I spent most of the afternoon deep in the Department’s store room, a warehouse where remnants from the past are shelved in varying degrees of order. Boxes upon boxes cram onto metal shelves, each coded and labelled with where it came from – site code, date, sometime with its contents and the stages they have been processed to. From Knossos to Stonehenge, Brodsworth to the Outer Hebrides, the finds and samples of numerous departmental excavations reside here as an archive of the global reach of staff and students.
Deeper inside is another store, housing the human reference collection of bones and skulls. Dead people are boxed in this research institute version of a mausoleum. Who gains entry is not based on family connections or social standing but happenstance of whether they were laid to rest in a cemetery or graveyard subject to later archaeological excavation. Hemmed in amongst the bodies sits a lone PhD student day-after-day at a small desk; she carefully measures and notes the varying characteristics of skull after skull to create a large database with which to compare ancient fossil skulls from the middle Pleistocene.