Monday, 2 June 2014

Digging for treasure!

Philip Rahtz (right) and John Brown at Chew Valley c.1953. Reproduced under a Creative Commons licence.
Today marks the anniversary of the death of archaeologist Philip Rahtz, who passed away at the age of 90 in 2011. Rahtz was “one of those who transformed the practice of archaeology in Britain in the 1960s and 70s” and was instrumental in founding the University of York’s Department of Archaeology.

Before his death, Rahtz donated his slide collection to the University and it can be explored online through the Digital Library. The collection covers a large number of digs associated with the archaeologist from the 1950s onwards, including Wharram Percy, Chew Valley, Glastonbury Tor, Chew Stoke and Bordesley Abbey. The collection tells a rich story, from the initial preparations of each excavation site to the finds uncovered and all the muddy fun to be had in between!

As his obituary in The Times explains, Rahtz’s “excavations opened windows on Bronze Age burials, Roman villas and temples, Anglo-Saxon palaces and cemeteries, medieval houses, abbeys, churches and a hunting lodge. The post-Roman cemetery at Cannington with its young female “saint”, the “Arthurian” fort at Congresbury, King Alfred’s palace at Cheddar and the great Cistercian landscape of Bordesley Abbey are household names in the profession, sites where history was revealed with exceptional clarity, proficiency and common sense.”
Rahtz, who was originally an accountant, was drawn into the field after striking up a friendship with archaeologist Ernest Greenfield while they were both serving in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. After the War, the pair began excavations at Chew Valley Lake. In addition to the amazing finds, including a medieval fish jug and a Roman lioness pendant, the slides illustrate some of the “famously hands on” excavation techniques the pair employed. As the picture to the right, which shows Ernest Greenfield being submerged into a well, indicates, some of these techniques would not be advisable today!

In addition to Rahtz's slide collection, the Library also holds a number of titles by the archaeologist

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