Grave Goods – Francis Pryor.
Welcome to Grave Goods, a series of interviews in which the guest is invited to select five items to accompany them on the Awfully Big Adventure (click here for a full list of rules).
For our second outing, we’re delighted to welcome sheep farmer, blogger, broadcaster, historian and archaeologist, Francis Pryor.
We’ve distracted him from working on his forthcoming novel The Lifers’ Club, to ask him to peer towards the inevitable future, and to organise travel arrangements accordingly.
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of an English field
That is forever Francis.
(With apologies to Rupert Brooke)
“And how would I achieve such lasting, if geographically limited immortality? I’d have my body chopped up in our farm’s fodder beet chopper and then my minced-up corpse could be fed to pigs, who would then poo me over the field. And with luck (and soil pH conditions being right) my remains will be locked into the soil forever, in the form of raised phosphate levels. At least that’s my fond hope. In reality the colourless Jobsworths who run our lives nowadays would probably object that the chopper was dangerous (which mine is) and, anyhow, you can’t just go out and mince-up human remains, without, that is, the appropriate Home Office licence (yawn, yawn)…
So, to my ultimate non-specific journey, and what I’d take with me.”
Tools of the Trade.
“This is an easy one. Not a trowel (although tempting), not even a lolly stick, which is rather more useful when digging wet wood. And certainly not a mattock – that smasher of prehistoric sites, which is fine on simple urban sites, but is completely out-of-place when confronted by the subtleties of truly ancient remains. AND it produces spurious flint flakes. AND it smashes bones. Horrid things! No, give me a garden fork, anytime. In the right hands it’s the most delicate, sensitive tool in the archaeologist’s arsenal. That, and a road-spike (pigtail), which can be used as a very gentle probe (and is cheaper than geophys, too).”
Food for the Journey.
“For me it’s asparagus every time. Even better with a soft scrambled egg and lashings of melted butter and black pepper. But please don’t serve me any of that revolting continental-style blanched stuff, which tastes of nothing – in other words it’s indistinguishable from supermarket broccoli (vomit!). And yes, the variety of asparagus matters too. For me it has to be the good old English strain known as Conover’s Colossal. Nothing else will do.”
An image of dear old Mick Aston (RIP).
“Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy (1759-67). It has this wonderful quote, which archaeologists across the land choose to ignore when they write grey literature and so much, dreary, ill-punctuated, pompous, academic claptrap:
“Writing, when properly managed (as you may be sure I think mine is) is but a different name for conversation.”
The trouble is, it takes, time, skill and discipline to achieve, which is never appreciated by self-styled ‘scholars’ who sneer at anything they consider even slightly ‘popular’. To them I say: ‘time will be the judge’. And I’d be prepared to bet good money that Stearne will be remembered long after their lives and achievements have forever vanished into obscurity.”
“A set of blues harmonicas, so that I can play music to myself all night.”
A Message from Beyond the Grave.
“Lighten up: archaeology is too important to be taken too seriously.”
A Short Biography.
Francis Pryor was born in London in 1945. After studying archaeology at Cambridge he emigrated to Toronto where he joined the staff of the Royal Ontario Museum. Using the Museum as a base, he began a series of major excavations (1971-78) in England, at Fengate, on the outskirts of Peterborough. Here he revealed an extensive prehistoric landscape, culminating in the discovery, in 1982 of Flag Fen, one of the best preserved Bronze Age sites in Europe. His books include his ‘Britain’ series (for HarperCollins): Britain BC , Britain AD, Britain in the Middle Ages and The Birth of Modern Britain, the first two of which were successfully adapted for television and broadcast by Channel 4.
In 2010 he published (with Penguin) The Making of the British Landscape. He has appeared frequently on Time Team and has presented a number of programmes for Radio 4.
The Lifers’ Club is his first work of fiction. It chronicles the adventures of legendary circuit archaeologist Alan Cadbury, and will be available soon.
His blog ‘In the Long Run‘ chronicles the trials and tribulations of writing, broadcasting, sheep farming, gardening and archaeology. Francis is also a regular Tweeter – you can follow his account here.