Travelling from Sheffield, Salisbury and Edinburgh, we descended on Venue Cymru in Llandudno, waving our Wessex flag and carrying more chocolate chips than any human could possibly need, for the Big Bang Fair STEM expo in conjunction with the Wales Rally GB. 

Over the course of four days we were able to promote, engage and surprise the public with our integrated use of innovative technologies to help reveal the past. We brought along our submersible ROV (remote operated vehicle) and UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) and showed the ROV’s journey to the murky depths of a loch, revealing sunken cannons and anchors. The UAV’s aerial journey is quite different as the footage shows the soaring heights of the drone and its ability to convey the relationship of the archaeology with the topographical landscape. 

It wasn’t just our ROV that showed an in-depth experience. With the use of our Occulus Rift, we invited all to step into the immersive virtual reality world of our Roman Villa, accurately reconstructed from an amalgamation of excavated Roman villa sites. This proved incredibly popular and children and adults were queuing up to explore everything from the sumptuous sofas to the enticing fires in the boiler room - most of the children seemed intent on getting as close to the fire as possible! One of my favourite moments was when an 85 year old chap from Yorkshire had a go on the VR for the first time, proclaiming it “reyt gud!” 

The Wessex Archaeology Community and Engagement Team at the Big Bang Fair Trying out our VR technology at the Big Bang Fair

After all that virtual exploration it was important to keep the STEM theme going but with a hands-on twist. We were able to bring delicate artefacts back to life and into the hands of the public through our 3-D scanner and printer.  Enigmatic objects like the Anglo-Saxon workbox, the Iron Age bone weaving comb and Sherford Man’s very own Bronze Age copper- alloy knife were made tangible once more by our 3-D printer.  

Our biggest crowd pleaser was definitely our edible geoarchaeology experiment; we demonstrated how boreholes can reveal the changing landscapes of the past and got the kids to build their own using test tubes, marshmallows, chocolate chips, and of course Welsh-made sherbet. Reams of school children were able to make their own edible stratigraphy using the marshmallows as bedrock, chocolate chips as clay (this was the most popular layer!) and sherbet as alluvium. We were very impressed by the school children’s’ multilingual abilities and their top-notch pronunciation of ‘llifwaddod’, which is Welsh for alluvium.

We think our edible geoarchaeology left quite an impression as we saw familiar faces bring/drag their parents back to our stand after their school visit had finished! So strong was the allure of free sweets and fun learning that we went through over a kilogram of chocolate chips and delivered our edible geoarchaeology to 500 children!

In terms of footfall, the event organisers estimate we had 9,500 people through the Big Bang Arena - including some 1,536 school and college students over the course of the event.  It was absolutely fantastic to have an opportunity to showcase the varied career paths that STEM can open up for the next generation of scientists in heritage, and we had a brilliant time. 

Emma Carter, Archaeologist