Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Eastbourne ancestors: A story from bones

The Eastbourne Borough Council Museum Service has been awarded a confirmed grant of £72,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for its exciting new project ‘Eastbourne Ancestors’ which will be the first of its kind in the UK. Over 300 skeletons.

There are over 300 skeletons in the Eastbourne Museum Service collection, most of them Anglo-Saxon from around 1500 years ago but some are possibly Neolithic, over 4000 years old. The aim of ‘Eastbourne Ancestors’ is to give an osteo-biography or story from the bones for each individual in the collection. This will involve detailed scientific analysis which will not only confirm the gender, age and size of each individual but could also tell us about their health, diet, social status, regional (or national) origins and perhaps how they died.

Eastbourne Ancestors is a project that will prove groundbreaking to the Borough Council, Eastbourne Museum Service, the wider archaeological/museum community and most importantly the public.

The results will be collated and form the basis for a fascinating exhibition that will include reconstructions but along the way there will be a series of education programmes and public participation in some of the processes. This is the first time such an extensive analysis has taken place on one collection and the discoveries will have an impact on the work of the Museum Service for years to come.

Training for volunteers

High quality training will be offered to the 150 or so volunteers who will work with Eastbourne Museum Service on this project and the training and learning opportunities for all elements of the project have attracted and engaged a broad cross section of the community.

To carry out the analysis, working partnerships with universities in Bournemouth, Kent and Durham have been confirmed and there has also been interest from Bradford and Exeter. These are institutions with some of the best reputations for their osteoarchaeological teaching and analysis in the country.

Jo Seaman, Museum Officer who conceived the idea for the project said: “I am so grateful to the HLF for backing us as I believe that we will now learn so much about the actual people who lived in and around Eastbourne in the past. A lot of archaeology is focussed on objects and structures and rightly so, but this gives us an opportunity to learn about individuals who’s bones may tell us some very tangible truths about their lives and ultimately deaths. It helps us relate to the past in a different way from an object such as a pot sherd that can tell us about a culture but not an individual person.”

Eastbourne Ancestors will also be working with local schools and colleges, ESCC, Archeological Units and Eastbourne Natural History and Archaeological Society (ENHAS).

Temporary lab

During the project schools, colleges and the public will be invited to a temporary lab, which will be set up in Eastbourne Town Hall, to take part in artefact conservation and environmental sampling processes alongside staff and volunteers.

Some of the finest practitioners of forensic facial reconstruction will also be on the team to produce the centrepieces of a stunning and thought-provoking exhibition at the end of the project. DNA could even be used to link local families to the people discovered!

The ‘Meet the Eastbourne Ancestors’ exhibition will feature 3D and 2D forensic reconstructions so that people can see ‘in the flesh’ individuals from Eastbourne’s distant past. The exhibition will show what can be discovered about people from their bones and try to give these long dead people at least a little of their life story.

Past Horizons. 2012. "Eastbourne ancestors: A story from bones". Past Horizons. Posted: April 29, 2012. Available online:

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