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Belief In The North-East

Community archaeology and religion and ritual in North-East England

A research project of the Department of Archaeology


Belief in the North East is a new community archaeology project being delivered by the Department of Archaeology at Durham University and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. We will work with local people of all ages to explore the rich archaeology of the belief, religion and ritual of North-East England. Ranging from prehistoric rock art to 19th century graveyards, we hope to shed new light on the complex religious beliefs of the past populations of Teesside, County Durham, Tyne and Wear and Northumberland.

We are please to have received £179,000 funding from the Heritage Fund are excited to be launching this innovative new community archaeology project.

About the project

From the rock-art of early prehistory, through the rich sculptural and archaeological remains of Roman religions, to the internationally important heritage of the medieval church, North-East England has had a startling range of religions and belief systems. Even remains from the recent past, such as historic chapels and cemeteries attest to the vital importance of belief in local communities. The wide range of faiths that have been and continue to be followed in the North East is testament to the cultural diversity that has been a hallmark of the region since the Roman period. By choosing the entire north-east area as our area of study, we will be able to compare and contrast a range of sites of all periods, making the results of great interest to the region as a whole in addition to those particular areas in which fieldwork is concentrated.

What we will do

We will be working with local communities and schools to record and research selected sites related to religion and belief in the north-east of England. This work will include a range of fieldwork activities, including excavation, earthwork recording and building survey, as well as the use of more up-to-date technology, such as digital recording and image processing, basic photogrammetry and 3D imaging. These field activities will be supported by lab-based research, including finds processing and research, environmental archaeology, landscape research using historic maps, documents and Geographical Information Systems and collaborative LIDAR analysis. The opportunity for the wider community to engage with these more technical skills, as well as more traditional activities, is a distinctive element of our project. A total of six fieldwork projects will be carried out over two years and provide opportunities for up to 500 volunteers to gain experience of all elements of the fieldwork process from planning and evaluation through to post-excavation analysis and display, as well as the training opportunities outlined below.

There will be plentiful training opportunities for local communities in heritage skills. The volunteers will be supported by experts from the Durham University, and provided with the opportunity to utilise University of Durham facilities. Training will be provided in a range of areas including excavation, building survey and earthwork survey. The project will additionally provide an opportunity to acquire more cutting edge technological skills such as 3D digital recording and Reflective Transformation Imaging (RTI), techniques which have wide applications in archaeology. In addition to research skills, volunteers will have the opportunity to acquire a range of post-excavation and analytical skills including working with environmental material and finds analysis. Landscape archaeology skills training could include aerial photograph interpretation, analysis of LIDAR data and basic GIS skills (for example, using the popular freeware QGIS application). In a spirit of co-production, many of these learning resources will be created with the input and co-operation of the community themselves, particularly schools. Support and training would also be provided in dissemination and public interpretation, including creating exhibition displays, writing for the general public, working with children and using social media.

The workshops will take the form of day schools delivered by the project team – some will take use the facilities available in the Department of Archaeology, Durham University; others will take place at other locations within the region. The training workshops will be supplemented by on-line support material, including training videos, manuals, on-line reference sources and bibliographies and a digital library. An underlying principal will also be the stimulation of peer support networks, through the use of social media, to allow volunteers to support themselves in the development of their skills and to create centres of expertise within the community itself, which will support the training provision and provide a mechanism for the longer-term continuity following project completion. A key element of the project will be involvement of schools in the creation of the training and interpretative materials (such as videos/websites) as well as participating in the heritage research. A key element in the training programme will be the use of the Archaeology Skills Passport, a recognised training development scheme which will allow volunteers to record the acquisition of a range of archaeological competences including core, secondary and tertiary skills, building a log of their archaeological skills and capabilities.

Photographs of rock art, an intaglio ring and Durham Cathedral