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Oh, For the Love of Bricks!

July 4, 2014

This may be my new expletive of choice! Having a child with keen hearing I have had to get very careful what I say around him, otherwise I have the shame of having to ‘see Miss’ after school and apologise profusely for what he’s said. Unfortunately, being circumspect, or even couth, does not come naturally to me. For Brits who remember the Fast Show, my natural setting is this – whiz through Jesse’s diets:

it’s been a steep learning curve and along the way I’ve had to think of many substitutes for my more profane utterances. This has led to some interesting combinations of words ‘Oh Dolphins!’ being quite satisfying if a bit of a mystery why they’d suggest themselves when I’ve just dropped something. It’s also led me to google Pete to find out why his sake is being invoked – supposedly it could be variant on pity, or could be referring to St Peter, just in case you too had ever wondered this. However, I think yelling ‘Bricks!’ is going to be my new way forward and muttering ‘oh, for the love of bricks!’ the next time I get int a pointless and circular argument with my beloved child who cannot, cannot, let it lie and gets very sanctimonious if I swear.

But, why am I talking about bricks anyway? Well, it all began when Rick casually mentioned he’d had to look up the history of brick making to write up UCLan’s training excavations of Bank Hall

Bank Hall Training Excavation

Bank Hall Training Excavation

and how he’d been surprised to find the very book he needed in the university library. I think he expected me to say ‘oh, yes’ in a polite but disinterested manner, but no, I was fascinated. I spent the whole evening bombarding him with questions about bricks and brick bonds – thankfully we were out at the time otherwise the keen eared child would have been rolling his eyes and audibly muttering ‘you two are so lame!’ Anyway, such was my interest the next day Rick kindly brought home Brick Building in Britain by R.W. Brunskill. Well, what can I say? It’s fascinating! I was delighted to discover our library also has Campbell and Pryce’s Brick: a world history so that’s now here too and after I’ve read it I may then move on to Brick Watching (seriously, that’s the real title, it’s by Edmund Jupp) or Bricks and Brickmaking or The History of Gauged Brickwork. It’s all about bricks here (maybe go back and watch the clip again but substitute eating for reading and honey for bricks) all bricks all the time in this turret of HARN towers. In fact, I’m delighted to tell you that HARN towers is made of bricks

HARN Towers aka Blaise Castle. Copyright Paul Brooker

HARN Towers aka Blaise Castle. Copyright Paul Brooker

in – I think -Flemish bond.

What does any of this have to do with the history of archaeology? Well, should you be reading a history of bricks and brick work (stop sniggering at the back! One day you might do so and come on, honestly, we’re archaeologists we’re already geeks, it’s not like a keen eared child, or anyone else for that matter, is suddenly going to declare us cool and hip) and you turn to the bibliography you will find umpteen archaeologists listed. Petrie, Kenyon, Koldewey, Andrae – it’s a roll call of famous diggers. This got me to thinking, as I often do, about the connections outside archaeology, archaeology’s impact on other disciplines. This is something we often forget, archaeology is used by other disciplines and interest groups – leaving aside the whole question of the abuse of archaeology for another post –  I just want here to think a little about how archaeology has an impact beyond us and to reiterate that when we write archaeology and the history of archaeology we have to remember that it will be read outside our niche circle. We are connected to other disciplines, obviously anthropology and archaeology have long been interconnected, as have archaeology and history, archaeology and geology, biology, geography and many, many more. Yet, that inter connectedness is rarely reflected in mainstream history of archaeology – I’m not thinking of HARN members here but Paul Bahn, William Stiebing, Glyn Daniel, John Romer, Alain Schnapp and even Bruce Trigger – if you look at any general history book there will be archaeologists cited for the earliest periods, but archaeologists rarely consult history and never social or cultural history. Archaeology might be set in its intellectual context but that’s the limit of our external engagement.


Is it lack of knowledge? The belief that archaeology and antiquarianism somehow exists outside history? Arrogance – the belief that as archaeologists we know the past in a more visceral and meaningful way than historians? Lack of interest? Something completely different that I haven’t identified?

I need to mull this over some more, but first I have a hot date with some bricks!

Enjoy your weekend




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