Re-thinking how European contract archaeology can best contribute to society

Posted on August 16, 2019


Here is another EAA session for your viewing pleasure; something to watch on your weekend:

Session Abstract:

Less than two decades ago, contract archaeology in many countries was nearly entirely development-led or state-controlled. Today it is a competitive business. In many countries this has resulted in an unambitious but cheap archaeology that lacks social impact. At the same time European archaeology is increasingly evaluated for its ability to meet society’s needs.
These converging trends mean that there is an increasing need for capacity-building in advanced research skills in order for archaeology to make substantial contributions to society. In this session we will present short papers that explore European contract archaeology in relation to its social impact. We particular invite papers that include discussions of the following topics:

How much and which knowledge about the past does society need?

What is the value of that knowledge?

Which needs other than knowledge about the past can archaeology meet?

To what extent can contract archaeology contribute to meeting significant societal challenges including conflict resolution and social cohesion, economic regeneration and sustainable development, continuing education and democratization of society?

Which indicators can be used to define and measure the quality of projects in contract archaeology, with societal impact in mind?

How can contract archaeology define cutting-edge research questions and develop cost-effective ways of answering them for the benefit of society at large?

What does it mean to compete with knowledge about the past made available to society?

How can the existing demand for archaeology in society increase, new products/services develop and new markets for business be found?

Author: Högberg, Anders (Sweden) – Linnaeus University
Co-Author(s): Holtorf, Cornelius (Sweden) – Linnaeus UniversitySchlanger, Nathan (France) – École nationale des chartes ParisKars, Eva (Netherlands) – EARTH Integrated Archaeology, AmersfoortBazelmans, Jos (Netherlands) – Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, Amerfoort
Keywords: new knowledge, societal impact, development

What does it mean for contract archaeology to contribute to society?

Author: Professor Högberg, Anders – GRASCA, Linnaeus University; University of Johannesburg (Presenting author)
Co-Author: Professor Holtorf, Cornelius – GRASCA, Linnaeus University
Keywords: Social, impact, archaeology

More and more, European archaeology is judged from its ability to meet society’s needs and its impact on society at large, as evident from for example communication documents on cultural heritage from the Commission of the European Parliament. Consequently, there is an increasing need for capacity-building in order for contract archaeology to make substantial contributions to society. However, the sector of contract archaeology is currently lacking adequate knowledge on how to extend its potential to contribute meaningfully to societal development, both generally and in relation to specific audiences. There is also insufficient knowledge on how to assess its impact in society (qualitatively) and measure its concrete benefits (quantitatively). High competency in contemporary archaeological research and practices of meaningful social engagement is paramount. In this paper we discuss what it might mean for contract archaeology to contribute to society, beyond operating as part of a regulatory system or providing interpretation of the past based on results from excavation. By offering some food for thought, our aim is to set out the agenda for the session.

Understanding conflict behavior – dead bodies as manifestations

Author: PhD Candidate Alfsdotter, Clara – GRASCA, Linnaeus University; Bohusläns Museum (Presenting author)
Keywords: Conflict, theory, violence

In my research, I want to explore how people in the past and today use dead bodies from intra group conflicts as manifestations in society.
The dead body constitute a sociocultural symbol. Within bioarchaeology, analysis of human remains from conflicts have mainly been descriptive rather than explanatory of a human behavior. Integration of theories on human behavior and social implications of violence and conflicts needs to be included. Collective violence cannot be understood through a narrow analysis since it happens in relation to a complex sociocultural arena.
In this paper I will discuss the importance of understanding violence from an anthropological perspective in order to try explain its uses and conditions. A bioarchaeological perspective can fruitfully be used to both create data through studying the material traces of interpersonal violence on skeletons and integrate social theoretical frameworks to understand the use and effects of violence, both in ancient and contemporary populations. The bioarchaeological and archaeological knowledge on the matter is not only important in order to further understand the consequences and uses of violence and the human behavior, but also to use these perspectives as tools for contemporary society to discuss and get perspectives on ongoing similar matters. The archaeological knowledge can be translated into contemporary discussions by providing both the historical perspective but also an understanding of fundamental human traits regarding the causes and
consequences of conflict.

Alive; digital knowledge development and communication in contract archaeology.

Author: PhD Candidate Mr Gunnarsson, Fredrik – GRASCA, Linnaeus University; Department of Museum Archaeology, Kalmar County Museum (Presenting author)
Keywords: Digitisation, Contract Archaeology

This paper discusses the level of impact that the digitisation brings to contract archaeology in Europe and how knowledge development and communication can see further progress, using it. The digitisation of European contract archaeology takes place on many levels and is becoming increasingly important to e.g. field documentation, analysis and public outreach. With digitisation, new possibilities arise to improve efficiency in work flows and create new markets. It also creates a more open landscape in a competitive business were sharing doesn’t come easy. How can digitisation improve contract archaeology businesses, while at the same time produce better research material for the future?
The Valletta and Faro conventions highlights the need for European archaeology to make a societal contribution and the sector of contract archaeology has the responsibility to curate digital data and make it relevant both for researchers and society. Better developed communication flows, more closely interlinked with documentation and interpretation, will shape a more open archaeological process. These flows have the potential to make knowledge produced by contract archaeology not only survive, but also come alive.

