Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Community Archaeology (part 1): What Is It?

(DISCLAIMER: All opinions and observations are strictly my own and do not reflect those of any of the organisations or people I work for or am associated with)

I thought it was about time I explained what Community Archaeology is and why I chose to apply for this training placement. I'm going to do a series of posts on Community Archaeology as a section of archaeology (such as the benefits, how it's viewed by other archaeologists and what issues are currently surrounding it) but the topic is large so I'm breaking it down into sections which I will post when I'm ready.

So what is Community Archaeology? Well to me it's any archaeological undertaking that involves or is put together for the public participation, such as museum exhibitions, open days, excavations, or guided walks to name but a few. Some view this involvement of the general public as a new branch of archaeology, but from it's beginnings archaeology was a very public affair with interested individuals being able to take part. Many older generation 'amateur' archaeologists started on excavations when they were kids and have been regularly volunteering since; for some of them it equates to 30 or more years of fieldwork experience, and that is more than the years I've been alive! (More on this a a different post). It is only recently, the last 20 or so years, that commercial development and 'the need for speed', plus stringent health and safety rules when undertaking excavations, has excluded general public from their heritage. Many archaeological units do, however, use volunteers to assist in post-excavation work, mostly finds processing (washing and marking the finds coming up from sites) or sieving and analysing the soil samples, but there have been few opportunities for them to be involved in the other parts of archaeology. Luckily things are turning around for widespread public involvement and funding is now available through the Heritage Lottery Fund (http://www.hlf.org.uk/Pages/Home.aspx) for local communities to set up their own projects to investigate the archaeology on their doorstep.

This is where I come in. I'm (in training) to be the point of contact between the archaeological professionals and the general public. However, it isn't that simple. It is not just a case of filling out a form to get lots of money then plonking a hole in a field and getting members of the public to come a dig for free. The Heritage Lottery Fund is a finite resource and competition for the funds is high so the project has to be one that a) benefits the community and b) increases our existing knowledge of the history/archaeology of an area, with a big focus on community engagement. I will, hopefully, be learning about the whole process from setting up a project, filling out the bid applications, entering the different stages of acceptance, undertaking the project (and all the things that entails), and finally evaluating it when it's completed and writing the reports. As I'm only here for a year it won't be on one project (some can be 5 years long!) but I'll be picking bits out of existing projects to build up a picture of the whole process. I've talked about the HLF but there are other ways community projects can happen, some archaeological companies fund their own, some development companies build it into their contracts (more on that in a different post), and some communities pool together and fund their own, resources can be raised from local businesses, archaeological societies or charitable trusts, but the HLF is the big provider of funds that I am aware of at the moment.

Community Archaeology isn't just about organising large excavation projects spanning many years, it can also be done on a much smaller scale. Quite frequently archaeologists are called on to give public talks or lectures, or set up an exhibition using local finds, or take part in local events with an historical slant; and to me this is all Community Archaeology. Education plays a large part too, and CAT has a fantastic Educational Officer (Marion Green) who has assembled a variety of teaching aids for schools to borrow, most notably the CATKITs and CATBOXes (http://www.canterburytrust.co.uk/learning/resources/cat-kits-loan-service/). The CATKITs are made up of archaeological material which is of no further use to us (mostly unstratified finds) and are designed so children can touch these objects and think about where, and when, they came from. The CATBOXes are slightly different and contain full scale replicas and models of material from the prehistoric to the modern age. These aren't just used in schools but are also taken out to public events and shows so everybody can have the opportunity to 'touch some real archaeology', unlike visiting museums where the artefacts are untouchable. As mentioned above, community archaeology is not tied to excavation either, projects like CSI: Sittingbourne are concerned with the conservation of artefacts which are in dire need to looking after.

There are other aspects to Community Archaeology which will become apparent as this blog continues. I'm just stating my position on what it means to me, other people may have a completely different interpretation of it. I'll do a 'What Community Archaeology means to me now' post at the end of my placement to see if my opinions have changed.

In other news I'm off excavating a potential new Mesolithic (roughly 10,000-5,000 years ago but it depends where you are and who you talk too!) site with Kent County Council so I'm looking forward to that. The dig starts today but I'm having to bow out of at least today because I have severe sunburn from helping deconstruct the marque the Dover Boat was in on Saturday. I'm usually so careful but it caught me out and it's blistered in a horrific manner and I don't want them to burst and get infected. Yuk.

Our Finds Room have been celebrating the Jubilee with a small party and here's a picture of our staff and some of our volunteer finds team enjoying the festivities.

And I went up to London to watch the Royal Pageant go down the River Thames (no pictures sorry, there were too many heads in front of me). But I saw The Queen so I'm happy.

....to be continued....

No comments:

Post a Comment