Way back in 2014 I posted about Arbor Low and Gib Hill – part of a later prehistoric ceremonial complex in the Derbyshire Peak District – but very recently I received the opportunity to revisit and for a very special purpose. I was asked by Sheffield Museums to be filmed at this beautiful and evocative set of ancient monuments to discuss the pioneering work of the 19th-century archaeologist Thomas Bateman for the new exhibition: Brought to Light: The Remarkable Bateman Collection (set to run from Friday 27 May 2022 to 15 January 2023).
The exhibition explores the contribution of the Victorian Peak District barrow-digger to the origins of British archaeology and his legacy to this day in terms of ideas and discoveries. Bateman’s work interests me greatly since, in addition to his contribution to Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeology, he was one of a group of early archaeologists and antiquaries who contributed to the birth of Anglo-Saxon archaeology by excavating a series of early medieval furnished burials, most beneath primary burial mounds or inserted in secondary locations into far-earlier prehistoric monuments.
As well as incorporating discussions of Bateman’s findings in my published works on early medieval burial archaeology, I’ve also published a series of journal articles and book chapters about the origins and development of early medieval archaeology in Britain. This is pertinent to 21st-century Britain since the relationship between the Anglo-Saxons and the English remains a sensitive and contentious subject. In this regard, last year I presented a paper via Zoom to Sheffield Museums about Bateman’s early medieval investigations and their publication and reception (21 April 2021: ‘The Barrow Knight and the Search for the Anglo-Saxons’).
So, when I was invited to help with the new Bateman exhibition, I was delighted to lend a hand. Therefore, as a rare exception to my current rule of stepping back from conferences and public talks, on 22 March I met Curator of Archaeology Martha Jasko-Lawrence together with the museum’s cameraman at Arbor Low. We decided to film at Gib Hill, which Bateman had excavated.
I answered a range of questions prepared by Lucy Cooper of Sheffield Museums about Bateman’s inspirations for and approach to barrow-digging, this methods, and the broader context of his thinking as well as the implications of his discoveries. In particular, I addressed how his status as ‘local hero’ might be more complicated than it first appears.
Sadly, I can’t be there for the launch of the exhibition this week, but I look forward to catching up with this fabulous exhibition at a later date.
Incidental to my visit, it was good to get some fabulous photographs of the multi-phased prehistoric mound, Gib Hill, and the late Neolithic henge monument of Arbor Low.
I also got to take photographs of the heritage interpretation on the sites, with striking artistic impressions of ceremonies and rituals being practiced here in prehistory.
Furthermore, I noted a sign warning visitors of upsetting images daubed by vandals on at least one stone (although I didn’t see the graffiti myself, I presume it had been removed but the sign left up). Despite the tranquil and inspiring nature of these ancient monuments, clearly they remain a contested space where extremists and weirdos seek to appropriate with their signs and statements.