The production of knowledge within Dutch contract archaeology: the long tradition of craftsmanship as a dominant paradigm

Author: Prof.dr. BAZELMANS, JOS – Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (Presenting author)
Keywords: Netherlands, craftmanship, fieldwork

As in most European countries the introduction of the developer pays-principle put the issue of the balance sheet of costs and benefits at the forefront of public discussions concerning archaeology. In this context Dutch archaeology in general and Dutch contract archaeology had and has to refocus itself on societal impact and societal needs as to ensure its long-term survival. This should, the authors think, entail, amongst other issues, a critical evaluation of knowledge production in Dutch archaeology and in Dutch field work traditions in archaeology. A major drawback of Dutch archaeology is the conceptual and organisational division between field work on the one hand and research, interpretation and writing up on the other hand. As from the start in the early twentieth century up until today archaeological field work is considered to be an act of craftsmanship to be delegated to technicians. To the contrary post-excavation activities are being done by highly trained archaeologists. This stance has been enshrined in the Dutch quality system for archaeology and in the staffing of excavations. Needless to say that this division counteracts an intimate and fruitful interplay between researchers within and outside of the field and that this division acts as a hindrance to producing evocative images of the past.

Archaeological synthesis as condition to contribute to society

Author: Drs Eerden, monique – Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed (Presenting author)
Keywords: synthese, contract-archaeology, Netherlands

The Valletta Convention (article1) regulates the protection of the archaeological heritage as source for new knowledge about our past. New knowledge on the basis of which new meaningful stories about our past can be told. That’s what archaeologists have to offer to society.
Condition to tell new meaningful stories to society is that development-led reports are synthesised. Incentive for the dutch national government to generate resources for synthesising research was to improve the dutch archaeological heritage practice. How this type of synthesising research is organized in the Netherlands will be discussed in this contribution. This wil be controlled by confronting questions from the National Archaeological research Agenda with the range of development-led archaeological reports. This research is mainly carried out by archaeological companies and universities. Translating these stories to the public is not a task of the Cultural Heritage Agency in the Netherlands but is mainly a task for private initiative.

What about the content?

Author: PhD Candidate Dutra Leivas, Ivonne – GRASCA – Linnaeus University; Kalmar County Museum (Presenting author)
Keywords: Contract-archaeology, Public archaeology

Humanities, and indeed the whole cultural heritage sector, have for the past two decades been strongly affected by globalization and, as a consequence, forced to reconsider the role it will play in society to maintain its legitimacy and social relevance. The altered conditions for the cultural heritage sector in Sweden was followed by a heated debate about the importance of archeology and its role in society. Since contract archeology was questioned because of its costs, the demands on contract archeology increased to benefit society and the public. This is where mediation of archaeological results to the public and other audiences enters the scene of contract archaeology. Still, almost 20 years later, the
Swedish sector of contract archaeology is uncertain of its aims in public archaeology. Therefore, there is an urgent need of heightened awareness about contract archaeology’s public domain, and what it should be about and encompass. Although there are now higher demands on public archaeology, the objective wordings in guidelines and policy documents are still very vague. This results in quantitative mediation forms where the goal is to reach as many groups of audiences as possible. Qualitative values in archaeology, for example to increase people’s awareness of archeology and history and their role in society, gets to some extent a secondary role in the practices of mediation. To work against a one-sided or an underbalanced public archaeology, the sector of contract archaeology must dare to ask their audiences what they expect from contract archaeology. Furthermore, contract archaeology needs to a greater degree approach a public archaeology with a focus on the communicative aspects concerning questions about what is mediated and how it is mediated. This should be both fruitful and instructionally relevant in contract archeology.

Whose (maritime) archaeology is it anyway?

Author: PhD Candidate Ni Chiobhain Enqvist, Delia – GRASCA, Linnaeus University; Bohusläns museum (Presenting author)
Keywords: contract, maritime, digital

Access to cultural heritage is both recommended by and the basis of many conventions on cultural heritage, such as Faro and Valetta. In the case of submerged cultural heritage the 2001 UNESCO Convention highlights the importance of access, while also recommending in situ preservation, setting the tone for the discipline of maritime archaeology’s current dominant practice. The adoption of digital methodologies in maritime archaeology is thus a natural reaction to calls for archaeological results to be accessible to non-experts, while also contributing
to efficiency to the contract sector. However, the prevailing use of digital techniques by maritime archaeologists has resulted in many older methodologies simply turning digital, circumnavigating any critical analysis on the methodologies themselves, what precisely they are communicating and to whom the information is to be conveyed. Specifically, what has been ignored during this digital shift are long held critiques of the maritime discipline that include technological fetishism and a narrow masculinist perspective of the past. These narratives are unquestioningly communicated to non-expert audiences. Archaeological results can never truly be of relevance of benefit to society if the narratives are created by an expert few whose visual narratives are heavily influenced by both personal and discipline-wide biases and research agendas. This is resulting in a failure to realise the full potential of the multiple approaches to both experience and narrate maritime archaeology, as well as the full potential of these technologies for visualisation purposes.

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