Dr Andrew Richardson FSA
Andrew was born in Folkestone, and his career has focussed firmly on Kent. He studied archaeology at Cardiff, where he completed his doctoral thesis on ‘The Anglo-Saxon cemeteries of Kent’, published in 2005.
For the last twenty years he has worked full time as a professional archaeologist in the county, with the Portable Antiquities Scheme, with Canterbury Archaeological Trust and latterly as Director of Isle Heritage. As well as his continuing work and publications on the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Kent and its international networks, Andrew’s work and research interests have ranged across the prehistoric, Roman and Medieval periods, as well as the twentieth century defences of east Kent. Andrew has also played a leading role in a wide range of community archaeology and heritage projects and is known to many as an accomplished communicator about Kent’s rich and diverse past.
What first sparked your passion for archaeology?
As a very young boy, on shopping trips into town with my parents or my aunts, a special treat would always be a visit to Folkestone Museum. The thing that really interested me there was a partially excavated human skeleton that was (and still is) their centre-piece exhibit; the entire grave had been lifted en bloc in 1907 and transported to the museum. I had many questions about it; who was this person, where they male or female, and from how long ago? There was little information on display at the time (this was the 1970’s) which just made it more fascinating to me. That was the thing that first sparked my interest in archaeology. Years later, my undergraduate dissertation was on the Dover Hill Anglo-Saxon cemetery, from which this skeleton (a woman) came.
What is your favourite archaeological site?
That is a tough one. I’ve worked on so many, and each have their own story to tell us about the people who were there before us. However, one that really does have a special place in my heart is the site of Folkestone Roman villa, perched on top of Folkestone’s East Cliff, overlooking the Channel, with the French coast easily visible on a clear day. I’ve been involved in projects there on and off since 1989, as a young volunteer. We’ve come to learn that the villa, impressive though it is, sits on the much larger site of a coastal trading and manufacturing settlement, with evidence of the large-scale production of querns, using the local Greensand, and of significant trade with Gaul and the Roman world well before the Claudian conquest. The original excavation of the villa, in 1924 by S.E. Winbolt, was also an early example of public archaeology, with organised site tours and regular updates on progress published in The Times. There are so many aspects to that site, both its archaeology, and also the stories of those who have dug on it, many of whom became friends, not all of whom are still with us. I think every archaeologist has a site like that, that means so much to them, and has become part of their own life story.
What does archaeology mean to you?
I’m sure this has been said before, but archaeology to me is about people. The people in the past that we study through the medium of the things that we find, the part of them that survives. But also, the people I work with, and the people I communicate our discoveries to. Archaeology, at its best, brings people together (despite all the disagreements about interpretation, which can be great fun). And by finding information on the places people lived, the material culture they made and used, and (sometimes) their physical remains, it brings those people, who have usually passed beyond all knowledge and memory, back in some way into the wider community of humanity, even if we don’t know their names. They are no longer completely forgotten. I think this is a wonderful thing.