25 September 2014

Crowdsourcing Archeology

I caught this interesting story from the Guardian earlier in the week.

It seems that back in September 1954, some archeologists were exploring a site in London before an office building went up there, and in the last hour of a Saturday afternoon they discovered a Roman temple. The Temple of Mithras, to be exact.

It’s almost unfathomable to me as a New World native, but the British authorities apparently have so many Roman ruins to oversee that they decided this one couldn’t interfere with the construction project.

To be sure, there was a lot of press attention, and crowds so large that police had to be called in, but in pretty quick order the temple ruins were simply “moved and haphazardly reconstructed on another part of the site.” Without good documentation or preservation.

The Guardian picks up the story:
Now Museum of London Archaeology (MoLA) experts are trying to recover as many memories of the site as possible, and hope to discover colour photographs or even paintings to help with the project to reconstruct it yet again, this time accurately and back on its original foundations.

Site records say the stones were originally joined with pink mortar, but apparently no samples were kept. They hope a visitor may have left with a souvenir piece of mortar in a pocket, and that it’s still out there in a cardboard box on top of a wardrobe.

Already a ticket has turned up that suggests some of the visiting public were allowed to help with the digging. A startling letter, evidently from the friend who secured it for the donor’s aunt, said: “One has to get a ticket from Humphreys of Knightsbridge. We did this and got one for you too because they say today is the last day! So do go along … We found bones and a tooth.”
So this is a project to recover memories and artifacts of an event sixty years ago, in order to better preserve a site (already disturbed) from somewhat less than two thousand years ago.

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