I went to see the CAER dig in Grosvenor Park, Chester on Thursday and they wrapped up the dig Friday. Well done to all the Chester students for their hard work over 4 weeks!
However, I remain haunted by the table showing the display of finds from the dig during last Wednesday’s open day. It still fills me with the horror of a lost millennium. For me, I didn’t just see a nice array of finds, I saw oblivion on display. In front of me was a terrifying fracture in the Cestrian space-time continuum.
This is because, the site under investigation reveals late medieval houses that persisted into the early modern period. Before that there are traces of Roman finds, road surfaces and ditches. Between these, there is a long gap where no features or artefactual evidence has been found.
The finds table reified this disjunction for me. There were early Roman finds, later medieval artefacts and post-medieval items. What happened here between the 4th and 14th centuries? Hence my horror!
Of course, the rational archaeologist in me knows that the mid-late first millennium AD is more challenging to see from archaeological finds. I also know that one cannot identify occupation easily in a site that has been subject to centuries of later activity. For a city like Chester, the presence or absence of particular centuries in any single excavation area is not meaningful in itself. I also got told on Thursday, somewhat reassuring me, that a piece of Saxo-Norman pottery had been found, albeit from a residual context.
Yet my reaction was not rational, it was emotional and it is epitomises why, in both written and material terms, some still refer to the early medieval period as the ‘Dark Ages’.
I had to stop myself imagining reaching out to the table, pull it apart along the millennium-long invisible fissure, stick my hand in and pull something early medieval out…. Doctor Who has done it, so why can’t I?
Maybe I’m not a Time Lord after all… Still, my job is to navigate these vagaries: exploring time and navigating the plethora of material from some places and some times, and the gaps and faint traces from others.