What Makes an Archaeological Professional? Thoughts on Chartership of the Profession in the UK


This article is based upon a presentation given to the 2021 Conference of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA). It is written for an English archaeological context. To introduce myself, I’m a Senior Heritage Consultant with MCIfA accreditation at an environmental and design consultancy called Arcadis. I’d like to begin by setting out briefly how my career developed in order to provide some context, following which there are a number of strands of thought I’d like to bring together that I think are important to the discussions of chartership and developing the profession.

I graduated from Trinity College Dublin in 2006 with a BA in Ancient History and Archaeology and History of Art and Architecture. While the course title was a quite a mouthful, it came with the delightful abbreviation of AHA HAA which may tickle those of you who have the same terrible dad-joke sense of humour as myself.

I worked for a commercial archaeological company (Headland Archaeology) in Ireland for two years as a field archaeologist and a post-excavation archaeologist, following which I lost my job in the financial crash of 2008. I moved to the UK in 2010 and spent two years working as a field archaeologist for a commercial archaeological unit (Cotswold Archaeology). At the cusp of achieving site supervisor level, I decided for various reasons to change career path and moved to the consultancy department where I spent another two years.

In 2014 I went to work for engineering firm URS which soon after was taken over by AECOM, a similar company. In 2016 I took up a post with Pegasus Planning Group where I worked until 2019 when I took up my current role at Arcadis. In summary, I have had a varied career across two countries which has included commercial archaeological fieldwork and consultancy. The companies I have worked for included commercial archaeological units (some doubling as charitable organisations), engineering/design and environmental consultancies and a planning consultancy.

In this time, I have also taken up a fair few extra-curricular activities including volunteering on a University of Bristol excavation in North Carolina in the USA and acting as Excavation Co-Director for Project Nivica Archaeology in Albania (affiliated with the Cultural Heritage Institute of the Royal Agricultural University). In 2020 I joined the charitable organisation ‘Archaeologists Engage’, an international group which is focused on promoting public engagement in archaeology, by undertaking advocacy within archaeological circles and providing archaeologists with the tools to undertake outreach, as well as organizing direct engagement with the public. I subsequently became a Trustee of the Bristol and Avon Archaeological Society with the aim of contributing to greater public engagement with archaeology in my adopted home of Bristol.

Joining CIfA

I joined CIfA relatively late in my career. Although I had aspired to join for many years during the consultancy phase of my career, I only joined in 2021 at MCIfA level. I think that the main reason I took so long to join was that I often felt pressured or obligated, at times both by myself and external sources, to try to go in straight at MCIfA level. For a long time I was just not ready for that and as a result I started work on an application multiple times only to run out of steam or hit a mental brick wall and not finish it.

With that experience, my advice would be that having any level of CIfA membership is very worthwhile and there is nothing wrong with applying for a grade which comfortably fits your experience level. If you have staff junior to you who want to join CIfA then think about encouraging them to apply for a grade that they can easily get rather than shooting for the highest one possible. They can always upgrade later and there is nothing to be lost by that approach.

In the next sections I will discuss my take on what makes a professional, what chartership means for archaeology and my thoughts on some aspects of the chartership proposals. Then, I will finish up by highlighting areas where we need to improve as a profession, particularly in the context of chartership.

What Makes an Archaeological Professional?

An archaeological professional in the consultancy sphere is someone who has to walk a tightrope on a daily basis. We constantly have to strive to achieve a balance between powerful competing forces. On the one hand, the professional obligation to conserve heritage assets, and on the other our professional obligation to do a good job for our clients. On some lucky occasions these needs align, but more often than not we have to maintain that delicate balancing act between the two.

At different times in my career I have been pulled too far in either direction, and as a result I must be honest and say that I have not always made the right decision in the past. It is only with the benefit of a number of years’ experience under my belt, and the confidence that brings, that I have been able to consistently maintain the balance of professional ethics and to actively push for better outcomes for all sides. I think that this experience and earned knowledge, along with an awareness of the need for balance, are crucial factors in being an archaeological professional in this career pathway (and others too of course, not least commercial archaeological fieldwork).

