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Under the soil at Two Mile Hill


Joe Sprecher (UG, Department of Archaeology & Anthropology)


Joe Sprecher (UG, Department of Archaeology & Anthropology)


Joe Sprecher (UG, Department of Archaeology & Anthropology)

17 February 2016

How many school pupils have the opportunity to search for hidden structures using radar? At Two Mile Hill School, six children contributed to land surveys ahead of a sustainable art project through an engagement activity with a difference.

Bristol City Council had commissioned artists to develop a piece on the Kingswood site, potentially involving food planting, as part of the city’s year as European Green Capital. But an initial visual assessment suggested some unexplained variation in the current vegetation, and given the site falls within a former mining area, archaeological investigations were needed to determine the suitability of the ground.

The University of Bristol’s Chris Willmore, and the University of the West of England’s David Hardwick carried out a study to establish former uses of the site, using information from the South Gloucestershire Mines Research Group. Findings suggested structural remains of a coal mine shaft, which could affect the feasibility and design of a green planting arts project.

A group of pupils then took part in a physical study of the site, supervised by two school staff, three undergraduate volunteers, two PhD students and the Department of Archaeology & Anthropology's Field Technician, Dr. Philip Rowe. They used ground penetrating radar to see sub-surface radar reflections of cottages that once existed there, providing new insight into local history.

"Seeing young people so excited about archaeology was fantastic. Engaging children with their past is such a rewarding experience." - Second year student, Joe Sprecher.

The outline of demolished cottages were clearly visible, along with a deep depression that may be the remains of a well or mine shaft. The students also learnt how to take and examine soil samples to see how the human use of the site affects the ability of plants to grow there today; the results will now aid the planned redesign of the space.

"A fantastic day! It was a great opportunity for us to engage young people in the excitement of archaeology, showing them state of the art technology but in a fun and immersing way, all done at their own school!" – PhD student Henry Webber.

Bristol students used the opportunity to develop their teamwork and engagement skills, whilst school pupils took part in research in action and were inspired to consider archaeology in their future careers.

Unexpectedly, the team identified an air-raid shelter fit for future survey work. This can contribute to research of modern conflict archaeology in Bristol, with the potential for folkloric and anthropological research into local history.

“It was great to see the school children engaging with local history in such a hands-on way – several even said they’d like to be archaeologists when they grow up. At the pupils’ request, the team are now going to do some geophysical surveying of the school playground to help determine the extent of an old air raid shelter underneath it.” – PhD candidate Aisling Tierney.

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