Archaeology for Change

Posted on May 20, 2020


As archaeologists we are surrounded by change – trained to read changes in the landscape, in contexts and to adapt to changes in the techniques and methodologies used. We piece together changes through time in past societies, attempting to understand how communities lived, worked together, and increasingly, its relevance of understanding our society today. Often the focus is on negative aspects of change e.g. warfare and population replacement but can we see positive societal changes through time in the archaeological record? Can we identify societal changes which resulted in positive community cohesion?

Archaeology and archaeologists can themselves be catalysts/advocates for community inclusiveness, social awareness and commitment to positive change. Dorothy Garrod pioneered an all-female excavation team at Mount Carmel, Palestine in 1929 (Price 2009). ‘Homeless Heritage’ (Kiddey 2017) highlights the potential of archaeology to positively impact those on the fringes of society. Operation Nightingale with Breaking Ground Heritage continues to make positive changes in the lives of Veterans through archaeology (CAA 336 2018).

How can archaeology contribute to and instigate positive changes in contemporary communities?  Can archaeology be used to bring different community members together in a positive, impacting, lasting way? How can archaeology appeal to those beyond the retired, middle class and almost exclusively white audience?

The session will explore whether archaeology could be instrumental in changing our society today? How can it positively impact those who live in it – especially those on the margins of society? Fundamentally, how can archaeology be used to encourage positive contemporary change?


Current Archaeology 226. Breaking Ground at Barrow Clump

Kiddey, R. 2017. Homeless Heritage: Collaborative Social Archaeology as Therapeutic Practice. Oxford University Press

Price, K.M. 2009. One vision, one faith, one woman: Dorothy Garrod and the crystallisation of prehistory. In R. Hosfield, F.F. Wenban-Smith & M. Pope (eds.) Great Prehistorians: 150 Years of Palaeolithic Research, 1859–2009 (Special Volume 30 of Lithics: The Journal of the Lithic Studies Society): 163–183. Lithic Studies Society, London.

Kathryn M. Price (National Botanic Gardens of Wales)

Archaeology for Change: Introduction

Can archaeology be instrumental in changing our society today? How can it positively impact those who live in it – especially those on the margins of society? Fundamentally, how can archaeology be used to encourage positive contemporary change?

Kathryn M. Price (National Botanic Gardens of Wales)

Addressing Important Issues of Change: Creating an Equal and Diverse Archaeological Discipline

Seeking evidence for change is a fundamental of archaeological fieldwork, drawing upon a widely held belief in ontological equality amongst its participants. However, the archaeological discipline is clearly not equal nor widely diverse.
Diversity within UK archaeology has changed very little in over a century. Behaviours and practices have developed, that exclude many, and entrench a stereotypical elite. Examples point to exclusion through class or education. Promotion, deserved through the quality of fieldwork, is still considered a surprise, purely due to gender. Individuals appear as project leaders, but merely front the fieldwork of others.
Archaeology can be an exemplar for change; a paragon to other disciplines espousing community and intellectual values, crossing over academic and vocational boundaries. In this paper, I will propose an agenda envisaging change; promoting positive action towards creating a more equal and diverse archaeological discipline.

Kevin Wooldridge (Freelance Archaeologist)

Positive Past, Present and Future Changes in Archaeology

As a dis/Abled enabled archaeologist my paper will examine the positive examples of past dis/Abilities, from Neanderthals to the medieval period which illustrates extended positive social cohesion within some past communities. Osteoarthritis will be discussed as this condition links from the medieval period to some working dis/Abled enabled archaeologists. Debate of Fraser’s thesis (2008), concerning USA dis/Abled enabled archaeologists and one of my interview participant’s with osteoarthritis will follow.
Advocate archaeologists and organisations for community inclusion and positive change will be mentioned. My idea of a local dis/Abled enabled archaeologist system going out to the heart of our communities will be debated. By going to where people are, can positively bring in many diverse minorities. The positive effects of archaeologists, students, dis/Abled enabled, united, at our inclusion methods week at Bamburgh Research Project shows that positive change can be achieved.

Theresa O’Mahony (Enabled Archaeology Foundation)

Can (and Should) Participative Public Archaeology Tackle Social Disadvantage? An Evidence- Based Answer

Arguments about instrumentalising archaeology to tackle wider societal challenges by involving wider publics in archaeological fieldwork have pitched the risks to the archaeological resource of involving unqualified or inexperienced people against the potential social benefits. While experience has shown that the risks can be mitigated by effective project design and execution, and the evidence base for the achievable benefits is growing, the latter remains dominated by the outcomes of projects involving more affluent communities. Meanwhile, funding for both archaeology and social programmes is being cut across the UK and beyond. Could this be challenged by stronger evidence demonstrating archaeology’s capacity to benefit disadvantaged sectors of society?
My paper will present evidence showing how participation in archaeological investigation has involved and benefitted people from less advantaged backgrounds, including disadvantaged teenagers and residents of deprived housing estates, while also advancing archaeological knowledge. I will finish by considering the potential of such approaches in other countries.

