Thursday, January 23, 2014
Interpreting The English Village
Interpreting The English Village:
Landscape and Community at Shapwick, Somerset
By Mick Aston & Chris Gerrard
Published by Windgather Press, March 2013
The small Somerset village of Shapwick lies close to - and was for a long period under the ownership of - the influential monastic settlement at Glastonbury.
The Shapwick project, which began in 1998, was initially intended to last for ten years and was designed to involve as many disciplines and experts as possible to trace the history of this settlement over its ten thousand year existence, the project has finally been wrapped up with the publication of this remarkable book.
Until the 1960s, it was widely believed that the village only "began" in the 5th century AD, but the village has its origins far back in pre-history and the Project has uncovered a huge amount of it. I particularly liked the fact that Shapwick's identity as a living, working community has been respected and the inhabitants both involved and kept fully informed of what was being found there; the photographs of the villagers and schoolchildren taking part in the excavations are a delight!
From historical records, illustrations, maps and documents, an initial picture of the village and its environs was created and the book contains a nice selection of these to provide the reader with a feel for the village. Just about everything about the village is described in absorbing detail: topography, geology, the soil, the buildings, how the area was mapped in preparation for the archaeology and even what plant and insect species are in the hedgerows. The actual archaeology is given in detail - boreholes, test pits, shovel pits, trenches, and most fascinating of all, what they found - artifacts dating right back to the Mesolithic period - and how they were treated, assessed, tested and preserved. It really does make the story of the village and its inhabitants vividly alive for the reader. I thoroughly enjoyed every single page of this fascinating book and anyone who is interested in history or archaeology would find it an interesting and absorbing read.
Mick Aston was one of the presenters of the British "Time Team" archaeology programme, who died in 2013; this book is a great tribute to his knowledge, expertise and enthusiasm about all things archaeological.