CPD is important for self employed folks – and we can be really creative about the opportunities we choose. I have just come back from an amazing prehistoric themed trip to Norfolk.
First we had a real treat – a day in and above the neolithic flint mines at Grimes Graves with Will Lord who has been flint knapping for more than 40 years. I remember first visiting the site when his parents Val and John Lord were the custodians in the 1970s, they taught themselves to knap alongside a host of other prehistoric technologies.
The trip down the flint mine was incredible. We were lucky to join the very few people who have actually decended into Greenwell’s pit – thanks to Historic England recently approving a handful of guided tours each year down this pristine excavation. EH site manager Rob gave us a factual history summarising the practicalities, excavations, finds and research questions still being pondered. Each pit took about three months to excavate, and the spoil was used to back fill worked chambers and previous shafts. I was surprised to realise that they wouldn’t have needed any artificial lights, as the bright white of the fresh chalk walls would have reflected the daylight 20m or so along the chambers. In the winter months, when days were shorter and the sun lower in the sky, environmental evidence indicates that the site operations were suspended,maybe they used this time to travel to communal feasting sites and trade their wares.
Will then gave us a more emotive experience, conjuring a real feeling of connection with the people who won their material culture from this hole in the ground. It was a joy and an honour to share in his delight and reverence for the privileged access he has earned to this unique site.
We had an amazing authentic experience, even eating venison roasted on an open fire, before spending the afternoon trying our skills on the flints themselves. I made some things that definately were useable at least as scrapers, if not axes, and developed an appreciation of the nuances and organic origins of flint as a material. Another craft to add to my list of skills to spend time developing.
After this, we nipped across to Kings Lynn – I wanted to check out the Stories of Lynn app, which had been showcased at a recent conference. My CPD here was that digital interpretation really needs to have robust support – the EE signal was down so even though I’d downloaded the app over WiFi, the google map base needed phone data on site to work. Similarly, the app didn’t work at all for my colleague who had the next generation android OS. The indoor elements inside the museum worked well, but the content wasn’t well organised, putting additional barriers in the way of the audiences. It began in the wrong location, then proceeded to talk about the project and the app developers and funders, rather than the museum content.
Undaunted, we nipped across time to visit SeaHenge at the Kings Lynn museum. We didn’t bother with their audio app, and didn’t need to – we got all we wanted from the exhibition itself: original artifacts, a life size reconstruction, a hands-on build-your-own model, and plenty of first hand accounts, different opinions and background information to browse. Well-used, low tech, done very effectively.
Then we went across to Flag Fen near Peterborough and saw the Bronze Age remains, reconstructed roundhouse, and log boats preserved in the waterlogged peat. There were also a few objects and information about the remarkable excavations at nearby Must Farm. The site was interspersed with a visitor centre, Roman Road and grazing soay sheep as well as planting reflecting the species found in the pollen record from Bronze Age times. There was also a ‘Big Dig’ marquee with replica pits that allowed visitors to practice archaeological skills.
This all provided grist to the mill for the developments I’m helping plan at Epiacum Heritage. A great reminder for putting the visitor experience first in your design – what is the narrative? how can improvements enhance the coherence of the story? how can you make their experience more authentic? what tools can be used to help them understand how the landscape has changed through time? Watch this space…!