Archaeology at Hanging Heaton 2

I’ve spent part of the last weekend looking more closely at the finds from the excavations in the grounds of Hanging Heaton Primary School. Most were what you’d expect – 19th and 20th century pottery, clay pipe stems, a few modern coins and marbles and so on.

Fragments of a leaf-patterned jar

Fragments of a leaf-patterned jar

However, a few pieces of pottery started me thinking. One is a small piece of rim which comes from a Willow Pattern plate. The other fragments come from a jar with a blue leaf pattern on a white background which is reminiscent of some styles of Chinese porcelain.

A fragment of Willow Pattern plate

A fragment of Willow Pattern plate

Both seem to demonstrate the influence of oriental design on western art or perhaps I should say the European capacity for producing oriental-looking fakes. . The Willow Pattern story was invented in the 1780s to promote the sale of a new ‘oriental’ design from the Minton factory in Staffordshire (UK). The design on the other vessel may have been inspired by Chinese porcelain designs but whatever its fabric may be, it’s certainly not porcelain.

It’s all Georgian and Victorian kitsch really. Not that we’re any different. When, for example, was the last time you managed to get through a gift shop without your eyes being assailed by dozens of mass-produced pottery Buddhas? And then there are all these oriental dragon designs. Perhaps it only goes to demonstrate a continuing European fascination for Chinese style and design.

Archaeology at Hanging Heaton

Working on a simulated excavation in the classroom

Working on a simulated excavation in the classroom

This week I’m working on an archaeology project at Hanging Heaton J&I School. The format of the project is similar to many on which I’ve worked on in the past. In the morning we have a classroom session to help pupils to understand the basic principles of archaeology and in the afternoon we go out and work on a real excavation in the school grounds.

By the time the project has finished every pupil in the school will have been involved. This makes it interesting from the teaching point of view in that it has served once again to demonstrate the different capabilities of children of different ages. It also emphasizes the need to differentiate your lessons accordingly.

 Working on site

Working on site

The finds have been interesting too and very numerous: you might almost say that they are coming up by the bucket load. A wide range of objects have been recovered over the past three days. These have included the usual 19th/20th century pottery, vessel and window glass, a couple of 2 pence coins, marbles, a ceramic doorknob, and an oyster shell. The marbles and the coins probably represent chance losses from the pockets of children playing on the field but I suspect that the others may result from the landscaping of the site when the present school was built.

Tomorrow is the final day of the excavation. Let’s hope that the finds are as plentiful as they were today. It might compensate a little for the rain which has been forecast.