On the first day of the season, Bristol students went door to door around the town of Berkeley to post dig-related information through letterboxes, including information to email regarding the Town Museum project. We received some responses, but it was only when our students went door-to-door around the community and chatted with people that we achieved a larger response. After just one day, twenty locals signed up formally to the project. The community responded enthusiastically to the opportunity and were eager to get involved. They loved the idea of becoming temporary curators of their own past, hosting artefacts and archaeological information in their windows. And it’s not just private residences that are getting into the project – a range of businesses have signed up too!
For me, it is also about trust. The community trusting that we have the best intentions to work with them and that we actively want to include them. The University trusting our students to work with our principle heritage stakeholder, Berkeley Castle. The academics trusting the students to produce a good exhibition. And us trusting the community to take care of the artefacts. Community is built on trust and we want to foster a sense of community and genuine collaboration. As an academic institution, we have an obligation to share and communicate our research with the public – what better way to than to place them at the centre of it, physically!
“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” ― Stephen R. Covey
In preparation for the project, students on the engagement team have individually number labelled each find that will go on display, over 250 finds in total!The labelling process is time consuming but ensures that finds won’t get lost or incorrectly re-catalogued. Students are placing finds in small collections on coloured pieces of paper in normal finds trays (essentially garden supply seed trays). The collections showcase the variation within the archaeological assemblage over multiple periods of occupation at Berkeley. Students are also designing information sheets that will be displayed alongside the finds.
Second-year student Alice says:
“The project is a good idea. If we are trying to get the actual community involved then introducing them to artefacts is the best way to do it. For me, it’s been an interesting look into the artefacts that we’ve taken from Berkeley and having to categorise bones and such, I get to practice my identification skills. Putting them together in a way that can be displayed in an aesthetically pleasing way is a little challenging. Plus, getting the experience of co-designing an exhibition gives me really useful museum skills.”
Another second- year, Rebecca, is the mini-project student leader for this work and says:
“It’s showing me how much variety there is in archaeology and how much archaeology and anthropology intersect. In terms of skills, I feel way more confident handling artefacts and a lot more comfortable with archaeology as a process. Also organisation skills, having a goal and sticking to it no matter what!”
All stakeholders take something positive away from the experience. In a teaching respect, this type of skills building and improved confidence is crucial for our students. Berkeley Castle facilitate better community relations and share their history. And the University gets to take its research knowledge into a public and highly accessible setting. The community who host the displays get the chance to be keepers of history and share artefact handling sessions, while those not directly involved get to walk around the town and benefit from the displays. An ambiance of archaeology is created alongside the excavation at the castle.
As I write, the project is underway and we plan to bring the completed trays to the community next week. We’ll photograph and number the trays for our records before they go to each house. The participants will also sign a short agreement with us to take care of the objects.
This project could be a really great model for other University excavations, or even longer term commercial work – so keep checking back for more updates as we go!
Contact: Aisling Tierney firstname.lastname@example.org