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Amateurs and Experts and a Great Archaeological Discovery

Updated on December 8, 2011
 Close up of part of ancient stone arch
Close up of part of ancient stone arch | Source

Professional archaeologists make amazing discoveries, which expand historical knowledge and understanding. However, sometimes amateurs buck the trend. A local archeology group recently made a fascinating discovery in the Yorkshire Dales.

InBritain, historians call the Saxon era “the Dark Ages”, knowledge of Saxon life is patchy because there are so few written records. The Inglebury Archeology Group’s three-week investigation, near the Three Peaks, Selside, in Ribblesdale, North Yorkshire, yielded a find, which will widen understanding of Saxon lives. The site is within the Yorkshire Dales National Park, whose representative said that the amateur archaeologists had discovered something “exciting”; the remains of a 7th century stone building. Carbon dating techniques used on Charcoal, found in the building’s earthen floor, dates it to between 660 and 780 AD.

This is indeed a very exciting discovery, few of the many archaeological sites, within the National Park, have been investigated at all and even fewer using modern scientific dating techniques. The Inglebury society’s discovery is the first building within the National Park firmly dated as seventh century, and one of the few in Northern England. The site’s evidence will help historians’ understand how farming communities and life developed in the Dales. Earlier evidence found on the site shows Saxons were not the first inhabitants in the area. The investigators found small pieces of knapped flint 6,000 years old from the early Neolithic Era. Dr. David Johnson, who supervised the excavation, surmised that the flints probably entered the building trapped in the turf, which Saxons used for sealing the building’s walls and roof.

The partly stone building had two rooms and was rectangular. The site is nationally important. It disproves previous theories that there was little stone building in England between the Romans’ departure and the Normans arriving.

It is refreshing, in an era, when experts rule archaeology and other scientific disciplines, that amateur archaeologists made this important discovery. In Victorian times, amateur scientists contributed greatly to huge advances in understanding in archaeology, paleontology, zoology, biology and other sciences. It is wonderful to see academia co-operating with local archaeology group members, who wanted to know and understand more about where they live.

Other scientists would do well to take note, science is for everyone, but it is useless to speak to ordinary people in academic terms, scientists need to communicate so that those, with little scientific training, can understand, in a way that makes science relevant and available. Keen amateurs can help scientists in furthering understanding and knowledge, if given the chance to do so. There is keen interest among ordinary people, in all kinds of things, if only ‘experts’ would climb down from their ivory towers and harness that interest to everyone’s benefit.

There are some projects on the internet, where ordinary people are helping experts. In one astronomy project, ordinary folk are helping scientists by observing solar systems and recording their findings. In another, people are assisting historians by transcribing the valuable historical information in ships’ logs. Both these and other internet projects involve ordinary people in discovery and furthering understanding. As this important discovery, in the Yorkshire Dales, amply illustrates there are many more ways that the public can help ‘experts’, if ‘experts’ welcome, inspire, and encourage them, rather than excluding them.


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  • Mercia Collins profile image

    Mercia Collins 6 years ago from United Kingdom

    thank-you for your kind comments grayghost. The very fact that this interesting discovery was made by amateurs was what made it so interesting.

  • grayghost profile image

    grayghost 6 years ago

    Very interesting. And your closing remarks regarding the the importance of the contributions made by ordinary people to many academic disciplines is right on the mark.