Post project Interview with volunteer Akhlak Razzaque on his time on the Baitul Aziz Islamic Centre site. (Video)

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Journal Account from volunteer Dawud Johnson – 8th January 2014

I’m 28 years old. I got involved in the project because a friend mentioned it to me: I don’t go this mosque, I go to one in Lewisham. The brother said that there was going to be some archaeology going on and I was interested and had some time on my hands and so I decided to get involved. I’ve done the training and found it very interesting. And even out on site I’ve enjoyed it. It was an opportunity to do something different and I like to be varied and to be able turn my hand to different things and I suppose it’s a good thing to have on your CV, something that’s certainly a bit different. I’m a personal trainer but I’m very interested in history and find it fascinating. I think that there is so much that we can learn from history, mistakes that were made in the past, and stop us from repeating them again.

 

The training seemed all rather familiar, maybe because I’ve worked on construction sites before, some of the health and safety and some of the more general historical things from my own knowledge, from things I’ve been researching recently. And, also, things that I learnt in school such as about the Babylonians and Egyptians. I’m interested in ancient civilisations and cultures, right the way back to what some consider as the mother of civilisation, Babylon. And it relates to today’s times – that is what fascinates me the most.

 

The site has been interesting and we’ve uncovered more than I thought we would. We had some interesting finds and the burials. As a Muslim there’s an issue to do with digging up graves. Archaeology is a more respectful way to be dealing with them because if there were construction workers on the site the burials probably won’t be noticed and the remains would end up in a dump somewhere. Archaeologists dig carefully and show respect. I don’t get involved in digging around the bones I’m happy to leave that to the professional archaeologists.  But I still found it very interesting though. As a Muslim we’re taught that every soul shall taste death so it’s a reminder of what’s to come, our mortality.

 

I knew one brother who left due to the graves. But the other brothers hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting him before we started the training. We’ve all got on very well because of Islam which in many ways is thicker than blood. We’ve got a close brotherhood and it should be like this throughout the whole world. Unfortunately, it’s not the case but God willing, Insha’Allah, things will change. This is what it’s like to be a Muslim, we have a strong brotherhood. We’re taught to greet each other and just simple things like smiling at your brother is considered a charity in Islam, shaking hands and saying As-salam alaykum, Peace upon you. Generally, that seems to be something that is being forgotten but Islam brings us back to that.

 

I’m very interested in many aspects of life: in training, in helping people to get fit and healthy but I’ve always had an interest in history in particular, and genealogy is very interesting to me. I’m a man who likes to find out facts, facts that aren’t always told to us – I like to get to the bottom of things. There’s a lot of dogmas today, it’s a time where there is so much information given to us and we’re kept so busy that we can’t always check this information. If it’s repeated four, five, six, seven times, a lot of us will just take that information as truth and that’s very dangerous. Was it Adolf Hitler who said that if a [big enough] lie is repeated enough times it will be believed? We find so many lies repeated through the media. Before you know it they’ve been taken as the truth. No one really bothers to get to the bottom of things, even a lot of the reporters. They hear the official stories and put them into their own words but don’t tend to question the authorities. It’s more the bloggers that do but then they don’t get the publicity. Even at the highest levels of these newspaper companies they are not independently run and there so many interesting things out there which can change ideas, can change perceptions or even change people’s behaviour and the world but they’re not interested in that, they like to just show us the more mundane and trivial things. A lot of times we know from history that governments have used the media to get laws put in place, that they’ll place a story that is connected to the laws they want to implement.

 

Archaeology is about finding out and lots of people I’ve spoken to have said that they were interested in it: interested is the word so many people use where archaeology is concerned.

Journal Account from volunteer Assad Sharif – 20th December 2013

My name is Assad Sharif, I’m 19 years old.

To be honest I didn’t think at first that the project involved archaeology, I was thinking in terms of construction work and that I was doing it just for the mosque. When I came to the site I didn’t really know a lot about archaeology: I didn’t really know about stuff like Roman pottery and bones. I’d never had any experience before of an archaeological site and no great interest in archaeology other than the sort the general public might have. I did the training at PCA’s offices and I found that interesting and really helpful. Even things like asbestos which we were told about, how it was dangerous if you breathed it in and you could get ill. Then Neil and Alice started teaching me about different types of pottery and tobacco pipes and I found that very interesting. I didn’t think that archaeology would be like this: in training it sounded hard but once I was out on site it didn’t seem that hard. It’s not so difficult; it was useful to have that training beforehand as a preparation, including the Health & Safety and all that.

