June 2015: Aisling Tierney, archaeologist

The Berkeley Castle Project

For the last few years, I have been involved with the Berkeley Castle Project run by the University of Bristol. My role started as a student and evolved to Coordinator of the Social Media project as of 2013.  The idea behind working on social media was to showcase the amazing work that our Bristol students undertake every summer as part of their undergraduate programmes and the incredible research by academics. An average day sees at least 50 students on site and there is an fantastic buzz in the air, full of excitement at the thought of new discoveries and lots of enthusiasm from those who understand it as a valuable learning experience that they can take with them into their careers.

Public Engagement – social media

2013’s Social Media project was a real success, reaching a vast worldwide audience (Find out more here: facebook.com/DigBerkeley). It also allowed the students to develop great transferable skills on professional practice and public engagement. All sounds great, right? But there was one element missing for me – engagement with the local community. We have a great relationship with the main tourist attractions of the Jenner Museum and Gardens and Berkeley Castle, and St. Mary’s Parish. The local community were offered free tours and talks every season. In my view, however, this placed them as passive recipients of knowledge and offered no obvious route for them to share their views.

Community Engagement – first steps

By a fantastic turn of luck, the University of Bristol started the Green Apple Scheme that supports projects that relate to Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), which can include community engagement. I saw this as a great opportunity to get some much needed funding to engage with the public and provide relevant archaeological outputs while introducing students to wider concepts of ESD. The community were invited to a student-designed student-led workshop where they discussed issues including: communication and engagement; community representation; and environment and social sustainability. Students then reviewed the responses and created an in situ exhibition in the three sites of excavation (the Castle, the Jenner Museum, St. Mary’s Church) and also posted materials in the local community library – all in time for the Festival of Archaeology. (You can read the full report of the project here: Link).

All ages were represented at the community engagement event

All ages were represented at the community engagement event

How I want to engage with the public

Part of the problem with local community engagement is that the community needs to come to us. As we only run the excavation on weekdays, many nine-to-five workers just can’t get involved. And even if people are free, we can’t always allow them on site due to weather, available supervisors, etc.

What would happen if the archaeology was brought to them instead?

Our main excavation trench in Nelme’s Paddock faces a narrow street of house built right onto the footpath. Flower pots, cats, and lacy curtains decorate the windows, but these could be supplanted (on a temporary basis) with real archaeological artefacts excavated just across the road. Imagine the feeling of having temporary curatorship of such finds in your own home, sharing the stories of these finds with your friends, neighbours and family. Perhaps each house could host a different artefact type, from ceramics, to animal bones, to shards of glass, with a little explanation alongside. This could even expand to shop window displays in local businesses.

Creating a temporary town-museum could help ensure that the community is included in the archaeological project and invite further participation and a sense of ownership over their own heritage.


The project could also sit within next year’s plans for the Festival of Archaeology and Berkeley Castle‘s socio-historic heritage trails. Combining efforts and joining forces will mean that there is a better public offering, better engagement, and a better sense of community involvement.

May 2015: Elizabeth Bennett, performance and landscape researcher


‘When Shirley Collins talks about folksong, it isn’t a conversation of historical information, musicological data sets, Roud or Child numbers. It is of the corner of a Sussex field … it is a mother strolling through that field’s corner and becoming, for a moment, every young woman who’d ever strolled past it. To Shirley Collins … each age-old song is that corner field – a magical locus in which the singer is no longer merely themselves, but becomes every man and woman who has ever sung that song’ (Justin Hopper, 2014)

The Singer

I sing regularly in a Sussex-based folk choir and I have heard folk songs sung all my life by my mother who has performed in folk clubs around Sussex for the past 40 years. Following in Shirley Collins footsteps, literally and figuratively, I intend to sing the folk songs of Sussex in sites of resonance. I will aim to publish one recording a day, with an introduction to the site, the history of the song, and then an unaccompanied performance in situ. As a researcher, I am particularly interested in notions of landscape that are haptic and auditive rather than visual, therefore I intend for the recording to be purely audio and to discuss how imagination might add to the process of landscaping for the audience.

The Songs

A multitude of folk songs are set in the month of May, and it is within this month that I will be posting my research. I hope that I will be able to explore why May has proven such a muse for singers of the British Isles, by discussions around the social and agricultural practices of this time of year and the processes of nature that have inspired them. Although in contemporary times we have been able to record folk songs, both in the written and the audio form, for this project I would like to interview Sussex folk singers and learn songs orally from them. This method both continues original traditions of practice and reflects how I have absorbed folk songs throughout my life.


Brighton Vox Choir – Firle, Sussex

The Setting

At the outset of the projects I had wanted to learn songs throughout the British Isles and sing them in sites of well-known archaeological merit. My decision to narrow the perspective is two-fold; my postdoctoral research argues that landscaping is a process and Sussex, being my home county, has been the site of my formative landscapes [or lifeworld as Pearson and Shanks term it: ‘the totality of a person’s direct involvement with the places and environments in everyday life’ (Pearson, Shanks 2005: p. 153)]; furthermore I believe that this will contribute to notions of the everyday and vernacular archaeologies explored throughout Public Archaeology 2015. Therefore, whilst I may record a song on the lofty heights of Chanctonbury Ring, I may also record a song walking through Lancing Recreational Ground on my way to the Co-op.


  1. Public engagement as it stands would be with those who are engaged in the project through twitter and the blog, and the singers that I approach to teach me the songs of Sussex. How might I engage the non-blogging public? Do I perhaps perform all 30 songs at the end of May at a local folk club? Or do I sing the songs live at the sites with people around and therefore have both a non-web and non-folk audience?
  2. If archaeology is a subject concerned with artefacts, how might we begin to perceive the artefacts of folk performance practices? Am I the artefact? Or are their traces of songs imprinted on the land? Is this interpretative archaeology?
  3. Is landscape the preserve of the seeing subject? How might folk song contribute to a multi-layered conception of landscape – or a deep map?
  4. Beyond Mike Pearson and Mike Shanks’ collaboration Theatre/Archaeology (2005), are there texts or projects of interest that may help me to formulate my ideas around the relationship between performance and archaeology?


Hooper, J (2014). By The Mark On His Hand. Available at: http://www.justin-hopper.com/by-the-mark-on-his-hand/ [Accessed on 11/08/2014]. Electronic.

Pearson, M. Shanks, M (2005). Theatre/Archaeology. London: Routledge. Print.