In Hamlet a gravedigger asks the riddle: ‘What is he that builds stronger than either the mason, the shipwright, or the carpenter?’ Answer: ‘A grave-maker: the houses that he makes last till doomsday.’And yet they do not; this character has disturbed the bones of Yorick. ‘Doomsday’ is, of course, the archaic word for ‘judgment day’ and Hamlet is soon asking questions of the dead jester’s skull.
So it is in modern times with those odd folk, archaeologists — always scrabbling around in the dirt, asking questions of the dead with their grubby fingers. Medievalists are lucky that they do, because without their digging and scraping we would have to rely on a finite number of heavily thumbed sources. Archaeology is a great disruptive force, dredging up enigmata, quashing theories, creating fresh uncertainties.