Firstly, there is the Bronze Age boat from Ferriby, with its unique sewn construction: it is rather bigger than I had expected. Then there is the front quarter of the fibreglass positive of the Sutton Hoo ship. And finally-, the most dramatic of all is the reconstruction of the Graveney boat of the tenth century AD, showing it in its setting exactly as it was found, with the steep walls of the recently enlarged Hammond Drain shown in the background, while the whole is surrounded by the most realistic looking mud— made from fibreglass. There are smaller displays on conservation, archaeological techniques and boatbuilding tools.
The opening of the new gallery marks the coming of age of archaeology in the National Maritime Museum. The Archaeological Research Centre was set up in 1976 when Sean McGrail was appointed as Chief Archaeologist— Dr McGrail as he now is, having recently been awarded his doctorate as a mature student. The archaeological department has rapidly become the foremost centre for nautical archaeology in the British Isles, and has some of the largest conservation facilities for waterlogged wood anywhere in the world.
The new gallery is one of sixteen that were opened on December 6th, and which occupy the whole of the West Wing of the Museum. The display area in the West Wing has in fact been doubled by the simple expedient of inserting a new floor in the old, too-lofty galleries. The opening comes as a triumph for Basil Greenhill, the Director of the Museum, who, when he was appointed to the Museum eleven years ago, set out a ten year plan to revamp the whole Museum completely and introduce modern displays. This plan has now been completed only six months behind schedule—the delay being due entirely to the special American Bicentennial Exhibition of 1976. From the hurried glimpse I had of the other galleries, it seems that the whole Museum is well worth visiting, especially the Neptune Hall Gallery in which a complete paddle steamer tug has been reconstructed. On my next free weekend I shall certainly take the children to see the Museum as a whole.
The staff of the National Maritime Museum (Sean McGrail, right) admire their handiwork in the reconstruction of the Graveney boat.
THE Committee for Rescue Archaeology of the Ancient Monuments Board for England set up a Working Party in 1975 under the chairmanship of Professor G. W. Dimbleby to report on The Scientific Treatment of Material from Rescue Excavations. The report, now available from Room 334, Fortress House, Savile Row, London W1, is a fine example of the workings of the com mittee mind.
The report makes two main recommendations. The first is that most of the immense backlog of material awaiting processing at the DoE headquarters at Fortress House should be dumped in the dustbin. At least, that is what I think they mean. What they actually say is that 'semi-skilled personnel such as experienced technicians or students in training' should make an 'emergency selection' in order that the 'backlog of samples could be reduced to an acceptable level'. In fact, this policy is quite a sensible one.
Once archaeological material is taken out of the ground, it tends to deteriorate with keeping, and thus most of the backlog is probably only fit for the dustbin.
The second recommendation—and here we see the committee mind hard at work—is that an 'Advisory Committee for Archaeological Science' should be established (i.e. the Working Party should make itself permanent) and this committee should decide the priorities for conservation and scientific investigation of material from DoE excavations. Indeed, this is not all, for since one of the other main characteristics of the dedicated committee is that it breeds like rabbits, the report goes on to recommend that this subcommittee should itself breed two further sub-committees, one being called the 'Conservation Panel', and the other a 'Natural Sciences Panel'. These panels will therefore be subcommittees of a sub-committee of a sub-committee of a committee, or four stages removed from the parent body. The Ancient Monuments Board, one of the oldest, and hitherto one of the most respected of the archaeological