MAAST in Motion: New knowledge from old things

MOLA team

In this blog we hear from Hazel, who has recently completed the first ever MAAST course here at MOLA. Hazel shares her experience of the course and the journey her research into the America Square site has taken her on.

I’m a 43 year old woman with a poster of Indiana Jones in my bedroom.

I’ve loved archaeology and museums for as long as I can remember. A few years ago I started an MA in Classical Archaeology after deciding I would only do things I was passionate about, not just things that I was good at. A series of personal issues meant I had to drop out after the first year. It broke my heart, but needs must.

Still, my passion and interest never faded, and I began volunteering at museums, getting as much hands-on experience and training as I could. I couldn’t afford to develop a career in museums academically, so volunteering was an alternative path.

After seeing the advert for MOLA's MAAST course on my social media, a few friends who knew of my love of archaeology also posted the link to me with “Saw this and thought of you! Apply for it!” comments. When I got an email saying I’d been accepted I whooped loudly. I was in! I got in! I’ve got a chance to learn about artefacts and process them! I get my hands on finds from an actual dig! It was something I always wanted to do and now I had the opportunity!

Pottery excavated from America Square (c) MOLA
Domestic tableware excavated from America Square (c) MOLA

As someone with invisible disabilities, I must admit to being really nervous about meeting new people and being unable to complete the course if I physically or emotionally couldn’t keep up, but I realised these fears were unfounded at the first class – we were a mix of ages, backgrounds and abilities – some older, some younger, others with disabilities and experience.

Jacqui and the guest tutors brought passion and expertise to every lesson – instilling a sense of joy in learning. I never thought I would enjoy sorting through boxes of broken pottery, let alone be able to look at a single sherd from a broken chamber pot and feel a sense of wonder at it, but I did. Finding out the hidden story behind these shattered items became a solid part of my week – one that I looked forward to immensely.

I’ve always loved researching and social history, and once we determined the dates of the finds, I went to the London Metropolitan Archive and lost myself down a research rabbit hole - piecing together the facts and exploring the events, people and the environment through the parish records and shared it with the group.

I was hooked and later discovered I wasn’t the only one. Others had been to the archives to research other aspects of the site and the dig. It was wonderful to rattle off what I’d found and listen to other discoveries, whilst learning about the physical objects in front of us– the technology of how they were made, materials, piecing together the sherds and seeing what they looked like as a whole, assessing what they might have been used for.

Each week the site at America Square and its history became more fascinating the more we found out. Merging the social history with the finds was almost addictive. It was wonderful that Jacqui and the guest tutors embraced and encouraged our enthusiasm.

MAAST participants piece together sherds of pottery (c) MOLA
MAAST participants piece together sherds from America Square (c) MOLA

Outside of the course, whilst on the foreshore I spotted a couple of sherds and a bone amongst the Thames detritus. Suddenly I was able to view these items not as rubbish, but as history and apply my knowledge to these things.

I identified one of them as part of an 18th century wheel-turned creamware chamber pot. My brain had absorbed a new way of looking at things – I would never have seen this broken piece of pottery as anything but just that before. Now I was able to put this analysis into actual reality – identify what object it would have been part of, the glaze, the date, the technology. Likewise, for the bone, I was able to see it as a proximal leg bone from a cow. I could see the butchery notches on the surface. These discarded items, sitting there on the surface, washed in and out for a few hundred years were ‘real’ and through what I'd learned in the classroom they were now able to tell me something about themselves.

Since it began in September last year, the MAAST course has been a weekly highlight. Every Thursday, I’ve looked forward to every lesson – what I could learn, what I could handle, how I would analyse the items. I didn't want it to end, and time has certainly flown.

I want to learn more, I want to do more and given the chance I definitely will.

Huge thanks to everyone who organised and have run this course. It’s given me and others so much joy and has been an incredible experience and opportunity. I genuinely hope that future courses give others as much as it’s given us.

MAAST is made possible thanks to support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and The Radcliffe Trust. To follow the journey, follow #MAAST on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

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