A Contemporary Archaeology of London’s Mega Events

Review by Robin Hughes

In this engaging example of contemporary archaeology, Jonathan Gardner explores the multifaceted impacts of three London-based ‘mega events’ on the capital: the Great Exhibition of 1851, the 1951 Festival of Britain on the South Bank, and the 2012 Olympics.

Gardner (who worked as an archaeologist on the Olympic site prior to the Games) is keen to challenge the view that such mega events, despite their vast scale, leave behind only a handful of permanent landmark structures. He instead traces the stories of materials and spaces that these mega events have ‘annihilated, enveloped, ignored, or otherwise changed’.

These stories both pre-date the events (e.g. the origins of building materials) and follow them (e.g. the reconceptualisation of materials as archaeology, heritage, or waste). They also reveal how mega events operate ‘pharmakonically’, to use Gardner’s term: they straddle ‘the ambiguity between remedy and poison’, displacing residents and previously existing structures, for example, while bringing the prospect of urban regeneration into view.

A Contemporary Archaeology of London’s Mega Events, Jonathan Gardner, UCL Press, £30 (free .pdf), ISBN 978-1787358447.