Doing contemporary archaeology is all the rage and I love it. But I ask you dear reader, has anyone before explored the ‘Contemporary Archaeology of Inaccessible Spaces’? If so, please let me know. If not, here just might be a first!

In a previous blog I mentioned that I live adjacent to a railway line. Ever since I moved into my new house in November 2012, I was aware that there is a space that I own that I cannot access. No-one can access it; it is inaccessible space created during the construction process of the house. It is a thin sliver of land between the boundary fence of the adjacent railway line and the side-wall of the house. This space and its inaccessibility is a creation of the construction process since both back and front garden fences sealed it off. Indeed, even during construction it proved increasingly inaccessible and subsequently impossible even to access by builders; anything dropped there would be left there.

Even after the construction was finished, and I was thinking of buying the property, I queried access to this space and how was it possible to mend damage to the down-pipe of the guttering which, by standard design of this house-type, ran down the side wall into this inaccessible area. In response to my concerns, the builders realised that they had better relocate the down-pipe to the front of the house – slightly less aesthetically pleasing but at least the pipe would be accessible from bottom to top. Only after we purchased the house and moved in did we realise that the builders could not even access the inaccessible space they had created themselves. They had no way to easily remove the lower half of the downpipe; they simply cut the top bit off that was within view. The bits they hacked off, they simply dropped it into the inaccessible space!

Out of sight is out of mind right?

Well, not for me. For this space is viewable if I open the downstairs toilet frosted window and, standing on the toilet seat, I crane my neck out and look downwards. In this regard, the space is mine, visible and littered with untidy debris left by others. It was simultaneously a rich record of the debris of modern construction and the waste associated with new-build housing and the post-construction amendments to a house. So the space is a mess, it is litter, it is polluted but it is also archaeology.

Every fibre of my archaeo-being and the very soul of my existence as an obsessive cleaner were offended by this space. Over a year I have suffered its presence. It must be studied but also it must be cleared up. I am no litter bug, and while I cannot readily see it and no-one else can see it, it is there in my mind, like a splinter (a nod to The Matrix), eating away at my sense of well-being.

So recently, I decided to act, I decided to conduct a very brief piece of makeshift extreme, dangerous contemporary archaeology by dropping a ladder out of the downstairs toilet window and precariously descend into the brambles and briars, the dangerous inaccessible space, nervous with anticipation of what I might discover there. Traditional recording methods were dispensed with, given the inability to get access to the space with my horde of student volunteers and Time Team helicopter. Still,  below are pictures of my brave endeavour and the exciting assemblage of finds I uncovered. I cleared c. 50% of the space and left the rest for future archaeologists to explore.

I even reused some of the broken bricks in creating a foundation for my newly assembled garden storage unit. In this small way, I reduced massively my vast carbon footprint.

A great day for contemporary archaeology and perhaps final confirmation of the fact that this blog is rapidly disappearing up its own self-indulgent behind.

NOTE: contemporary archaeology guru – Paul Graves-Brown – informs me that what I have been exploring here is known as a SLOAP: Spaces Left Over After Planning. The lady in the sales office called it a ‘wildlife highway’….

The inaccessible space, showing the cut guttering down-pipe – out of sight, out of mind?
The construction detritus – pre-excavation
The toilet as window onto the past and my very own ladder of inference
Like any good archaeologist, I left a fair sample behind for future archaeologists to investigate
After literally minutes of careful excavation, a rich bounty of archaeological treasures awaited post-excavation analysis