For those of us interested in chamber pots, there is a fascinating and wonderfully illustrated article in Ceramics in America by Ivor Noel Hume. It is from 2003 but since the ceramics in question are several centuries old, that hardly matters...
Ivor Noel Hume started his archaeological career in London, before moving to the States where he worked for many years at Colonial Williamsburg. He was a pioneer in both stratigraphic excavation in the States, and post-medieval archaeology. His excellent autobiography 'A passion for the past' was published in 2010 http://www.upress.virginia.edu/title/1502, below is a review I wrote for Diggers' Forum:
An accidental archaeologist?
Review: A Passion for the Past: the Odyssey of a Transatlantic Archaeologist by Ivor Noël Hume
Ivor Noël Hume is probably not a name familiar to many professional British archaeologists, however he worked in the City of London at a key moment in the development of post-war salvage archaeology and was a key figure in the study of post-medieval remains in the UK. His subsequent move to Virginia USA to work on the Colonial Williamsburg site put him at the centre of the emerging discipline of American historical archaeology. Noël Hume has set out his life in his auto-biography, adding a personal perspective to events which are better known from the formal reports and from legends passed from site hut to site hut.
Noël Hume's early life is chronicled in the first third of the book, an account of an unsettled and rather complicated childhood before and during the war which is written with a dry wit reminiscent of Eric Newby. Passing comments reveal a nascent interest in matters archaeological although most interesting is his honest recollection of a childhood visit to the excavations at Sutton Hoo: 'In hazy retrospect I like to think of this…as my initiation into the world of professional archaeology, though at the time it made little impression. On the contrary, nothing much seemed to be going on, prompting the conclusion that if this was what archaeology was all about, it was slightly less exciting than watching apples grow.' Still, archaeology must have made some impression as when asked aged 16½ what career he wanted to pursue, he replied “I want to be an archaeologist, sir” to which his 'Uncle' John snapped “I'm not asking you to choose a hobby. Young man, archaeology's a vocation, not a profession!”
The young Noël Hume (INH) was in fact rather more interested in the theatre, and his early 'career' was as an actor, stage manager and playwright, rather than archaeologist. His itinerant and poorly paid acting life would have given him the life skills needed to be a modern-day circuit digger, but more importantly it gave him an ability to communicate, to tell a story, and to build props. The life of an aspiring actor did not however pay well and a penniless INH wandered the streets of London, watching trials at the Old Bailey and, inspired by a talk on the radio, he drifted into mudlarking, the searching out of artefacts from the Thames foreshore. An additional bonus of mudlarking were the finds of forged coins –not Roman or medieval forgeries, but half crowns, shillings and sixpences which could be palmed off on harassed bus drivers and laundered into real currency to pay for food.
INH's progress from mudlarking to bona fide archaeologist came from wanting to know what his mudlarked treasures were, with Adrian Oswald at the Guildhall Museum filling the role of the Finds Liaison Officer. Oswald clearly had an effect on Noël Hume as he spent more and more time in the Guildhall Museum, and less time trying for jobs in the theatre. Oswald also clearly taught Noel Hume well; INH obviously had an aptitude for archaeology for despite having no formal training in archaeology he clearly picked up the principles and application of stratigraphy, typology and excavation techniques, although there was little opportunity for formal excavation and much of his work was purely artefact retrieval. INH’s future wife, Audrey, also worked at the Guildhall Museum, where she was one of three female ‘Guildhall Iregulars’. Audrey made her own career alongside INH in the UK and US and was a talented archaeologist in her own right.
The early development of archaeological research in the City of London has been well-documented, but INH's book gives a more personal account of the period when the era of collecting artefacts from workmen was moving towards more archaeological work on their context. The redevelopment of the blitzed City meant that there were huge potential opportunities for research, but limited funds, equipment or personnel (and the rivalries between the two museums collecting in the City, the Guildhall Museum and the London Museum) meant that little was saved. INH’s personal memories of these rivalries are fascinating and shed light on aspects only briefly touched on in more academic papers. There were rivalries and stresses too within the Guildhall Museum team, most famously over the exhibiting of some unconserved Roman goat-skin ‘Bikini trunks’ on the TV quiz show Animal, Vegetable, Mineral which indirectly led to INH and Audrey leaving for the US.
For the past 40 years London archaeologists have been revisiting the sites visited by INH and his team, and by other relatively unsung archaeologists: Norman and Reader (who coined the term 'Dark Earth'), Oswald, Lambert, Cottrill, Waddington, and later Merrifield and Marsden. Where we now have the opportunity to record the full sequence, the early archaeologists could only pick at the sides of the trenches, grabbing artefacts and sketching sequences and taking the odd photo. What is perhaps most striking is the stratigraphic rigour with which Noël Hume worked despite the circumstances. Although he had only limited archaeological training (and there are few details here on any further training received or self-taught), he clearly had a grasp of sequence, or what was important and what was not.
INH does not dwell on the development of rescue archaeology and subsequently commercial archaeology in London or the wider UK, and it would be very interesting to know Noël Hume's views on the major archaeological excavations of the last 40 years and on what may have been lost. Today when every development in the City is considered for its archaeological impact, it is hard to really understand what it was like back then, hauling sacks of finds back to the Guildhall (including on one occasion tramping up the Lord Mayor's red carpet). The need for reconstructed pots and artefacts to show the public and highlight the work of the Guildhall Museum -I have held some of those pots and can now better understand the fairly crude reconstruction work, complete with oil paints, which must have reminded him of his days as a stage manager building props.
The third part of the book deals with INH's career with Audrey following his move to America to the historical site of Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. Here almost his first action was to build a model of stratigraphy, and to try and move on from the ‘wall-chasing’ of the existing archaeologists. INH had a varied and illustrious career in Virginia, with the odd theatrical show, and made a valuable contribution to museum studies, although it is clear that in later years both changing priorities and administrations took their toll on his work and his happiness.
The book should be of interest to everyone interested in the story of the archaeology of London, and in the history of the period when modern archaeology really emerged in this country. It is refreshing that INH brings a personal view to the often personal relationships between the names that are now better known through their academic books. His accounts of digging in the City are a useful reminder of how much was done with so little, and that personalities –then as now- can interfere with the pursuit of archaeological research. The book is very much a personal tale, rather than a summary of professional achievements; a narrative of a life, albeit unintended, in archaeology.
A Passion for the Past: the Odyssey of a Transatlantic Archaeologist, by Ivor Noël Hume, University of Virginia Press