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Rough sleepers take part in archaeological dig

March 03 2010
Archaeology at its very best, says English Heritage expert

A team of homeless people have taken part in a "ground-breaking" archaeological dig in Bristol.

The excavation at Turbo Island, a busy traffic island in the heart of Bristol, was undertaken with the help of English Heritage, Avon and Somerset Police and students from the University of Bristol.

The dig was part of a wider project looking into heritage and contemporary homelessness, funded by the Council of British Archaeology.

English Heritage said the excavation was designed to "engage" with homeless people and those who have a "marginalised existence in society" in the archæological process.

Turbo Island has been frequented by homeless people for at least 40 years. The inspiration for the dig arose from conversations between homeless people, English Heritage archæologist John Schofield and Rachael Marmite, a Bristol-based urban archaeologist.

Mr Schofield explained: "This was 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."

Ms Marmite added: "This project managed to break down barriers and got homeless and non-homeless people together to achieve a common goal. We braved torrential rain, snow and mud worthy of Glastonbury to discover secrets from the history of Bristol's finest cultural quarter."

The site is said to be a place where pirates were once hanged and the location of a bombed WWII building.

Smiler, one of the homeless people who took part in the project, said: "It was an opportunity that doesn't come round very often. I learned about dating pottery and about dating beer can rings - they changed in 1980 to the push-in ones, which gives you a period of time. Little things like that were really useful to know. We are looking at being involved in another dig in the same place in the summer."

The results of the dig will be presented in spring with a series of lectures and an exhibition.