A UNIQUE project being run by the town’s museum team has been given a £72,000 boost by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
Eastbourne Borough Council was awarded the cash to help fund its new project, Eastbourne Ancestors, which will be the first of its kind anywhere in the UK.
There are currently more than 300 skeletons stored away in the council’s collection – most of them Anglo-Saxon from around 1,500 years ago but some from the Neolithic period and more than 4,000 years old.
The aim of Eastbourne Ancestors is to give an osteo-bigraphy, or back story, for the bones for each individual in the collection.
This will involve detailed scientific analysis which will not only confirm the gender, age and size of each individual but could also reveal secrets about their health, diet, social status, regional (or national) origins and perhaps how they died.
The results will eventually be collated and form the basis for a future exhibition as well as a series of education programmes and public workshops.
This is the first time such an extensive analysis has taken place on one collection and it is hoped the discoveries will have an impact on the work of the museum service for years to come.
Around 150 volunteers will help with the project, each receiving expert training along the way, and local schools and colleges will be invited to take part in aspects of the work alongside specialists from universities in Bournemouth, Kent and Durham.
During the project local people will be invited to a temporary lab, which will be set up in at the town, to take part in the artefact conservation and environmental sampling processes.
And DNA could even be used to link some of the skeletons to local families.
Jo Seaman, the museum officer who came up with the idea for the project, said, “I am so grateful to the HLF for backing us as I believe that we will now learn so much about the actual people who lived in and around Eastbourne in the past.
“A lot of archaeology is focused on objects and structures and rightly so, but this gives us an opportunity to learn about individuals whose bones may tell us some very tangible truths about their lives and ultimately deaths.
“It helps us relate to the past in a different way from an object such as a pot sherd that can tell us about a culture but not an individual person.”
For more information about the Eastbourne Ancestors, including how to volunteer, visit www.eastbournemuseums.co.uk.