The past is so last year: new archaeologists dig the present in the UK





The streets of south London and a famous corner of Berkshire may hold little interest for treasure-hunters of the fedora-wearing, whip-cracking school, but they are starting to attract a new breed of archaeologists who enjoy plunging their trowels into the very recent past.

Homegrown excavators have started to chronicle modern protest structures while they are still warm, from eco-warriors' treehouses to crisp packets buried at the Greenham Common peace camp.

"The actions and lives of people today are the archaeology of tomorrow," says Anna Badcock, one of the advocates of the movement known as contemporary archaeology. "Their landscapes and habitations are perhaps no less important than what was there before."

Trained on projects such as Bristol University's celebrated excavation of their department's 15-year-old Transit van - which yielded three lost pencils and confetti from a faculty party - teams are "digging" at former parts of the Maze prison in Northern Ireland and the site of the 1981 Brixton riots. Others have travelled to Malta to record links between Valetta's former red light district and British servicemen, while the 1984-5 miners' strike is being checked out by "battlefield archaeologists".

According to John Schofield, an English Heritage archaeologist who "rediscovered" Emerald Camp at Greenham Common, the movement draws its inspiration from work done on military sites such as first world war trenches. "They laid the trail for what has emerged in the last 10 years," he said. "Throughout the 20th century we ... seem to have been catching up on ourselves. The end of the cold war and the closure of coalmines under the Thatcher government forced our hand a bit."



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