We started off we was just digging 5cm at a time and when we found the first small piece of bone I was going to pull it out of the ground but Neil said no leave it where it was until we could see more. And then I came back the next day and we continued digging and then we started to see two cattle and we found a well next to them. That well didn’t have anything in it but the other one further away had a lot of pottery. We found lots of blue pottery, we found glass, we found tobacco pipes I was impressed with the length of the pipes and everyone found them in bits and pieces but I found the longest one and four long ones in all. I knew they were made of clay because of the training. Also we found little ink and perfume bottles and bottles we were told were for alcohol. And we also found medicine bottles and jars and little cups and mugs, one of which had a message on it which something about going to school and they used the old type of English, like Shakespeare English, but I didn’t quite get it. They used the well for just putting all this stuff in, like rubbish. We were told that the cattle were buried because they were diseased. I’d heard that people used to get animals to fight, two dogs against a bear. Also, I think that we found dog bones and rat bones in the well. I also heard that the well can be dangerous to be in if you’re digging deeper than 1m without support to the sides.

Interview 20th December: Neil Hawkins – PCA Senior Archaeologist

My expectations of the site? I think that due to its location, there are probably some interesting Roman remains. The main point is that the excavations are different due to the use of volunteers from the mosque: I didn’t know how the volunteers would respond to the work, or what their level of interest would be in what we were doing. I’ve actually found them to be very good. I saw them at the office in the early stages when they were doing the training course and many of them were clearly interested and were asking the right kind of questions about what we were doing, how we do it and why we do it and, equally, since we’ve been here on site they have been very into it, very interested and, in general, have just got on well with the work. Obviously, it’s quite a physical job and there is a lot of hand digging to be done and not all of them are used to this sort of physical work although some of them have worked on building sites or done labouring before but perhaps not for a while but they do just get stuck in. The weather has not been too bad so far but it could turn at any time.  As to the recent finds, cattle skeletons are always appear dramatic when uncovered buried and the reaction of the volunteers was interesting, they were quite excited about it when they first saw them – obviously, the size of the skeletons is impressive – the appearance of the skulls and the fact that they were quite intact. It certainly increased general interest levels for the volunteers. When they start finding things it brings it home why you’re doing what you’re doing, as opposed to just digging off a layer that has nothing in it. The discovery of the cattle skeletons was well timed – occurring early on – to maintain their enthusiasm. Also there was the discovery of the objects in the well – even though they were of 18th/19th century date – which were full of pottery and building material. Quite large pieces of pottery as well, where you could see the patterns on them, describe the original forms and tell them about their function etc. Even though they are in archaeological terms quite late, they certainly are of note and in general finding such things raises the level of interest even if you’re not used to doing this job. That got them motivated and keen to dig more to find more artefacts.

I hope that we can keep up the level of enthusiasm that has been built up to date as it potentially gets darker and rather colder, and that they do want to stay on board and see it through to the end.  The hope is that when we get down to the layers where there is the potential for Roman archaeology that interest will be stimulated, as we dig off other layers before that because we will be using metal detectors there will be the possibility of finding ‘small finds’, for instance, metal objects such as coins.

My impression is that they are all motivated to see the project through to the end. They almost immediately fell in with the camaraderie of an archaeological site and have joined in with and enjoyed the banter: considering we, the PCA staff, didn’t know the volunteers beforehand and they didn’t know all know each other, they have developed a very good rapport all round, even though we are from very different backgrounds. One of the most satisfying aspects of a physical job where you are all mucking in together, is that it can result in an instant kind of camaraderie and a bond is created because you are all ‘on the front line, digging together for a common cause, no one has an agenda, we all just want to do what needs to be done to get the site dug.

Journal Account from volunteer Delwar Hussein – Week 1: December 2nd 2013

My name is Delwar Hussein, aged 34; I’m a local lad and live down Elephant and Castle. One of the reasons that I volunteered was purely the chance to help out the mosque. I have a lot of spare time during the day as I work during the evening and I thought “Why not, do something for the community?” That’s one of the main

reasons that I volunteered. I was also quite interested in archaeology, I see quite a lot of television programmes and one of the programmes that I kind of watched now and again is called the Time Team on Channel 4, I always found it fascinating the type of work they do. And when this opportunity arrives I thought why not take it up and give it a go.

I’m one week into the archaeological dig and I found the training which PCA provided very interesting, they touched on various topics, and different things they do; to be honest with you it’s more in depth than I actually thought. When I initially used to watch them archaeology programmes on TV all I thought that they did was a bit of digging and pick up bits and pieces and send it over to someone else to do all the research and analysing the artefacts they find. I realise now it’s less about digging and more about the actual work they do behind the scenes, the number of different departments and people with different skills involved and not just the people on site. That’s been one of the eye opening things for me really.

So far so good, like I said before, it’s just on week into the dig, and I’m finding it interesting and I’ve still got my enthusiasm and the knowledge that I’ve gained. Quite possibly, in the future, I’m actually thinking about looking into going into this. I’m finding in social circles and the people that I meet I’m talking more and more about the history of my local area which I didn’t know before and which I’ve gained through this PCA training and digging I’m doing right now. The experience that I’m getting from this, like I’ve said, it’s opened up my eyes into the archaeological world and the local history and the amazing things that you can tell from just picking up a piece of pottery or what you find in the ground.