Carenza Lewis (University of Lincoln)

‘Dig Society’: Putting the Community into Community Archaeology

Recently, we have seen ‘the community’ spread in its widest possible sense with the emergence of the crowdfunding model of funding fieldwork. This model allows any given ‘community’ to exist on an international spectrum. Archaeology – Community Archaeology – is finding ways to connect with people like never before.
But does this have a danger of being exclusive rather than wholly inclusive? If ‘buying in’ to a project is required in these times of austerity – through crowdfunding, or attending a training field school for example – does this limit which parts of the community can get involved? As lottery ticket sales decrease, what does this mean for future HLF funding pots?
In this paper I wish to discuss the model of Community Archaeology that I have created via MBArchaeology and Involve Heritage CIC over the past ten years, a model that has allowed me to work almost exclusively within the field of Community Archaeology across a wide spectrum of communities, from high deprivation regions to more affluent areas, within diverse communities, and within schools, Family Learning and the widest age-range of Adult Education.

Matt Beresford (MBArchaeology / Involve Heritage CIC)

Creating Heritage Projects for People: Archaeology Scotland Social Impact Programme

Since 2011, Archaeology Scotland’s Adopt-a-Monument scheme has actively developed projects to enable new heritage audiences to explore and discover their local heritage. These projects have included work with diverse audiences from organisations like Crisis and Women’s Aid, during which we have observed the positive benefits our participants get from taking part in a heritage project. Leading on from this, Archaeology Scotland has now developed a new project called Attainment through Archaeology. Working with 11–26yr olds, this project will help them develop new skills and experiences they can utilise in their next steps in life.
This paper will look at our journey with these projects, presenting case studies, our lessons learned along the way and demonstrate how participants from all areas of society can benefit from taking part in heritage activities.

Cara Jones (Archaeology Scotland)

The CAER Heritage Project: Co-production with Disadvantaged Communities

The CAER Heritage Project has developed from humble beginnings in 2011 to be a major community heritage project. Focussed on the electoral wards of Caerau and Ely, two economically deprived, but heritage rich, suburbs of Cardiff, Wales, the project is a thriving collaboration between university academics, heritage professionals, community development workers and local schools and communities. From the outset, the project has been steeped in co-productive ideals and principles with the aim of addressing contemporary social and economic challenges through active participation in heritage, and particularly archaeological, research.
The journey from project birth to maturity has been rewarding, but also challenging. As the winner of two recent community archaeology awards (Times Higher Education Awards 2017: Outstanding Contribution to Local Community; National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement Engage Competition 2014 Award: Overall Winner), we now occupy a national stage. By drawing from the different perspectives of academics, community development workers and participants, this paper will use CAER as a case study to examine the potentials and problems of co-production of research with disadvantaged communities.

Oliver Davis and Dave Wyatt (Cardiff University)

The Role of Archaeology and Heritage in the Promotion of Recovery to Veterans Suffering Complex Traumas of a Physical or Psychological Nature

Over the past 12 months Breaking Ground Heritage (BGH) have been conducting surveys on how beneficiaries involved in Operation Nightingale (OPN) projects are coping with their depression and anxiety. We have also been looking at how general wellbeing on projects has been affected through participation in heritage-based projects.
Evidence is now indicating that peer-peer support is instrumental in helping beneficiaries reconstruct a narrative that is conducive to their own personal recovery and that the heritage element is a driving force, helping to build upon a social identity that is more than just a label or career description (veteran / ex-military).
Heritage is also providing the platform to refocus the soft skill ingrained into this community during the process of becoming ‘military’. Skills such as self-discipline, attention to detail, a desire to succeed and teamwork all highly desirable in any workforce.

Richard Bennett (Breaking Ground Heritage) & Richard
Osgood (Ministry of Defence)

Volunteering for All at Birmingham Museums Trust

There is a great deal of research around volunteering motivations but much less around why people don’t volunteer and in 2015 Birmingham Museums Trust (BMT) undertook a research project to understand why people might choose not to volunteer in museums, particularly in BMT. Birmingham is a diverse city, 42% classify themselves as BAME, 18% describe themselves as having a disability, approximately half the population are under 30 and Birmingham is estimated to be home to 60,000 LGBT+ citizens. Our particular research motivation was to understand why people from BAME backgrounds might choose not to volunteer in museums. The results were heart breaking, if not surprising. There were misconceptions around museum volunteering, roles available and the kind of people who give their time. It is our responsibility to change perceptions of our programme by highlighting our charitable status, showcasing our opportunities, showing it’s not just for experts and by giving something back.

Rebecca Fletcher (Birmingham Museums)

VIA Culture: Recording Cardiff’s Religious Landscapes for Social Inclusion

VIA Culture aims to record and mobilize cultural heritage assets as tools for teaching English as an Additional Language and for providing social inclusion to refugees, asylum seekers and newly arrived migrant students. The project is currently recording Cardiff’s Butetown and Cardiff Bay religious buildings, past and present, in a single online interactive database/ georeferenced open educational resource. During the project New Arrival students will develop skills on building recording, data management, blogging, community engagement, geoinformatics, drawing, report writing, oral presentation, photography, videography, video editing, and they will learn about the importance that cultural heritage has for the promotion of social values.

Konstantina Kalogirou (Cathays High School) & Konstantinos
P. Trimmis (Cardiff University)


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