The Familiarity of The Very Dead

I know for a fact that I am not the only person who works in a mortuary who used to either study or work in archaeology. The two fields are not something that most people recognise as being related, but actually I’m inclined to believe that they are. This weekend I attended a talk at the Museum of London (part of the London Month of the Dead) which included a tour around the bone archive. I’ll provide some background for you, I have quite a long history going back with the Museum of London who I have given many hours of volunteering time in the past. For a year or so while I was at university I volunteered at the London Archaeological Archive and Resource Centre (or LAARC) at Mortimer Wheeler House in Shoreditch for several hours a week. For a chunk of that I had a great job monitoring the silica gel in the boxes in the metal store, removing them once pink with moisture and replacing them with fresh ones that had been baked in the oven until dry. I loved that job because I got to look in all the boxes and at all the finds, it was a great opportunity to just be really nosy.

Archaeology Gem had a tan, big difference to Mortuary Gem (that’s me standing in the hole)

After I graduated and finished my masters, I was not unlike many others who really struggled to find work relating to their degree around 2009 and I volunteered at the Museum of London Docklands for The Big Dig outreach project which aimed to bring archaeology to the public and children. I have some fantastic memories of my time at both locations but I still wish I had worked at the main Museum of London at Barbican as I love visiting there. If you are reading this in London and you have never been to either the Museum of London or the Museum of London Docklands, I don’t think you have an excuse and please make arrangements to go immediately. Thank you. 

Hence, heading to the bone archive on Saturday was odd and so familiar. Walking into a big store with orange and grey shelving units that I recognised, plus cardboard boxes with the same archaeological sticker labels I used to stick to boxes with a site code, context and summary. I felt in a really cheesy way like I had gone home.

Jelena who gave the tour is simply an all round lovely human being who was more than happy to chat afterwards. The talk she gave about the bones and the archive did not really hold any new information for me, I found myself recognising and pointing out the dental hypoplasia to Laura D (which is just as well considering I wrote 15,000 words on the things ten years ago). However while this was true, I did find a stirring of the love of a field of study I thought I was far removed from and had left forever. Without wanting to sound too dramatic, for a while I hated it so much I would avoid any documentary involving archaeology. I think I was bitter about a world I felt forced to turn my back on.

No photos in the home archive, so here’s a lovely monument saved from an inn called the Bull & Mouth. This inspired a future blog post, keep your eyes peeled.

Well in fact who knows what the future holds for me and the dead. If I could combine a way of my mortuary work and my archaeological background, even in my spare time, I think I would pursue it. A Human Taphonomic Facility in this country might be a good start but for now I’ll stick with the newly dead and wonder how I can help with the very dead.

MG x

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