Wessex Archaeology recently attended Dronfield Arts Festival between April 30th - May 1st  to offer our own archaeology themed arts activities for this re-boot of Derbyshire’s local arts festival – first celebrated in 2018.

Joanne Instone-Brewer, Wessex Archaeology Terrestrial Geophysicist Assistant Supervisor and one of our hosts for the day, gives us an insight into the weekend’s events:

As I cycled to Dronfield Hall Barn on a sunny Saturday morning, the air warm and the birds singing, I knew it was going to be a special day. When I arrived, I was greeted with raised voices from a choir and delicious BBQ smells. The lovingly cared for lawn and gardens spilling out around the hall were already pitched up with an exciting array of artisanal foods, wood and stone art, and children’s activities including giant lawn games and, of course, our very own Medieval-themed family seal craft corner. The new marquee looked fantastic with lots of enticing things to look at and touch. Out on display we had a selection of stunning medieval artefacts, from tiles to cannon balls. Myself, Lizzie Garwood, and Sam Fieldhouse showed these off to folk with as much pride as if we’d dug them up ourselves. Our favourite artefact by far was a perfect bone games die, less than 1 cm across. We also had a portfolio of 3D and 2D images from our brilliant Graphics experts from our in-house Studio, from artefact drawings to landscape reconstructions, which really caught the imagination.

Wessex Archaeology marquee at Dronfield Arts Fair 2022 Wessex Archaeology marquee at Dronfield Arts Fair 2022 Wessex Archaeology marquee at Dronfield Arts Fair 2022

Coleshill seal matrix inspiration

Our main hands-on activity for the Saturday was a gloriously messy Medieval family seal making experience, inspired by the stunning 13th/14th century squirrel seal matrix excavated from our Coleshill site. Children, and adults (myself and Lizzie made 2 or 3 seals each) were encouraged to create a family seal, something that represented them such as an animal or a symbol, with pens, paper, glue, feathers, pipe-cleaners – the whole works. Some took it very seriously, creating something truly meaningful, such as a beautiful butterfly seal (their favourite animal). Some were quite complicated, segmenting their seal images into compartments, one for each family member. Others, though pretty, were simply an excuse to use as much bio-degradable glitter as possible, which of course I was completely in favour of. Whatever people decided to make, it was a great opportunity to talk about archaeology, history, art, and our interaction with it as archaeologists in a relaxed and creative environment.

A replica of this Coleshill Medieval seal matrix inspired the day’s activities

A replica of this Coleshill Medieval seal matrix inspired the day’s activities

Historic environment

As well as visitors interacting with us some of the other stall holders and festival exhibitors came by for a chat which was insightful. Everyone there had a great respect for the historic environment - the beautiful gardens and buildings of Dronfield Hall Barn - and were happy to see us flying the flag for heritage, a subject clearly strong in the hearts of everyone living in Dronfield’s historic town. Being part of a team that can bring history to life is what makes our jobs so special, and I feel privileged to share it with others. Plus any opportunity to a fire juggling acrobat is always a bonus!

Medieval flame throwing display at Dronfield Arts Festival 2022 Medieval seal activity examples

By Joanne Instone-Brewer,  Terrestrial Geophysicist Assistant Supervisor