If you’ve somehow managed to miss hearing about archaeology occurring as part of the creation of the Elizabeth Line, you must have been avoiding the news for years. This brilliant temporary exhibition highlights the key archaeological sites as well as some of the interesting finds related to the Crossrail project. Opening with a film alongside a wall painted with Crossrail facts, you’re instantly aware of the years of planning, effort and archaeology that have gone into the Cross-rail tunnel.
One thing that was noticeable within the first couple of minutes was references to women. At its peak 1/3 Crossrail roles were filled by women, in contrast to 20% in the rest of the construction industry, the bore drills are named after women following mining tradition and Saint Barbara, patron saint of miners, tunnellers and explosives, has had a physical presence in statue form during excavations.
Alongside traditional clear interpretation panels there is also a lower level of snippets of information, often in orange circles. These snippets not only give facts, but ask you to consider simple questions. They use symbols of a hard hat for an engineer or a trowel for an archaeologist to show facts relating to the different workers on the project. This links to a dress up activity for children at the start of the exhibition, inviting them to put on the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) of these workers. There are magnifying glasses to look at finds in more detail, buttons to press to illuminate cases and simple interactive elements to engage multiple audiences on audio, visual and sensory levels.
The finds are pretty incredible. Who would have thought there would be amber and a mammoth tusk discovered in soil sampling? Bricks with marks that match those of bricks as far away as California. A broken chamber-pot decorated with some quality toilet humour. All are displayed and explained in terms of the sites they were recovered from with bright neon-light signage suspended from the ceiling help to divide the exhibition into sites and areas. A lot are everyday
The use of time-lapse videos throughout the exhibition is an extremely effective method of showing archaeological progress over time. There is one example of one of the bore drills breaking through a wall and it is hypnotic.
The discovery of human remains during the Crossrail excavations thankfully did not come as too much of a surprise, since it was known the tunnel would go through a number of burial grounds. The remains of a number of individuals are on display. They are clearly presented next to information about the burial contexts that there were discovered in and are also shown with an example of an osteologist’s record sheet, which shows which bones are present, gives an age estimation and makes note of any pathologies.
The fact that some grave markers have been found allows research into archives to trace these individuals and there is an interesting short interview with volunteers and professionals working alongside researching the finds. This goes some way to show the processes that follow the recovery of an archaeological archive.
The exhibition summarises with a short film that presents sustainability and shows the reuse and recycling of soil dug from the tunnelling project. It was a visually interesting way of portraying the outer reaches of such a momentous task as well as acting as an effective conclusion to the exhibition.
Tunnel: the archaeology of Crossrail is a free temporary exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands, 10 February until 3 September 2017.