The Future of Community Archaeology

Posted on October 26, 2016


There are hundreds of community excavations, surveys and general investigations into the past that take place every year. And that is in the UK alone. But what happens to all that work? Do people just have a nice play, ruin some perfectly good archaeology and take food out of the mouths of professional archaeologist? I am paraphrasing a bit here but that statement is what I have been told by several ‘Professional’ archaeologists. Or do they save the history that the professionals are too busy to be bothered with? Again, paraphrasing but equally spiteful statements are aimed back at archaeologists.

Well there was an interesting session on the topic of what community projects contribute to archaeology that we filmed at the CIfA conference. And since it is Wednesday (conference video day) here are some interesting presentations on the topic:

The contribution of the voluntary sector to the archaeological landscape has long been acknowledged, but is frequently poorly understood. There is an urgent need to set community archaeology in context. Who is participating? Why are they doing it? Who are they talking to? Where does their work go? What is its potential value?
If we are to understand community archaeology in context, and harness its potential for the benefit of the historic environment, we need answers. This session will aim to address uncertainties, critically evaluate the data, and work towards addressing issues collaboratively within the Heritage 2020 framework.

Rob Hedge and Aisling Nash (Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service)

Assessing the value of community generated research

Rob Hedge and Aisling Nash (Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service)
Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service has recently completed a Historic England funded project to assess the
untapped potential of community-generated research. This project has enhanced our understanding of both the quantity of
research undertaken in the voluntary sector and its potential to enhance research resources such as Historic Environment
Records (HERs) and Research Frameworks (RFs). The quality and importance of much voluntary research has long been
recognised; however, the scale, breadth and value of its overall contribution to the historic environment sector has hitherto been poorly understood. Combining a national survey with local case studies, and including aspects of local studies and local history underrepresented in existing research resources, the project sheds light on the dynamics affecting the production and
dissemination of voluntary-sector research.
This paper will present key themes arising from the project including current levels of engagement with HERs and RFs and
participant awareness of the role of research resources in the management of the historic environment. Capacity issues within
local authorities, and the impact of factors such as the receipt of funding and professional support on the degree to which
research is shared and assimilated into research resources, will also be highlighted.

The significance of historical research to participants in two community archaeology projects in Wales

Kelly Davies (Swansea University)
Broadening public inclusion in archaeology has been a major concern of many archaeologists over the past two decades.
Constructivist critiques, coupled with evolving political and funding constraints, have led many to reassess their roles and the
ways in which communities engage both with the discipline and their own heritage(s).
This shift has led to the conception of many innovative community archaeology projects; however caution must be taken. This
paper presents the results of ongoing ethnographic research at two community archaeology projects in Wales. Historical
research has been shown to be of key importance to the majority of participants – and usually remains the primary reason for
engagement. Therefore this paper contends that historical research must be viewed as of central importance to successful public archaeology, and furthermore that heritage professionals need to be cautious of telling audiences what they should want, rather than listening to what they do want.

What do YOU think community archaeology is? A definition from the bottom up

Hayley Roberts (Bournemouth University)
The question ‘what is community archaeology’ is not a new question, but it is one that is yet to have a definitive answer.
Disagreements about the meaning of the phrase ‘community archaeology’ often revolve around the idea of control and power; it has been defined as both a ‘bottom up’ and a ‘top down’ method of archaeological project management. These contradictions
are a reflection of how language can change depending on the understanding and context of the user. In order to understand
what community archaeology is, the context in which it operates, and why people do it, it is important to consider what the phrase means to the people that are using it.
This presentation will discuss the current use of the phrase ‘community archaeology’ within Dorset. Drawing on PhD research,
the perspective of professional archaeologists, volunteers, funders and the public will all be used as evidence to consider what
community archaeology is.

Can we ‘future proof’ community archaeology?

Cara Jones (Archaeology Scotland)
‘Some’ say that within the UK, we are currently living in the ‘Golden Age’ of community archaeology. That could be debated on
many levels but never has there been more dedicated funding, more opportunity to get actively involved with local heritage and
archaeology – either with self-led or professionally supported community archaeology projects. With this growth have come jobs – actual paid positions specialising in community archaeology and public outreach, positions which didn’t really exist 10 years ago.
We talk of the successes (and sometimes failures!) of community archaeology, but we rarely talk about the frameworks which prop it up. Much of this work is funded by one funder and community archaeology jobs are often fixed term and end once the funding has run out. We spend time and money on creating heritage audiences and training archaeologists to work with community groups, yet we still don’t think long term. How can we develop strategic approaches to community archaeology, when we are still working project by project, dependent on one funding source? What happens to our community archaeologists – do they stay within this sub-sector or do they move to another specialism?
This paper will ask is Community Archaeology really sustainable in its current form and are there ways we can think about future proofing this ever growing sub-sector of archaeology?
All plain sailing? Challenges involved in community archaeology projects
Elliot Wragg (Thames Discovery Project) & Oliver Hutchinson (CITiZAN)
The Thames Discovery Programme (TDP) and the Coastal and Inter-Tidal Zone Archaeological Network (CITiZAN), both hosted by MOLA, are two of the largest community archaeology projects running in the UK. While TDP has been operating for seven years, CITiZAN, a project that grew out of TDP, only began in 2015. This paper will examine problems encountered in both starting and sustaining large scale community archaeology projects through the prism of these two programmes with a focus on the volunteer experience and their expectations of taking part in such a project.


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