Archaeology will tell you how cities work

This week, I’m moving away from eBay to look more into how objects move around cities and what that tells you about how those cities work and how people negotiate them. My work in this area bring together two different ideas of public archaeology; using archaeology to understand the lives of people in the present day and working with people to understand contemporary material. These two overlap and are best done together! I mentioned a bit of this project late last year in another post. I explained it well enough that time so I’ve reproduced bits of the text below (sorry).

Reading Sarah May’s great blog Heritage for Transformation I really enjoyed a story about a piece of gravestone found in a neighbour’s garden and how it came to be there after the bombing of a nearby graveyard. This story appealed to me greatly because I have always believed that urban regeneration – by which I simply mean urban areas changing over time – happens as much in the small scale as in the larger scales of planned re-development that we more commonly associate with the term. So, the building of a new shopping centre is urban regeneration, but so is you choosing where in the city to live or by what route you walk home from work. The building of a mass transit system is connected to that ‘top down’ urban regeneration, but so is a piece of grave from a bombed graveyard being reused as paving.

The role of things in this is subtle. New things can be made or built and things can be moved around to become part of new ‘statements’ on daily life. Things also move on their own or in unintended ways like the fragment of gravestone. I give you two examples:

Lampposts

Back in 2008, David Cemlyn in Bristol chained himself to a lamppost to protest against its removal and relocation to enhance a conservation area on the other side of town. Article here. A fascinating act in itself, but when I ‘followed the money’ to the conservation area that would be receiving this piece of active street furniture, I found out that it was not removed to order at all, but that a local amenity group (I interviewed their lamppost afficionado Maggie Shapland) had saved money to buy it from Bristol City Council to replace one that had been damaged.

So, just crossed wires? I think we have to take it more seriously. A lamppost WAS moved and that movement of material caused a protest (reported internationally). At the other end, a local amenity group raised money to physically change the place in which they live. In the middle is a council goods yard (location???) full of street furniture removed from its original contexts and waiting to become part of other ones.

Flowerpots

As part of my PhD research, I did a photographic survey of Bristol’s Broadmead shopping centre shortly before it was repaved as part of the Cabot Circus development. In the centre, and dating to 1998, was a paved area with benches and flowerpots each bearing a large ‘B’ for Broadmead.

These were duly removed and replaced with new paving and a large sculpture called Tree Rings by Wolfgang Buttress. Imagine my surprise when I encountered them again, quite by accident while on a train through Bristol, reused in the Stapleton Road Community Garden.

Here a similar story of removal from one context and insertion into another, this time with a little more knowledge of the ‘chain’ from all involved. A late 20th century attempt to relaunch Broadmead and counter the threat of an out-of-town retail park now repurposed as a series of permaculture spirals (Disclosure: I also have two of the paving bricks as seen in the top photo which sit on my desk and occasionally travel to conferences with me).

Understanding how material like in these examples moves around has the potential to make a difference to people’s daily lives. Away from the large-scale regeneration tropes of decline, gentrification, cultural aspiration, population movement and so on, they present a more subtle urban regeneration that works at the level of the individual and allows people the autonomy to ‘do’ urban regeneration themselves.

So, here, public archaeology has a purpose in both uncovering these material networks and disseminating knowledge of them and their role in the contemporary city so that people can make use of them in their own lives. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about my day with the Bristol Wood Recycling Project.

Recycling and re-use

In the remainder of this month I want to turn to a particular kind of recycling. What I’m interested in is the ways in which relatively mundane material moves around, what examining that movement tells you about people and how people can use that research themselves. It’s a kind of public archaeology that tries to find ways for people to appropriate archaeological methods or perspectives to aid their own interventions, whether in shaping cities by deciding where to live, opposing planning proposals or even voting in local and national elections.

What I’m planning over the next fortnight is to start, on Monday, by introducing these ideas and their public archaeology potential in a bit more detail, before moving on to talk about my recent work with the staff and customers of the Bristol Wood Recycling Project. After that, I’ll conclude the whole month with some thoughts on material networks and public archaeology and how the two coming together can change the world (maybe).

In the meantime, I wonder whether anyone out there has come across any existing links between archaeology and recycling/re-use or has worked with community groups like the Bristol Wood Recycling Project. Comment below and let me know!

