Romani Archaeology Project

John Henry Philips, a guest speaker at the Education Network Meeting on 26th April, is an archaeologist, author and film-maker, of Romani heritage.

John Henry Philips

While living in Canada, he witnessed the treatment of minorities in Canada, where he was living, and saw parallels with the treatment of nomadic communities in the UK; their history is overlooked and their communities are underrepresented among professional researchers.

He attended the Romani Film Festival in Berlin, and recognised the importance of seeing people like yourself in creative and leading roles. He had previously volunteered on archaeology projects with veterans, and noticed the mental health benefits and pathways into Higher Education offered to participants.

In 2022, John Henry formed Romani Community Archaeology  with Stuart Eve, currently Director of Creativity at the Museum of London Archaeology. RCA is a not-for-profit organisation to engage with the complex history and deep culture of Romani in Britain by undertaking a series of archaeological projects, each one in close collaboration with modern Romani people.

Imari china is a style traditionally collected by Romani communities found at Thorney Hill

The current project focuses on Thorney Hill between Burley and Bransgore on the edge of the New Forest. In 1926, when Gypsies and Travellers were no longer allowed to camp out on the open forest, Thorney Hill was the largest of the seven compounds created with up to four hundred inhabitants at a time.

Numbers living there gradually fell over the years and in 1960, 22 second hand pre-fabricated homes, were provided for the remaining families. Eventually, all of the families were either moved into permanent houses in Thorney Hill or nearby Ibsley but the footprints of the prefabs were visible from satellite imagery in the dry summer of 2018.

A large number of artefacts representing Romani use of the area are visible when walking across Thorney Hill Holms.

Horse liniment found visible on the surface at Thorney Hill

With initial investigation at Thorney Hill proving positive, RCA will return to the site at various stages during 2023. Working alongside the local Romani community, they will undertake fieldwalking, geophysics, and excavation within the site of the former compound. These phases will be documented through artwork, film, and a museum exhibit at the New Forest Heritage Centre.

Prior to co-founding R.C.A, he spent a number of years working in commercial archaeology and freelancing as a conflict archaeologist, before searching for a Second World War shipwreck. John Henry subsequently produced a documentary No Roses On A Sailor’s Grave and wrote a book, The Search, on the topic.

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