Is Archaeology Important To Tourism?
Is archaeology important to tourism? It might seem a strange question but is something I have been mulling over recently. When I lived in Carlisle, the council had an archaeology section. This was because Carlisle promoted itself as the Roman centre of Northern Britain. Consequently, the council tied the archaeology section to their Roman Museum. This was despite the fact that Hadrians Wall no longer exists above ground in that area. The Roman connection still gave them a sense of place in history and it remains their most important tourism focus. For certain, the archaeology team gave credibility to their Roman past. The team could also respond immediately to finds on building sites in the city. Consequently, they created a Roman ‘picture’ for that remote part of Cumbria.
The Roman Footprint
The Romans were not quite so generous to Christchurch; no great walls, camps or ballista bolts in the skeletons of local tribesmen. They left no trail until they moved west and attacked Maiden Castle and Hod Hill. The Dorset tribe was beaten and Roman camps were then built to control them. The legions quickly moved on to subjugate those pagan savages up North. The fact that they invaded Britannia at all is very significant. What existed here was worth an expensive invasion. It also ended our unrecorded prehistory. The Romans could write and left some very prejudiced records; history as interpreted by the conqueror.
The area in which Christchurch sits, which I call Avonlands in my forthcoming book, was important in prehistory. The farming and cattle rearing along the River Avon and Stour powered the building of Stonehenge. This was well over 2,000 years before the Romans arrived. For certain, without Avonlands and its abundance, there would be no Stonehenge. Our problem now is that this iconic temple, just up the river, sucks up all archaeological resources. English Heritage manage Stonehenge and have no interest in the archaeology of Christchurch and Avonlands. In addition, this essentially ‘Christian’ town is apathetic about its pagan past. Because these prehistoric people were sophisticated and successful they deserve more.
We will soon have a council embracing Poole, Bournemouth and Christchurch called BCP. Is this the time to set up something resembling an archaeology unit? It would require a wider focus because it needs to popularise archaeology. This would be along the lines of television’s Time Team, Digging for Britain and Meet the Ancestors. There is a growing interest in archaeology and what it tells us about our past. It would be necessary to reduce the current academic stranglehold on the subject. Bournemouth University includes archaeology in its remit but this tends to be rather elitist and narrow. It is perceived as little more than broken pottery and artifacts. To popularise prehistory, it would be essential for the unit to draw on other specialisms. These might include anthropology, horticulture, economics and farming.
A model for this proposal exists at Ironbridge in Telford. In the 1960’s Ironbridge was run down and unvisited. The town wanted to promote its iron bridge as an icon of the Industrial Revolution. Consequently, the decision was taken to integrate complimentary sites to create the Ironbridge Gorge Museum. They reestablished factory locations along the River Severn where goods were made or mined including china, tar, coal and iron. It created a much better picture of the early Industrial Revolution and how Ironbridge was part of its emergence.
What happened at Ironbridge suggests how we could manage Stonehenge. It should feature as part of a much larger picture and not as a stand alone icon. Christchurch was the gateway to Stonehenge; its harbour an essential trading facility. The River Avon was the highway. It must include the prehistoric aspects of Hengistbury Head (see my photograph) which already has it’s own visitor centre. A wider experience could include Poole with its prehistoric pottery, fragments of which are found all over Dorset. Other places could be included such as Old Sarum, Hod and Hambledon hillforts and The Ancient Technology Centre at Cranborne. This would embrace the area of the tribe that the Romans called the Durotriges. This means ‘the people who lived by the sea and water’. Would this ‘Pagan Park,’ as a unique and exceptional combination of prehistoric sites, be the first of its kind in Europe?
Is Archaeology Important to Tourism?
Yes! Archaeology will promote what’s now called ‘heritage tourism’. With the integration of the many fascinating sites and better interpretation we can effectively market our wider prehistory. The vital link would be Stonehenge, no longer standing alone. Such a proposal would focus on the River Avon. This would give the towns of Amesbury, Salisbury, Ringwood and Christchurch a common promotional message. It would also give Christchurch a far better sense of place and contrast with the Christian focus on the priory. It would extend its history from 1000 years to at least 6,000 years.
Money, money, money! I neglected to say earlier that Carlisle Council scrapped its archaeology unit in order to save money. When Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch are united, how will it market itself? A reliance upon Kiss me quick hats, boats and beaches will sell short our area and our predecessors. Is archaeology important to tourism? Yes, is the simple answer because it increases jobs and income.
This post is called, Is archaeology important to tourism? It identifies the fact that the sum of the parts, the varied and many archaeological sites, is the untapped resource. For certain, People on flights from Heathrow will still use a taxi to spend one hour at Stonehenge. In contrast, those tourists who want a deeper understanding of prehistory will be able to spend a number of days at various sites before visiting Stonehenge. They will experience something not available elsewhere in Europe; how an ancient people gained a foothold, introduced farming, thrived and built a temple.