Here are a few pics until Monday…

photo 1

 

photo 2


photo 3

Homes of eBay 6: Spindle Whorl

Ok, last one of the picture posts. Thanks to all of you who have been following this series and sharing the posts on Twitter and elsewhere.

The purpose of these six sets of images has been to start some wider debate on the potential for eBay to be be public archaeology by jumping over the hurdle of illicit antiquities and metal-detecting finds at the outset. While these are very real, important concerns with this particular forum and I will address them in a future post, for PA2015 I am more specifically concerned with the material networks operating around the site and the people who engage with it. So, I wanted to start at a very personal level, giving an anonymous tour of sellers’ houses. It’s also the reason I chose not to collect data on how much items sold for or even whether they sold or not. There are plenty of other people looking at this side of eBay. As this month goes on, and we move away from the networks of the controversial eBay to the networks of the far less controversial recycling, I hope the benefits of taking this start position will become clear. Before we move on though, here is the final part of the Homes of eBay mini-project. Let’s meet the spindle whorl sellers.

Spindle Whorl

My data collection returned 127 listings for Spindle Whorl. At the end of November 2014, there were 4583 spindle whorls recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme. So, eBay sells in one month material equivalent to 2.8% of the PAS and would take about 3 years to sell the same amount of material.

Ancient Lead Weight. Spindle Whorl

Ancient Lead Weight. Spindle Whorl

Ancient Roman Granite Stone Spindle whorl c.1st-2nd century AD

Ancient Roman Granite Stone Spindle whorl c.1st-2nd century AD

Ancient Roman Stone Spindle Whorl CIRCA 2ND CENTURY AD x 3

Ancient Roman Stone Spindle Whorl CIRCA 2ND CENTURY AD x 3

ANCIENT SYRIAN. ALABASTER SPINDLE WHORL - CIRCA 1000 B.C. x 2

ANCIENT SYRIAN. ALABASTER SPINDLE WHORL – CIRCA 1000 B.C. x 2

ANGLO SAXON DECORATED SPINDLE WHORL

ANGLO SAXON DECORATED SPINDLE WHORL

Authentic Ancient Artifact   Lead Spindle Whorl

Authentic Ancient Artifact Lead Spindle Whorl

Bronze Age  Hungarian  Terracotta Stone Spindle Whorl x 3 lots

Bronze Age Hungarian Terracotta Stone Spindle Whorl x 3 lots

DECORATED MEDIEVAL SPINDLE WHORL AND ROMAN COINS

DECORATED MEDIEVAL SPINDLE WHORL AND ROMAN COINS

Large decorated spindle whorl roman or saxom sic

Large decorated spindle whorl roman or saxom sic

Lead spindle whorl x 4

Lead spindle whorl x 4

LOT Roman PERIOD - LEAD SPINDLE WHORL 1-2nd Century AD x 2

LOT Roman PERIOD – LEAD SPINDLE WHORL 1-2nd Century AD x 2

Medieval Anglo Saxon DECORATED LEAD SPINDLE WHORL GROUP X 18 _ 3 lots

Medieval Anglo Saxon DECORATED LEAD SPINDLE WHORL GROUP X 18 _ 3 lots

medieval decorated spindle whorl plus two others metal detecting finds

medieval decorated spindle whorl plus two others metal detecting finds

Multi period 87 lots

Multi period 87 lots

ROMAN BRITAIN.  DECORATIVE SHALE SPINDLE WHORL.  NICE CONDITION.

ROMAN BRITAIN. DECORATIVE SHALE SPINDLE WHORL. NICE CONDITION.

RomanSaxon Decorated Spindle Whorl

RomanSaxon Decorated Spindle Whorl

SPINDLE WHORL or LEAD WEIGHT  MEDIEVAL NICE EXAMPLE METAL DETECTING FIND

SPINDLE WHORL or LEAD WEIGHT MEDIEVAL NICE EXAMPLE METAL DETECTING FIND

UNUSUAL ANGLO-SAXON LEAD SPINDLE WHORL c630 AD METAL DETECTING FINDS

UNUSUAL ANGLO-SAXON LEAD SPINDLE WHORL c630 AD METAL DETECTING FINDS

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