involvement at the site. It is written by Julia Best, a PhD archaeology student who spends most of her time in a lab studying the bones of birds from small, Scottish, wet and windy islands. Occasionally she is allowed out of the lab and enjoys shooting anything insight with her bow. As re-enactor she has been visiting Cosmeston for 6 years and during our Getting Medieval event costumed up for two days to help bring to life the village for visitors:

As many of you are probably aware last weekend we were getting our Medieval on at ‘Getting Medieval’. This event brought together a whole host of people – both in the making and in the attending. The gang of diggers were joined by community archaeologists, volunteer helpers, musicians, bone and pottery specialists and a gaggle of re-enactors.  As a re-enactor and archaeology PhD student I thought I would witter on for a while about why I like community archaeology and believe it is one of the most valuable returns we can give.  Why did I become a re-enactor? I joined Cardiff Castle Garrison as a first year archaeology student, firstly because there was a part of me that had always wanted to do re-enactment, secondly because I like making costumes and collecting all kinds of authentic things, thirdly there was the archery, combat and then there was the mead. Oh the mead at that point I couldn’t resist!  Evidently getting to shoot things (and people) with a longbow, do battles and camp in places such as Cardiff Castle and Cosmeston is rather fun, but in all seriousness I love the fact that re-enactment can bring the past to life for such a range of people from the wide-eyed child watching sword fighting to the elderly man studying the blacksmithing and reminiscing about lost skills. By setting up our living history encampments we aim to deliver an experience that while as historically accurate as possible is engaging, interactive and fun – not confining the past to what people often regard as the stuffy pages of a history book. I very much believe the same is true with community archaeology. As archaeologists we get a privileged look into the past every day – but what value is this to the rest of the population if we do not share it with them?! How can we expect to survive as a profession if we do not excite interest from a wide range of people, and show them they too can get a lot from the past?

Getting Medieval! Julia is in the centre.

Getting Medieval! Julia is in the centre.

‘Getting Medieval’ exemplified this rather well. The interest displayed by such a diverse visitor base was staggering, and included several groups who perhaps do not usually have much to do with archaeology. This shows us not only the value of community archaeology but the importance of locations such as Cosmeston Village which help people engage with the past. We were delighted to welcome several people with learning disabilities who thoroughly enjoyed the animals, and seemed to revel in the new textures, sights and sounds on offer. People of a wide range of ages, backgrounds, ethnicities and interests all found something to enjoy – from people who had visited specifically to see the excavation, to families drawn in by the children’s activities or the chance to hold weapons and armour. Everyone can find something to relate to in the past, and the past belongs to everyone. Community archaeology allows us to help people find this out for themselves, they can learn a lot from our work and we sure as hell can learn a lot from them when we open up the archaeology to such a diverse world and let it come alive again!

Addendum: Did you visit the dig? Or have you visited the reconstructed village (recently or in the past)? If so, would you be interested in writing a guest post on how you feel about Cosmeston and/or on what heritage means to you (it needn’t be long)? Let us know in the contact form below!

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About Cosmeston Students

We are the student labour at the Cardiff University excavations of Cosmeston Medieval Manor.

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A working shot of the 1980s excavation in the lower area of Cosmeston

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Day of Archaeology 2011

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