Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Archaeology in the Stafordshire Peak

I have something of an interest in how the Victorians came to terms with the past especially pre-recorded history. By the start of the 19th century the old beliefs about the beginning of mankind were unravelling. This applies this to those early geologists and archaeologists that examined the landscape of the Peak District. The sense of curiosity extended to those who saw in the countryside possibilities for discovering more about the lives of the earliest inhabitants of the Staffordshire Moorlands. By the 1840s the interest in early man was showing itself in the excavation of many of the ancient monuments. The science of archaeology had been established years before. Rev William Buckland who had discovered in 1823 the Red Lady of Paviland in South Wales, the first human fossil of its kind ever to be found in the world. The bones were later found not to be female at all and are still the earliest remains ever to be found in the UK at 33,000 years old.
One of the earliest local archaeologists was Thomas Bateman of Middleton in Youlgrave who in one year 1845 excavated 38 barrows and tumuli in Staffordshire and Derbyshire. Amongst then was one near Wetton in June 1845 in which early pottery and the skeleton of a girl were discovered. The site had lain undiscovered for 4,000 years. Bateman was an amateur and the archaeology bug seem to have bitten others. Mr Charlesworth of Heath House near Longnor who was interested in a mound of earth close by. According to the Derby Mercury of May 1847 he opened the barrow and as the account follows discovered bones and charcoal a few feet from the surface. " In the centre of the barrow was a body fixed in an upright position. The bones were presented to Mr Goodwin of Longnor Cottage"
. I am sure that the techniques that were used by these early rooters into the distant past would make a modern day archaeologist wince. I am equally certain that they made mistakes, but I recognise that they were the pioneers trying to reconstruct the distant past, a fascination that continues up to the present day.