On interpretation – a never ending story

During September the final touches were being made to the design of the new interpretation scheme at Caistor Roman Town, ready for production. The scheme will include eleven panels on site which will carry new reconstruction images and text which reflect current theories about the development of the town, based on the research led by Dr Will Bowden over recent years.
Caistor panorama - a sneak preview
Making decisions on the information to include in such schemes, and how to present it in an accessible way, is always challenging but enjoyable. The process requires a distillation of large amounts of available information into a concentration of essential themes or stories. It certainly focuses the mind on the relationship between evidence and interpretation.
As we know, archaeological and historical evidence is frequently re-interpreted, perhaps in the light of a chance discovery, new technologies, a different political context or changes in social attitudes. Just in the last year we have seen re-interpretation of a number of Trust properties: at Caistor; at St Benet’s Abbey as a result of geophysical survey, and a new analysis by Julian Luxford (1); and at Pykerell’s House where Stephen Heywood is currently re-assessing the origins of the hall’s roof structure. Recent clearance works at Burnham Norton Friary have revealed the remains of the precinct walls which, once recorded and studied, are bound to offer material for new interpretations of the site’s past.
Continuous change means that interpretation schemes at a site can never be seen as a full-stop. Good interpretation will offer explanations but will also stimulate curiosity, questioning, and further theorising.  The scheme to be installed at Caistor later this month presents new ideas about the development of the town and the kind of people who lived, worked and played there. It challenges some long-held beliefs but doesn't pretend to offer definitive answers to all our questions. If it gets visitors talking about archaeology, and how we interpret the past, it will have done its job.
(1)  See  ‘Architecture and Environment: St Benet’s Holm and the Fashioning of the English Monastic Gatehouse’ Architectural history 57: 2014

News in brief

  • The Friends of St Benet’s Abbey - can you help? The Friends are looking for someone willing to become Treasurer. The committee meets about 4 times a year either in Horning or Norwich to organise Friends’ activities and events such as the Mississippi Riverboat trip to the Bishop’s Service this year. If you’re not currently a member, the annual fee is only £5. If you’d like to help please contact Roger Everett rangers07@tiscali.co.uk
  • Saturday 3 October - NNAS lectures: ‘Must Farm and new ideas on Bronze Age Fenland’ Mark Knight, Cambridge Archaeological Unit - see http://www.nnas.info/lectures for details
  • Monday 5 October: The Friends of St Benet’s Abbey AGM 7.30pm at Ludham Village Hall. Speaker: Mark Webster, Norfolk Wildlife Trust - ‘St Benets as part of the Bure & Ant Living Landscape’. If you are not a member please join at the door - £5 for annual membership
  • Tuesday 27 October: Norfolk Archaeological Trust AGM 10.30am Assembly Rooms Norwich. Speaker: Susanna Wade-Martins: ‘Rare and Beautiful Norfolk’: the history of the conservation movement in the county. Signed copies of Susanna’s book The Conservation Movement in Norfolk: A History will be available for sale. Trust members only. If you are not a member, please join at the door - £15 for annual membership.
  • Installation of the new interpretation scheme at Caistor Roman Town: the scheme is due to be installed in mid-October. The opening date will be posted on the news webpage when confirmed.