Interview with Trustee Ahmed Uddin – Week One: December 2nd 2013

My name Mohammed Ahmed Ahmed Uddin, I’m 42 years old and I currently reside in Streatham. I’ve lived in Streatham now for about 8/9 years. I’m actually from around here, my family is from around here. My Dad, my brothers, my uncles, they all worship at this mosque.  Consequently, my affiliation to this mosque is, principally, through worship and then through family ties, etc. The reason for my involvement is in the way of Allah, as a form of worship because when you undertake to do something for the mosque, for the community at large, it’s something that you are doing in the name of the religion, Allah, however you want to term it. So that’s the main reason for my involvement and my benefit is purely a mental benefit, I receive great pleasure from doing work for the community at large, for the Masjid – mosque as it’s otherwise known – and in the path of Allah.

Incidentally, it is the first time that I have been on an archaeological site. I find archaeology very interesting as I learnt about it vaguely at school, it’s principles, digging up history, recording history, I’m sure that there’s a lot more to it than just that but as you learn about these things at primary school and secondary school, those are the things that you generally tend to remember, the purposes of archaeology. Did I ever think I’d get the opportunity to be involved with an archaeological site, no! It just never even crossed my mind. Other than perhaps watching Indiana Jones digging something up, working on an archaeological site, generally, the perception is that its a job for middle class people who don’t have to worry about bills that much and who are doing it for the love of it. But, obviously, you can follow your loves and your passions when your main bases are covered ie the bills and the mortgage etc.

What do I associate with archaeology, like I said, Indiana Jones is probably the first one, number two is probably the image of the crystal skull; the word Saxon comes to mind, and a lot of the books that I read at school had Saxon archaeology. There were Saxon war items, there was a particular helmet [the Sutton Hoo helmet in the BritishMuseum] if I remember correctly, it was in all the books at school, on the front cover. Tutankhamen comes to mind, the discovery of the golden mask, and other than that, archaeology, where does it fit into my brain? Not a lot really. I was aware that it was going to be part of the planning condition but I wasn’t aware that it was going to be this deep in financial terms.

I, generally, don’t watch too many Discovery Channel programmes, on archaeology, although I do watch a lot of Discovery stuff, but, mostly Gold Rush and the history Channel would be like watching storage lockers being cleaned out of historical items.

What else can I associate with archaeology other than people on their hands and knees using brushes, and digging things out? Other than that, Indiana Jones and the discovery of Tutankhamen have probably done more for archaeology than anything else, in my limited knowledge of the subject.

I would possibly like to take the opportunity to research local studies. I’m very interested in genealogy, in my own family and where we came from. I believe that my own genealogy goes back to the Yemen, which is in the southern Arabian peninsula. We’re from Bangladesh, it was Yemeni missionaries that came to our parts and transformed the lie of the land. I personally believe that I descend from that group of people.

Where you have an older generation segment of worshippers, you generally just tell them the headlines because going deep about it goes in one ear and comes out the other. I’ve had no archaeological training because I’m principally involved in organising and the mystical side, things like that. I’m a lot more familiar with archaeology now than I was due to my experiences on the site. The wish to involve the wider community, that particular point is really important for myself and as a person who leads the way in terms as a kind of spokesman for the mosque. I played a part in getting the main building erected, I had a lot of input in that. From that I’ve learnt – and from my own experiences in life – that you can’t just put something on the landscape which is foreign to the local incumbents. You need a transition and to smooth that transition information has to pass through which is understandable to the locals and if the locals have a colloquial way who have to try and level in a colloquial way to get the message through because a lot of the problems that we have in this society is not really ignorance, it’s misinformation. And to put the right information across is essential, otherwise people fear the unknown: I can imagine that a lot of people walk down the road and see the mosque, and they don’t see it with rose tinted glasses they see it with a dark tint and they think that all kind of stuff goes on in there, clandestine activities. All the kind of stuff they see in films, movies and through reading the tabloids and you know, the first day we started work one guy came up to the excavator driver and said that he would slice him up if he switched the machine on next morning. The point is that man, whoever he was, he fears something and it’s more likely than not the unknown, the colonisation by Muslims? If we don’t work to try and break these barriers we won’t be doing our job. So there’s misinformation and there’s also lack of information which also contributes to ignorance. Fear comes in and it only takes one bad headline to whip up fear for a week. That’s why we’ve talked about an Open Day for people to come to the site and to the mosque, to hear about the religion and our backgrounds; to come on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and we would put out some tables, have some food and drinks, get kids to come along and have information boards up and staff from PCA to say a few words and a couple of us from the mosque to say a few words, make a celebration of it.

It’s a benefit to us to move ahead and I remember street parties in 1977 when I was a kid and lived in Vauxhall and they were great. The locals they’ll come, they’ll see they’ll listen and they’ll see we’re ordinary people, not people planning the next atrocity!  A lot of people are sceptics but they’ll see ordinary people attending and it’ll have an impact.