Another crucial element of being a professional is an understanding of the wider context in which our work is taking place. That context can be of legislation and policy, the particular requirements of a client or council officer, or the impacts that heritage conservation can have for other disciplines such as ecology. This is something which is already widely accepted to be the case and is already accounted for in attaining MCIfA accreditation. I bring it up because this awareness of wider context is something which we as a profession need to develop further, a concept which I will return to shortly.

Why do we want to be chartered?

Generally, we want to become chartered in order to promote recognition of the archaeological profession to the public and to achieve parity with other professions. We should definitely be striving to achieve parity with the other specialists we regularly work alongside, such as geologists or architects, and the previous votes for chartership indicate that most archaeologists agree with this. Certainly, our advice to developers would have more weight when it is seen coming from a chartered professional, something which is not so easy to dismiss. In the chartership proposals there were some mentions of the public and wider society, but nothing concrete. I think that there is a bit of a gap in our aspirations here, which I will discuss in more detail shortly.

How to Become Chartered

A lot of ink has been spilled on this and many people have put forward their viewpoints, so I will just touch on this briefly. While most of us agree that chartership is an important goal, where we have come unstuck is articulating what it means to be a chartered archaeologist and how that should integrate into the existing CIfA framework. The previous proposals, voted down by CIfA members, proposed establishing chartership as a new rung of the ladder added above MCIfA level.

Chartership is a terminal qualification within a profession, but the terminal qualification up to now has been MCIfA. Chartership is an external recognition rather than a specified set of requirements, so it does not seem entirely logical that how we define the terminal qualification in archaeology should now have to radically change. For example, I have outlined previously how professional ethics are already a core pillar for archaeological consultants operating at MCIfA level and there is not a higher level of ethics existing above this.

What this boils down to is that chartership is equivalent to MCIfA but that the logistics of merging the two is extremely difficult. However, a failure to effectively and convincingly tackle this issue, appears to be one of the main reasons that the previous proposals failed to convince the necessary number of CIfA members. How we overcome this issue is an entirely difficult and detailed discussion beyond the scope of this article, so I will move on to other points I’d like to discuss.

What should chartership mean?

I don’t think that achieving chartership will automatically translate to increased awareness of the value of archaeology, something which is highlighted in the previous proposals, although it will certainly lead to greater professional recognition of archaeologists by those working in other professional sectors. To promote greater awareness of the value of archaeology we need to look outward, not inward. The proposed English Planning Reforms mooted by the UK government in 2021 should be a wake-up call to the entire archaeological sector. It is all too easy to let the NPPF become your entire world, but we need to take a step back and remember that archaeology is about much more than current policy, and that policy supports can be pulled out from underneath us at any time.

We can’t simply carry on assuming that archaeological protections will always be there. We can’t assume that the legislative and policy basis which creates the environment in which we define our professionalism will always be there. One of CIfA’s most important roles is lobbying and advocating for archaeology, something which it does well and should be commended for. However, lobbying politicians will become pointless without having public support behind archaeology which will force those politicians to act.

I challenge the archaeology sector as a whole to consider that public engagement should be a core tenet of what it means to be a chartered archaeologist. Some people might rebut that other chartered professions focus on the professional working sphere only and don’t worry about public engagement. This is true, but archaeology is not like many of the other professions that are already chartered. The value of good engineering standards is readily apparent to all – if we reduce engineering standards and protections then structures might fall down. Anyone can understand why that would be bad!

Archaeology, however, needs to constantly prove its worth, appeal to new generations and harness public support to push back against attempts to water down archaeological protections. I acknowledge that this is a simplistic depiction of nuanced issues and that other sectors can face somewhat similar issues (ecology for example), but for archaeology it is clear that promoting public understanding of its value is of paramount and central importance to our profession.

It is simply not good enough for professional archaeologists to sit back and focus on only the professional sphere, leaving all the heavy lifting of public engagement to other parts of the heritage sector (often voluntary or poorly-funded). We need to all pull our weight and do our part to ensure that public support remains behind archaeology, so that our heritage stays protected and we can all keep doing the jobs that we value so highly. Consultants in particular should not run screaming from the mere mention of “communal value” of a heritage asset! Our jobs in consultancy would not exist without the outreach and engagement work being done by archaeologists in other career paths, including volunteering archaeologists and enthusiastic amateurs. I must stress here that there are many professional archaeologists already doing outreach and my comments are not intended to take away from the great work which is already taking place!

