07 July 2014

London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre

Archaeological Archive
Today was a really special journey into the Museum of London Archaeological Archive, also known as the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre (LAARC). LAARC is the world's largest archaeological archive; they have the Guinness World Record to prove it. The facility is where items from archaeological digs around London are cataloged and stored. There are millions of objects in the building that date anywhere from prehistory to World War II, but only 253,000 are available for researchers to inspect. Because of London's wet climate, materials that are rarely found preserved in other areas like leather, fabric, and wood are more commonly found here. This makes some of the objects in the archive especially important to understanding everyday culture throughout history.

The Museum of London also uses part of the Mortimer Wheeler House for storage, so we were able to see some awesome non-dig-related items on or tour like their toys and games acquisitions and the telephone switchboard from Buckingham Palace. One of the more interesting yet completely random items was the king's urinal from the Royal Opera House.

Pilgrimage tokens
Several items from different digs were on display for us as we toured the facility. One collection of items that was exciting for me personally (to most other people probably not so much) was a set of silver platters from Nonsuch Palace. These are particularly special because the palace was started by Henry VIII and was called Nonsuch because there would be no such place that could rival its grandeur. Unfortunately, Charles II gave the palace to one of his mistresses who demolished it and sold the parts to pay her debts. It's one place in this world I can never visit, so I want to go ten times more (kind of like Cuba). But there were several other really interesting items, all of them metal and small. These were tokens from pilgrimages that people would purchase and then throw into the Thames. One was identified as a figure of Thomas Becket, the sainted Archbishop of Canterbury who was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.

I knew that one of these trips would try to sway me away from my LIS concentration, and this site was it. Seeing the work that goes into the storage and maintenance of these items made the job seem daunting, but it also seems like an amazing place to work. Touching and working with bits and pieces of history every day would be so rewarding. Even if it is something seemingly insignificant, it may be the only mark someone has left on the world and that makes every item special.

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