Follow-up: Homeless excavate site in Bristol

In December, I posted this story regarding an urban excavation project organized by the University of Bristol.  It caught my attention for two reasons, the most obvious being that I’m an alumni of UoB.  Aside from that I was incredibly impressed by the projects aim to incorporate Bristol’s homeless in the excavation of an area they’ve occupied for decades.

Here is an update on the project from the UoB website:

A team of homeless people in Bristol have taken part in a small-scale archaeological dig to explore the history of ‘Turbo Island’, a busy traffic island in the heart of the city, with the help of students from the University of Bristol, English Heritage and the police. The excavation is part of a wider project looking into heritage and contemporary homelessness, funded by the Council of British Archaeology.

The inspiration for the dig arose from conversations between homeless people, John Schofield, an English Heritage Archaeologist, and Rachael Marmite, a Bristol-based Urban Archaeologist, during their joint project to find out more about the patterns of life and dwelling places of rough sleepers.

‘Turbo Island’, which is situated between Stokes Croft and Jamaica Street in Bristol, has been frequented by homeless people and street drinkers for at least 40 years and has an interesting history. Stories range from it being a place “where pirates were hanged” to it having been a “speaker’s corner” and a “bombed WW II building”.

Dr Mark Horton, Professor of Archaeology at the University, who came to see the artefacts uncovered in the project, said: “Archaeology is one of those unique sciences that allows people to participate in the process. I would say that this is one of the most innovative archaeological projects going on in Britain at the moment.”

English Heritage Archaeologist and co-leader John Schofield said: “This is archaeology at its very best – involving people who really wanted to be there, and who embraced the opportunity with great enthusiasm and good humour. Heritage can and should be for everyone, as this ongoing project has demonstrated.”

Bristol-based Urban-Archaeologist ‘Rachael Marmite’ said: “Using conventional archaeological methods to understand modern culture is both fascinating and socially relevant.”

The results of the dig will be presented in talks and lectures by John Schofield and ‘Rachel Marmite’ in Bristol in Spring 2010, culminating in an exhibition in Stokes Croft.

The archaeological dig was filmed by the BBC’s Inside Out West programme and will air on Monday 22 February at 7.30pm on BBC1.

You can watch the report here.

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