Find out how our Sussex ancestors might have looked at a new archaeology exhibition
An archaeology gallery which opens on Saturday (January 26) allows visitors to step back in time, getting a feel of what Brighton and Hove would have been like from the Ice Age to the Saxons.
The new Elaine Evans Archaeology Gallery at Brighton Museum is the first in Britain to provide visitors with an all-round experience of the period, by reconstructing the faces of early residents and recreating the atmosphere of the past using sound, film and images.
Students from St Luke’s Primary School got a sneak peak at the exhibition this week, coming face-to-face with Brighton and Hove residents from thousands of years ago.
The gallery focuses on seven people, five from Brighton and Hove, who lived in the Neolithic period, Bronze Age, Iron Age, as well as the Roman and Saxon times. 3D reconstructions using scientific research from their remains have been recreated to show what they may have looked like. It shows that different people from a variety of backgrounds and geographical origins have settled in Sussex through history.
As the newest archaeology gallery in the UK, the space has been designed to get away from the traditional glass cases full of pots and flints.
Richard Le Saux, senior keeper of collections at Brighton Museum, said he wanted to ‘focus on people’s stories and support this with objects, rather than focus on the objects’.
“I’m very proud of the new gallery and we hope visitors will find it fascinating,” he said.
“We think it will be very exciting to come face to face with our local ancestors with our 3D reconstructions and see how they helped to shape our lives.”
Rather than overwhelm visitors with lengthy historical text, the gallery is designed to provide an ambient effect using sound, film and images set in a woodland clearing to interpret the earliest evidence of people in Sussex to the Saxon times.
As visitors enter the room, there will be the sound of people working, cooking and chopping trees down – just how it would have been for early people.
Central to the room is a circular gathering area which would have been used by all the early tribes as a social and meeting space. The circle, complete with an imitation wood fire will be used by teaching groups as a learning space and for visitors to take time out to reflect.
The museum will also feature some of the most important historical finds from Sussex including the Amber Cup, one of the largest prehistoric amber objects found in the world, the beautiful Romano-British bronze Woodingdean Stag, designated as an item of national significance by the government and the Sarsen Stone, found in Mile Oak believed to be part of a bronze age henge which would have been placed to track the movements of the sun and the moon.
The return of an archaeology gallery to Brighton Museum after 20 years follows a successful petition by the Brighton and Hove Archaeological Society for a new one.
The exhibition’s namesake Elaine Evans, a member of the society, helped to drum up support for the petition – she single-handedly collected 400 of the 3,000 signatures presented to councillors.
Mrs Evans, who ended up sponsoring the gallery, said she had felt it was a shame that the museum’s artefacts from the previous archaeology exhibition had been hidden away.
“All of these lovely things have been in boxes downstairs,” she said.
On what sparked her love for archaeology, Mrs Evans said: “For many years history and archaeology have fascinated me. One marvellous day I spotted a Stone Age flint blade by chance in my back garden in Hove. It had been brought to the surface by worms.
“I was the first person to hold it since it was dropped by a hunter-gatherer thousands of years ago: the blade was still sharp. I love my precious flint!”
At the preview of the Elaine Evans Archaeology Gallery last week, Mrs Evans said: “They have made a wonderful job of it. ”
Brighton Museum and Art Gallery is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm.
Entry is free for Brighton and Hove residents. For non-residents it is £5.20 for adults and £3 for children. Family tickets and concessions are available.
To find out more, visit: brightonmuseums.org.uk