So, I think that we need to move forward with conversations on how we can better integrate the concept of engagement into chartership – whether it is merged with MCIfA level or whether it becomes an element which distinguishes a separate chartership level from MCIfA. Engagement requirements could be integrated with the regular proposed reviews of CPD for chartered archaeologists which was suggested in the previous proposals. What form this engagement should take, whether it is simply promoting archaeology on Social Media, getting involved in a local society or making our clients more aware of the positive benefits of engagement, is something which needs to be debated and discussed in more detail.

Accessibility and Diversity

Moving on to another important point for the future of the discipline, which is accessibility and diversity. The archaeological sector has a problematic lack of diversity, and in consultancy the issue is so severe that it makes the rest of the sector look good. As university educations become more expensive and less accessible to some groups of people, it is good to see that non-university routes into archaeological careers are being explored, most notably via apprenticeships schemes. I think that these routes need to be developed further in future and that it is very important for CIfA to lay out a clear career pathway from apprenticeship or NVQ through to chartership (which I understand is currently being developed).

I don’t think that it is fair to exclude archaeologists with extensive field experience from attaining chartership because they did not have the opportunity to go to university. I also do not think that the lack of a university degree should prevent someone becoming a project officer, archaeological manager or a consultant, provided they can demonstrate that they possess the necessary skills and experience to do the job.

Concluding Thoughts

Well done if you have made it this far in the article (although I understand if you may have skipped to the end!). In summary, I think that we should be striving to attain chartership for individual archaeologists across different career paths and that as a sector we all need to look up from our individual trenches to better understand our wider context and to do more to promote archaeology as a whole to the public. After all, archaeology is all about people and without them, what’s the point?

Donal Lucey is an Irish archaeologist with a background in commercial fieldwork in the UK and Ireland. His particular areas of interest are the transition from the Late Roman Empire to the Early Medieval period in Britain and the development of early Christianity in North-West Europe. Donal is passionate about promoting public engagement with archaeology and increasing the accessibility and diversity of archaeology as a profession.

On the Importance of Archives

On “The Nobody zone” and the importance of archives

I have recently enjoyed listening to the podcast “The Nobody Zone” by RTE Doc on One and Third Ear Productions. Enjoyed is a relative term, as the podcast uncovers the harsh and lawless life of the homeless in London, and especially the life of many Irish migrants. But the podcast is brilliant in so many ways, and it inspired me to write about the importance of archives. If you haven’t listened to it already (and you should!), it centers on Kieran Kelly, a homeless Irishman who killed at least two people, probably more, in London. He was in and out of prison and mental institutions and was acquitted of murder and murder attempts, before being convicted of two murders in the early 80’s and sentenced to life. He died in 2001.

One of the things I loved most about the podcast, is that they talk a lot about HOW they find information. The series is well-researched, and we are taken on a journey spanning several decades, from the rural Midlands of Ireland in the 1930s, to descendants of Irish immigrants in today’s London. The podcast would not have been possible without the information gleaned from public records and archives. Luckily, some of the institutions have well-kept records that allow the journalists to find long-forgotten pieces of important information. Other lines of inquiry simply come to an end because the relevant archives have been thrown away. This is the case with some supposed suicides on the London underground from the 60’s and 70’s: Coroner’s reports have been destroyed to save space.

National Archives, London

How is this relevant to archaeology?

Most of us archaeologists will work with archives at some point in our career. We might work with finds and excavation reports from the 19th century or even earlier, and it is crucial that these are preserved and accessible.

I spent a lot of time researching the Irish Viking-age silver hoards and their locations. Finding information about the exact location was crucial to prove that the hoards were in fact found in connection to Irish and Norse settlements, and not in remote locations away from settlements. This would not have been possible without reading the descriptions of the finds in archives. Much time was spent in the Royal Irish Academy library in Dublin and the topographical archives at the National Museum of Ireland. The topographical archive is typical of museums, where finds and information are sorted by counties and placenames. Many of the finds were never reported to the museum, and the only information about the find is a short description in 19th century publications by the Royal Irish Academy. If these records and archives were lost, the research would not have been possible.

Reading Room in the Royal Irish Academy library, Dublin

Why is destroying archives a bad idea?

