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Reflections on “From Every Object A Story”

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On October 19th and 20th, I attended the Later Prehistoric Finds Group (LPFG) conference: From Every Object A Story. This conference offered the rare opportunity for all of those of us around the country studying all objects of the Bronze and Iron Ages to get together and basically nerd out.

A full overview of the weekend is being compiled by yours truly for the LPFG newsletter, but I thought here I’d lay out some of my reflections after a weekend so jam-packed with prehistoric objects.

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Adam Gwilt showing us the Bronze Age wares of the National Museum of Cardiff

The aim of this conference was to consider the stories behind objects, both in terms of how they were treated in the past, and how they have since been appropriated. Naturally this conference had me in my element and talks across weekend spanned the Bronze Age through to Romano-British periods discussing everything from lost textiles, to glass beads, to hoards in publication limbo, to the impact of Brexit on our research.

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My own little contribution came in the form of a Pecha Kucha (a style of presentation consisting of 20 slides, each 20 seconds long), concerning my research into the Bloody Pool hoard. It left me exhausted as I tried to cram as many points as possible into a mere 6 minutes and 40 seconds. I have to admit though, that as presenting goes, it’s pretty exhilarating due to the constant pressure of having to concisely make arguments before 20 seconds expires and the slide moves on. I highly recommend it if you get the chance!

The conference itself took place in Bristol on the first day and relocated to Cardiff on the second. Both days offered the opportunity to delve into the hidden collections of the fantastic museums there. A particular highlight for me was the opportunity to see the Fawcett collection in Bristol Museum.

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Iron Age brooches collected by Fawcett (credit: Dot Boughton)

This collection was donated to Bristol Museum by Dr. H.A. Fawcett, who made it a life ambition to collect an example of each everyday object ranging from the Paleolithic through to the Romano-British period.

Geographic area was no obstacle, nor was context. He was simply interested in collecting one of everything, to the point that he created scrapbook wishlists and his own intricate cataloguing system. It’s unfortunate that he chose not to focus on recording context, as some of the objects are simply stunning and may represent some really curious depositional patterns.

What really struck me throughout the weekend was how many of the objects presented held long use-lives, or were associated with material insinuating exotic connections, or inferred highly skilled processes involved in manufacture, maintenance, and deposition.

For much of the time we’ve been collecting objects, the focus has been on simply that: collecting objects (e.g. the Fawcett collection). But in recent years the idea of objects telling stories has gained prominence.

And it’s so good to see this recognition and appreciation.

The facets of individual objects, even within an accumulation of lots of objects, is increasingly investigated, leading us to insinuate ideas about the role of an individual object and what it might represent. This also leads us to increasingly conclude that some objects had been in circulation longer than others.

This in turn unlocks a huge number of questions. How long had these objects been circulated? Were certain objects relics or heirlooms? Did they confer a greater significance than other objects? What does this symbolise about the relationship between objects and their owners, or even the communities in which they were situated? All of these questions and more are gradually coming to the forefront of our investigations and guiding the research towards understanding the objects, and inherently the people behind the objects.

This conference was titled “From Every Object A Story” for a reason: we’re in a period of archaeology where we’re recognising the significance of the stories behind objects. We are no longer collecting objects simply because they are “pretty” or because we want “one of every type”; it’s now about the importance of what close analysis of objects can inform us. And I for one couldn’t be happier.

 

Acknowledgements

I can’t express my gratitude enough to those who organised this awesome weekend and the museums who hosted it, as well as all the people who spoke and attended for making this such a great experience for me. Every conversation stimulated more thoughts, more ideas, more avenues to chase. And for giving me the opportunity to test myself through the dreaded Pecha Kucha, thanks must go to the LPFG. I can’t wait for next year!

 

 

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ABOUT ME

I’m Matt, 26 years old, a glutton for academic punishment, a lover of all things Bronze Age, always willing to continue talking even when my friends have lost interest, and never happy unless overwhelming busy. Find out more here and be sure to follow me on Twitter @mgknight24 and Facebook

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