Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Just Dig Up All The Car Parks!

Archaeologically speaking, 2013 was the year of the car park.  Just a quick google search of "archaeology car park" provides numerous examples of what lays hidden beneath the vehicles of the northern hemisphere.  This year, a veritable archaeological treasure trove was discovered.
Everyone is aware that the remains of Richard III were discovered beneath a Leicester council car park.  It brought the world's attention to what may lie below the concrete and asphalt.  The perceived randomness of such a major historical/archaeological discovery led to an historical awareness in popular culture I wish ancient history could get without Russell Crowe's poor acting.  Social media was peppered with images of Leicester's new parking signs:

Even the Queensland Police Media Facebook page made jokes about how Richard could wait centuries to get out of a car park, drivers could wait 10 seconds.
However the burial place of Richard III was not the only thing dug up from under a car park this year.    A "Thing" (literally - that's what it is called) was discovered under Cromartie Memorial Car Park in Dingwall, Scotland.  A thing is a medieval Norse assembly ground/parliament which took the form of a mound.  I had no idea of this term until the report confirming the site was indeed a thing on 22 October.
Earlier in the year, the skeleton of a medieval knight, along with other burials and the remains of a thirteenth century monastery were excavated under the former car park in Edinburgh.  Over in Ireland, three sets of human remains, including those of a child, were uncovered in Derry.  Excavated in September, they are thought to date to the Siege of Derry (1688-9).  Once more, they were discovered under another car park.  
Again in November, the archaeology gods shined down upon another British car park.  This time an Iron Age skeleton was found in a site designated to be the car new park of the Horse & Groom pub in Bourton-on-the-Hill, Gloucestershire.  While complete testing is yet to be completed, "Rusty", as he has been named by the pub owners, is thought to date to c. 100 BC, and was found in addition to other historical artefacts, including the remains of a very unusual medieval farm.  
Archaeological car park bonanza, however, is not limited to the British Isles or the year 2013.  A friend of mine from Algeria informed me of a Roman cemetery 500 metres from his house, a mere 10 metres from a car park.  It cannot be said whether it might continue under it.  In 1973, excavations conducted in Stonehenge's car park revealed three Mesolithic post holes (G. Vatcher and F. De M. Vatcher, "Excavation of three post-holes in Stonehenge car park", Wiltshire Archaeological and History Magazine 68 (1973), pp. 57-63).  The site of these holes was marked by concrete circles in asphalt of the old visitor's centre.  I am unsure how they are placed in the newly developed complex, but the digital reconstructions Digital Digging provides suggests that they are still placed in the car park.
My Facebook feed this year was full of the statement "Another car park", but the last such statement was accompanied by my favourite discovery, which happened to have taken place 60 years ago.  BBC News gave me a Christmas present entitled Vatican to open poignant ancient Roman cemetery.  I was immediately excited.  The first line stated:
An ancient Roman cemetery discovered under a Vatican City car park 60 years ago to be opened to the public early in 2014.
Yet another car park, but not in 2013, but 60 years before!
2013 was a year of great discovery, in archaeology and in history, but it wasn't the first time stuff had been found under a car park, and it surely won't be the last, but because a former ruling monarch was found beneath one, we will now regard these discoveries in a new sense of interest.  The discovery of Richard III's remains in a Leicester City car park has impacted popular culture and historical reception.  I doubt anyone had thought that the Richard III of Shakespearean fame would become known as "The Car Park King".
But please note, someone has already written the book "Raiders of the Lost Car Park".
His name is Robert Rankin.  
He's hilarious.  

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