Sainsbury Institute – Faculty of Letters, University of Tokyo 5th Winter Programme in British Archaeology and Cultural Heritage

This year’s Winter Programme was an exceptional opportunity for five students from the Faculty of Letters, University of Tokyo to spend ten days with five of their contemporaries from archaeology departments in the UK exploring British heritage. Our focus was the Neolithic of Wessex with in depth lectures and tours of the World Heritage Landscapes of Stonehenge and Avebury. Along the way we took in a broad spectrum of British Heritage.

Students and project leaders at Stonehenge

We began the journey appropriately at the British Museum with a tour of the British prehistoric collections from curator Dr Neil Wilkin. This was followed the next morning with visits to the Museum of London and the London Mithraeum. A return to the British Museum that afternoon allowed for reflection on the collections as a whole and included the Japan gallery.

Later in the day we visited the Institute of Archaeology, UCL for a tour de force talk from Professor Mike Parker Pearson on the investigations he has been leading at Stonehenge and its environs since 2003. The relationship between Durrington Walls, the henge for the living, was contrasted with Stonehenge, which Mike interprets as a monument for the dead. The origin and movement of the bluestones from the Preseli Hills in South Wales to Stonehenge is an exciting and important recent discovery.

The following morning we travelled to Oxford to visit the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Ashmolean. Both have very eclectic collections that have been key to formulating interpretative narratives on British prehistory. They also both hold interesting Japanese collections. After an evening in the Eagle and Child, a pub frequented by JRR Tolkein and CS Lewis, we travelled down to Salisbury where we were based for the rest of the programme.

From Salisbury, and our wonderful base at Sarum College, in the Cathedral Close, we explored the prehistory of Wiltshire beginning with visits to Salisbury Museum and the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes. Collectively these two museums house most of the artefacts from 300 years of investigations into the Stonehenge Landscape, including the Amesbury Archer, a Beaker Complex burial found in 2002, now known to have travelled here from the Alps.

With Professor Joshua Pollard we braved Storm Ciara and ventured out to explore Avebury and the aptly named Windmill Hill, learning about the development of both of these monuments during the span of the Neolithic. Wet and very windblown we ended the day with a traditional Sunday roast dinner.   

We had a very early start on the Monday at Stonehenge where we were given privileged access to the monument and witnessed the sun rising. We were guided by English Heritage’s Dr Heather Sebire, Property Curator of Stonehenge, and Susan Greaney, Property Historian. After experiencing the stones up close we were guided around the landscape and spent time at the exhibition.

Further highlights of the tour included: a tour of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Southampton, a visit to Wessex Archaeology, the Museum of the Iron Age, the National Archive Centre in Swindon and the Russell Coates Museum in Bournemouth.

Student comments:

  • This trip has taught me so much about both British and Japanese Pre-History, both periods are absolutely fascinating and might influence my future module decisions over the next few years. I went from knowing next to nothing about both to being able to have a serious discussion and explaining the current work of people such as Mike Parker-Pearson to both my friends and family in just 10 days. I truly don’t think the educational value of this trip can undersold at all.

  • However, this experience has taught me not just to look at one culture in one period of time in isolation, the cross cultural comparisons made throughout this trip where mind opening and have taught me to think about pre-history in a completely different light.

  • Thank you for everything during the program. It was a very important experience for me.

  • Thank you for this whole trip: I really enjoyed myself and I learned so much, not just about my subject of interest but also about Japanese archaeology and heritage conservation in general. The whole experience was so inspiring and thought-provoking.

Dr Andrew Hutcheson
Research Fellow, Centre for Archaeology & Heritage

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