The London Archaeological Archive Research Centre is not generally open to the public but tour groups are sometimes accepted, such as in our case. The centre opened in 2002 and employs about 200 people on staff, most are in the field excavating and gathering artifacts, LAARC also employ 35 specialists. The historical collections they have are mostly donations, and the Corporation of London funds the research centre. The goals of the research centre are curating, research, leadership, and learning within their field and within the community. New artifacts are constantly being brought in and sometimes, rarely though, the archaeologists have no idea what the artifacts are. Such as one in particular that consists of six layers of leather dating back 2,000 years (used relative dating techniques). It is believed that at one time the leather was connected to wood. There are small holes all over the leather that suggest stitching was on there and they create a pattern of gladiators or warriors and animals. They freeze dry some artifacts to aid in conservation efforts. They also have a mosaic piece that is from a 2,000-year-old roman floor. Both of these artifacts are from a site in the middle of the city of London. The exact location is classified for security reasons.
The research centre holds the Guinness world record for the largest archaeological archive storeroom. It has ten kilometers of shelves if they were laid out next to each other. They have hundreds of thousands of items that are sorted and stored by the year that they were dug up not the year or time period they are dated as from. They are in the process and are actually continually in the process of recataloging items, redoing their storage containers and labels, and even determining whether or not all the items need to be kept. There were time periods in archaeology, such as the 1980s that archaeologists kept everything that they found rather than determining whether or not some artifacts are truly as worthwhile and valuable as others.
This visit was especially interesting and fun for me because I’m also an anthropologist and seeing the archives of all of these artifacts is just incredible. As the tour goes we get to see the artifacts in each stage, from when they arrive at the center still encrusted in dirt and mud to their final storage places within the archives. We got to see a cow metacarpal that was used as a early ice skate, from 1200 AD, and what is left of a boot taken from the Globe Theater, before it was rebuilt, that can be dated back to the times of Shakespeare. These types of artifacts are just incredible, that they have survived and that we know what some of them are is just amazing to me and I love it. I loved getting to see in action how these artifacts are stored and taken care of.