The creation of a public space - using heritage and archaeology for inclusion and the future
Göteborgs universitet, Institutionen för historiska studier
How can we create new meeting places using heritage and archaeology in public spaces? The NEARCH project “Here I live” aims to investigate this. In the suburban area Bergsjön in the northeast parts of Gothenburg in Sweden, you can find the remains of a cist grave situated among many high-rise houses. Who cares about these remains today and who knows anything about them? Through earlier projects and investigations, I know that people living in the area today knows very little or nothing at all. It is mainly a playground for the children. In addition, they visit the remains in the 3–4th grade when they are learning about prehistory in the school. However, for most people it is just a pile of stones.
One day I got a phone call from the local housing company in the area asking if it could be possible to “activate” the site as they were in a great need of finding and creating public meeting places in the area that could be of a positive force. Bergsjön is a multicultural area with about 100 different nationalities and people speak about 50 different languages. There are many problems with criminality, exclusion and integration, so the question is how archaeology and heritage can be of value for a sustainable future in this region?
The plan is to create a new kind of signage at the site, which strives to function as a gathering place for storytelling and a new meeting place in the area. People have been living here during the last 4000 years. A question in the project is who were these people? What can they tell from both past and present?
The installation, designed together with a landscape architect aims to contain possibilities of sitting down, different panels with different stories and boxes with archaeological material. It will be enlightened so that it can be used also during evenings and it will be possible to set up electrical devices for performances of different kinds.
At the panels, the children’s voices from different times are in focus. Grim, Isa and Frida tell us about living at the site in ancient times. Gustaf and Britta tell in the 1920’s and 40’s. Major changes are now on its way at the site and the Second World War is underway. Refugee camps are in the area then as now. In the early 70`s Zacke and his friends are moving into the new high rise houses and today’s children tell how they are today.
Here is an example of a story told by Grim, one of the first inhabitants at the site. He says:
“Hi, my name is Grim!
I lived here 4000 years ago. Our family is very big so everybody must help with the daily work. I have to look after my little siblings, pick berries, mushrooms and plants in the woods for food and medicine. I also have to learn how to make tools in flint. What I like best is to play with my friends and siblings. There is always something fun to do. We have built a huge grave monument where we can bury our relatives. The stone blocks were very heavy. Many came to help building the grave. Within the grave is my grandmother and grandfather. I cried at the burial. They got fine gifts along in the grave like pearls, ceramics and a flint knife I had made. Sometimes I go to the grave and talk to them.”
The texts have been proof read by children in the school in order to avoid words and expressions that is hard to understand.
The panels will be linked to Wikipedia where you can find more information about the history of the site than presented at the panels. Another digital platform will also be used, more open and “free” than Wikipedia where people can tell their stories of how it is to live at Siriusgatan today and where they are coming from and why they ended up in Bergsjön.
“Hi! I am Britta! It is 1944. My parents built the house you can see at the picture. We had it at first just as a summer cottage. Then roads were built and a grocery store opened. Then we settled here for good. It is a long way to walk to school; else, it is great fun to live here since I have many friends. Sometimes we play in the cist grave, which is just beside our garden. My mother says it is dangerous animals living there. That is somewhat creepy, but we go there anyway. It is war in the world. I hear the grownups talking about it and I read about in the newspaper. We have a radio that we can listen to aswell. Sometimes I am really scarred that the war will come here. There are some new houses quite near our villa where there are people living who have escaped the war. They talk many different languages. Some of them are crazy about skiing and going downhill from the biggest top. That I would never dear. ”
Since there are so many different languages spoken here, one aim of the project is to engage different associations in the area and make them translate the stories at the panels and the information at Wikipedia in their own languages. At site, everything is in Swedish.
10 years ago, I conducted another archaeological project in this area together with the nearby school. A student in sociology evaluated the project. After interviewing the children at school, she concludes:
“An archaeology project in Bergsjön means that the children on one hand realises that there have been people living at the site for a very long time and on the other hand by showing this for the surrounding world, they found a possibility to point out that there are interesting sights in their home area. My impression is that the children in Bergsjön do not need any help to being settled and being proud of their home environment- what they need is some appreciation from the outside world about their homes and their area.“
I think this is still a fact today, but the people living in the area is in need of a better social outdoor environment. The aim in this project is that the new gathering place at Siriusgatan will contribute to inclusion, making people more proud and contempt with their environment when it opens in May 2018. The housing company will use the installation arranging for example storytelling nights and other family arrangements during the year. There will also be a pedagogical handbook so that the schools can use the site more actively further on as an outdoor classroom.
The project “Here I live” sets the questions of how archaeology and heritage can contribute being a resource in today’s society. To be pointed out is that this kind of archaeology has a strong foundation in the declaration of Human rights as well as in the Faro convention. A first evaluation will be done in 2019 about a year after the opening ceremony in May 2018.
The project is supported by NEARCH, the University of Gothenburg, the city museum, the local housing company, the city of Gothenburg and different local community associations.