A controversial archaeological project has recently been carried out at the University of Bristol. Archaeologists from the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology “excavated” a transit van used by workers and archaeologists at the Ironbridge Museum.

This has caused some raised eyebrows- is this useful archaeology or a waste of time? Can archaeology tell us something new, useful and important about something as mundane a 1991 van?

Published by David Petts

Assc. Prof Archaeology, Durham University - landscapes - old music/books - folk traditions - early med Britain - community heritage - post-medieval - views own @davidpetts1

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  1. i read this article in \”British Archaeology\” when it first came out and have to admit that I was a little bit surprised at it and wondered whether or not it was a waste of time but when you think of it it\’s not really. Our job as archaeologists is to try to explain the past by studying the artefacts left behind by history. The Transit Van is as much an artefact as a Samian Ware Bowl and, therefore, requires the same detailed level of study in order to understand its nature. \’The Past\’ began at 13:16 today; I\’m writing this blog comment at 13:17, therefore, what happened at 13:16 on Wednesday 21st February 2007 is now in the realm of archaeological study!


  2. Excavating a 1991 transit van benefits the concept of interpretation, as documentary evidence (in this case – the manual for the van) would tell us different information – the documentary providing the hard specs and archaeology revealing function and meaning. Another benefit of this case study is that it identifies that where the item is found is not necessarily where the item was made or used. However, did this case study really tell archaeologists anything new about archaeological interpretation that they did not appreciate already? For example each site varies to the next, with different deposition themes. Did it really require an excavation of a transit van to comprehend the complexities of archaeology? And, was the archaeological excavation not carried out with some biased? I’d imagine an Iron Age archaeologist (this is totally hypothetical!!) would excavate post-holes that appeared in a curvilinear form and had a few dispersed bones about it, would say “hark yes; our settlement! this is where we buried those noisy neighbours from across the bog”. It’s a matter of ‘biased influence’, because transit van usage has not changed dramatically in the space of 16 years. We all know that workers with vans sneak their families and fido to do the weekly shop, hell I would – there’s plenty of room for an extra cauliflower. If we archaeologically explore the past 20 years, what are we going to leave the archaeologists for the future to do? Poor ole things will be jobless and most likely will become historians, is that what you wish to condemn them to?On a final note, I think it would have been more interesting to set cross-cultural modern archaeology challenges through other European countries, something unfamiliar and less easy to interpret.


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