Finding our global past: exploring cultures and creating a culture of collaboration

Posted on September 6, 2017


Another session we filmed from the CIfA conference. Hope you enjoy:

Session Details

Organisers: Katherine Baxter, Society for Museum Archaeology; Jane Evans, Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service; James Gerrard, Newcastle University

Artefacts are central to any consideration of archaeology as a global profession, reflecting trade, demography, migration, and cultural exchange for all periods. Such themes are explored by commercial archaeologists, university-based researchers and lecturers, and museum archaeologists, who engage with material culture from Britain and around the world. How is this reflected in our work? Are we establishing fruitful international collaborations? Do we have shared standards, methodologies, and reference resources, particularly when researching empire-wide contacts? Do British archaeologists have particular strengths that we can share, and what can we learn from the innovative work of international colleagues? What is our role in researching, protecting and displaying artefacts from war zones or fighting the illegal trade in antiquities? What contribution can finds archaeologists make to the integration of an increasingly diverse British society, illustrating the long history of immigration and international trade, and highlighting the value of other cultures?

Crossing boundaries: commercial archaeology, museums and universities Katherine Baxter, Society for Museum Archaeology; Jane Evans, Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service; James Gerrard, Newcastle University

There is a perceived need for improved communication and collaboration between finds archaeologists based in British commercial units, museums and university departments. Given this, how successful are we in crossing international boundaries within our own, separate sectors, and what can we learn from each other in this respect? Are we developing international methodologies and standards? Do we have examples of good practice in developing international projects and research, and what are the problems that such projects face? This review will provide a framework for the case studies presented in the session.

The Must Farm pile dwelling – taste, appearance, lifestyle and communication in the Late Bronze Age David Gibson, Cambridge Archaeological Unit

It now seems that the Must Farm Bronze Age pile dwelling (aka Fenland’s Pompeii) was built, occupied and burnt down in quick succession. The brevity of settlement and its catastrophic demise provided a rare set of circumstances, which in turn ensured exceptional preservation. Individual roundhouses replete with entire household inventories (whole pots, tool kits, textiles, wooden vessels, weapons, food remains, etc.) were preserved within the gentle sediments of a small river buried deep beneath the fens. This talk will present the context, circumstance and public outreach of the excavation and, at the same, attempt to come to terms with the sheer quantity and quality of materials and what they might tell us about taste, appearance, lifestyle and communication in Late Bronze Age Britain and beyond.

Hadrian’s cavalry: an international collaborative project on a World Heritage Site Frances McIntosh, English Heritage

The Hadrian’s cavalry project will be a collaborative project between ten museums and five partners. It will encompass exhibitions, re-enactment events, talks, education resources and a publication. The exhibition will be spread across museums along the length of Hadrian’s Wall and will showcase amazing finds on loan from national and international museums, as well as from private collectors. The beauty of cavalry equipment, the impact of the cavalry in Roman warfare and relationship of a cavalryman with his horse will all be discussed. It will place Hadrian’s Wall in its wider context of the Roman Empire and the transnational Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site. Following on from the success of WallFace in 2014, this partnership project is funded by Arts Council England and highlights what can be possible when organisations work together.

Bottom up or top down? Connecting local enquiry with global research Professor Carenza Lewis, The University of Lincoln

This presentation reviews an innovative research programme which has involved thousands of members of the public in new archaeological excavations in the gardens of scores of English villages, producing tens of thousands of pottery sherds. Dating and mapping these finds has revealed striking new evidence for the impact of Black Death, showing with remarkable clarity at a range of scales where the long-term effects of this global pandemic were most and least severely felt. Simultaneously, participation in the project has enhanced the knowledge, skills and aspirations of thousands of volunteers of all backgrounds and ages. These outcomes highlight the potential for similar publicly engaged research to be carried out anywhere, in the UK, Europe and beyond.

Fragmentary ancestors and making monuments: international working at Manchester Museum Bryan Sitch, Manchester Museum

This presentation explores some of the issues raised by displaying material culture in museums that straddle the disciplines of archaeology and anthropology. In recent years Manchester Museum has organised two temporary exhibitions dealing with ‘World Archaeology’: subjects dealing with West African ceramic figurines and the statues of Easter Island or Rapa Nui respectively. Whilst it is common to find ancient Greek artefacts and Egyptology on display in museums, ‘World Archaeology’ collections are often treated differently and displayed in relation to their perceived aesthetic qualities. Whilst this may provide a means of sidestepping uncomfortable questions about the circumstances of acquisition, and repatriation, it does separate the exhibit from its original cultural context, a context that the methodology of archaeology aims to preserve. It also raises the question of whose story the objects are supposed to tell, that of the colonisers or the colonised? At a time when museums as cultural institutions are expected to play a role in addressing current social concerns such as immigration, this distinction risks alienating the very immigrant communities curators wish to engage. Interdisciplinary working that explores the richness of non-European cultures with the contribution of archaeological fieldwork seems to offer new ways forward, which this presentation will explore through the Fragmentary Ancestors and Making Monuments exhibitions at Manchester Museum.

Making a full circle: cultural repatriation from museum collections Patricia Allan, Curator of World Cultures, Glasgow Museums

Repatriation refers to the return of artefacts or human remains from museum collections to the country or people of origin. These items or remains are generally regarded as essential to the identity, spiritual and cultural well-being of the requesting party. A large number of the indigenous art and cultural artefacts in museums have had a difficult and unsettled history. Many of these objects have now come under scrutiny by a postcolonial consciousness that regards their location in these places as inherently problematic. At the same time the claims of ownership by native communities are influenced by issues around the right of ownership, true owner identity, global capitalism and modern property law. This presentation will look at the history of collecting from non-European cultures, and its effects on the source communities from whom these objects were removed. It will also examine the resulting moral, ethical and practical dilemmas facing museums today and the arguments for and against retention of these disputed objects.





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