Friday, June 09, 2006

Old Archaeology Van

An exciting new contemporary archaeology project by the University of Bristol will involve the 'deconstruction' of the former Archaeology Van. The van was bought by the Museum in 1991, and has seen a great deal of action over the years. It ceased being the exclusive property of the archaeology unit many years ago, (coincidentally) following an accident and various party-related incidents. However we continued to use it for various projects and personal adventures.

The aim is to disassemble the van under forensic conditions and in an archaeological manner. Pariticpants include Dr. John Schofield, Cassandra Newland and Greg Bailey. The project is entirely self-supporting, with no grant and people working on it in their own time.

The aim is to learn... ????

At Ironbridge Archaeology, despite our 'official' enthusiasm for contemporary archaeology, the team contains a wide range of perspectives on this project.

Some of us (for example Sophie) think that the project will show no more than that this is a well-used transit van with lots of mechanical wear and tear. Whilst undoubtedly the stratigraphy of damage/wear will be of interest, it is unlikely to tell us much about the use of the van over time, either as a functional entity or as social space. There are a myriad of more useful things to do in archaeology.

Others (notably Emma) are more sympathetic to the project and suspect it will develop into quite an interesting study which will have wider applications. Specifically, Emma says:

"The project is useful as an analogy, in that it helps us to reflect on the usefulness (or otherwise) of methods of excavation, recording and interpretation. In studying something so recent and familiar we can gain confidence (or not) that archaeological techniques give us information distinct from that gained by either oral or documentary history, or plain 'common sense'."

To which a sceptic (Paul) replies - "If the project is only useful as analogy then why not test archaeological methods on a site type more relevant to the majority of archaeological fieldwork such as a house, or a church or a fortification?"

To which Emma's response is to argue that archaeology is a discipline concerned with the relationships between human behaviour and the human environment (however constructed). Most of us spend a great deal of time in the environment of our motor vehicles, so this is an entirely valid investigation.

We shall see.

The scheduled pick-up date for the van (which is currently in a compound at Furrows in Telford) is 21st June. It will be towed to Bristol (with thanks to the AA) and then dismantled during July. We shall post news and photographs of this exciting and controversial project as it develops...


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