London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre

Happy Monday!

Today our class visited the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre (LAARC), which is part of the Museum of London (MOL) and located in Hackney. The history behind LAARC is a touch confusing, simply because it’s a branch of MOL, and receives funding from the Corporation of London, while the archaeological excavations themselves are funded by land developers. So for example, a developer decides to build on a plot of land and stumbles across a skeleton or pottery; then they themselves will hire archaeologists to excavate the site. A good example of this happened earlier this year, when skeletons of victims of the Black Death were unearthed near Charterhouse Square. Regardless, what is so special about LAARC is that it’s the largest archaeological archive in the world, and they have the Guinness World Record to prove it!

LAARC is full of storage areas that look something like the picture on the right, and it is apparent that the building is packed full of these treasures. Our tour guide, Adam, explained that the current building they’re in was opened in 2002 and is composed of several sections, including:

1. Archaeology – approximately 200 staff are employed here, with 35 specialists in the field; items include bone, glass, pottery, etc.

2. Social and Working History Collection – this collection contains about 250,000 objects alone

When items are brought to LAARC, they’re delivered to the outside gate, and then washed, dried, and bagged or boxed. Then specialists may start looking at the items, and they begin to be processed – they’re dated, archived, and catalogued.

The primary goals of LAARC are:

– Curating

– Research

– Leadership

– Learning 

To help fulfill these goals, LAARC has created a neat Outreach program in which they take various interesting items and collections to outside the city, where they can expose them to people who do not necessarily have the same regular access to cultural materials.

As our tour continued, we noticed more and more objects and shelving spaces. Apparently LAARC has over 10 km of shelving, which contains 200,000 boxes, and each box has roughly 50-100 items within it. Items are stored by the year they were dug up, regardless of the age/era of the actual item (Roman, Victorian, etc.), and storage began in 1972. In 1988 for example, there was a great deal of construction work done throughout London, so many objects were found; therefore, the “1988” section in LAARC shelving is much larger than the later 90’s, when London was suffering from an economic depression.

Adam graciously showed up several fascinating objects of interest: bones, dice, a Saxon hairpin, pottery, a footprint cast from the Roman era, an ice skate from the 1200’s (where the blade was fashioned from a cow metacarpal!), ceramic tile from medieval times, a Victorian pepper pot, and the list goes on…. But probably the most exciting thing was a brick that survived the Great Fire of London. The brick was black with soot, and we were allowed to touch it! Meaning I actually touched a significant piece of London history.

Brick from the Great Fire of London

Brick from the Great Fire of London

We were also taken into the Toys/Games and Telecommunications section of LAARC, where we saw the actual switchboard that used to be in Buckingham Palace! There were rows upon rows of toys, dolls, and games, and I spied some of my favorite board games like Sorry! alongside some games I have never seen (Westminster- The Election board game, anyone?)

Overall, LAARC was a wonderful place to visit, and I appreciate their mission to balance the storage and preservation of these precious items that so clearly tell London’s history, while simultaneously striving for access to these cultural treasures.

After leaving LAARC, many of us stumbled upon a market, where you could find almost any type of food you wanted! Italian, Indian, Vietnamese, Chinese…. and once everyone was happy and full, we made our second class trip of the day. Unfortunately, I actually cannot tell you where we went for security purposes. (No, I’m not being dramatic, these were our explicit instructions). Just know that it was informative, and we enjoyed ourselves!

Once our long day was over, we all decided that we needed more Ben’s cookies, but soon fell victim to the Tour de France craziness that had swept through London! Yes, Stage 3 of the race passed through London today, and the amount of people in the city was insane! Public transportation was a bit of a nightmare to deal with, but we fought hard to get our cookies and made it safely back to the dorms. I am still unfortunately not feeling well, but Jade, Jessica, and I had a dance party in our flat’s kitchen because what else are you supposed to do when you’re feeling crummy?

Here’s to sweet dreams and a good night’s sleep!