The destruction of archives should simply not happen. If keeping the actual physical records is not possible, it should be mandatory to digitalize the documents so that they are preserved that way. One might say that being unable to do archaeological research is not the end of the world, but this has repercussions for everyone. Documents pertaining to your social welfare and health might be destroyed or not kept or made in the first place.

A tragic example is the destruction of documents relating to immigration to the UK from the Caribbean Commonwealth colonies. Many people lost their only proof of entry to the country, and now risk not having legal status and citizenship in the UK. All because their disembarkation cards from the 50’s and 60’s were purposefully destroyed, despite the warnings from caseworkers at The Home Office. The Immigration Act of 1971 granted indefinite residency to people who were in the country at that time, but a registry of who this concerned was never made. A person’s arrival date is crucial to a citizenship application, but according to the more recent, stricter immigration rules people need to prove their residency. But how can they when the government destroyed the proof? People of the so-called “Windrush-generation” have been denied passports and even cancer treatment. Read more:

Home Office destroyed Windrush landing cards, says ex-staffer | Commonwealth immigration | The Guardian

Sometimes archives are deliberately destroyed to hide the truth, as with the willed destruction of sensitive papers from Britain’s late colonial era to hide knowledge of crime and repression from post-independent governments and prevent this information becoming public, as reported by The Guardian:

Britain destroyed records of colonial crimes | National Archives | The Guardian

Revealed: the bonfire of papers at the end of Empire | National Archives | The Guardian


Archives matter to all of us, especially to those already marginalized. They matter to journalists and they matter to researchers of all disciplines. Archive destruction can have dangerous effects on people’s lives. Archivists make decisions as to whether to keep or throw away all the time, and archivists in Norway have already warned that they need help from researchers, such as historians, to decide what they/we need to keep, in order to do research in the future. Especially considering that most archives now are digital. Read more: Teleskopet til fortiden (forskerforum.no)

Sometimes, the documents in the archives can be the only source of information. A fire in the Danish national archives in Copenhagen in 1728 destroyed important documents, including the archives from the great Norwegian monasteries on their property and holdings. One of the reasons we can research monastic history today, is because the Danish steward in Norway at the time realized the need to create a registry of the old monastic documents. He contacted the Danish king, who sent two scribes to make a registry of the monastic archives before they were sent from Oslo to Copenhagen in 1622. This record, “Akershusregisteret”, survives and is an important source to monastic history in medieval Norway. Archives for the win!

Linn Marie Krogsrud is a Norwegian archaeologist. She works as a heritage advisor for Buskerud County Municipality and is a member of ArchaeologistsEngage.

Open Address

Tuesday June 2nd 2020 was a day of solidarity around the world.

However we at Archaeologists Engage are aware that we must not show allyship on just one day, there must be a commitment in the international heritage sector, which facilitates access to the interpretation of history to do more, ongoing.

Yesterday we posted a statement about what we believed we could do to be better in our field of archaeology and cultural heritage. We wanted to share this on a more permanent platform with you all, as something of a mission statement.

As ARCHAEOLOGISTS and cultural heritage professionals we have a particular opportunity to bring about change in the narrative. We work internationally, across the world, cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary. We can help stop discrimination.

What can we do?

  • We can ensure diversity in our research institutions.
  • We can ensure diverse excavation teams.
  • We can be inclusive of community groups and indigenous communities when planning projects.
  • We can be inclusive of community groups and indigenous communities when planning projects.
  • We can amplify the voices of local archaeologists.
  • We can counter misinformation.
  • We can ENGAGE more with our communities.
  • We can ENGAGE more with our communities.
  • We can acknowledge the politicisation of our work.
  • We can become involved in education programmes.
  • We can highlight and work with charities to provide access to heritage and about heritage to minority or disadvantaged communities.
  • We can highlight misinterpretation in past work.
  • We can call out problems.
  • We can tell the stories that need telling.
  • We can empower individuals.
  • We can empower communities.

As educators, researchers, institutions, cultural centres, community activists, volunteers, professionals…..

  • We can do more
  • We can make discrimination out of date


Thank you for reading and engaging!

Dr Tathagata Neogi, Dr Belinda Tibbetts, Linn Marie Krogsrud, Emily Wapshott

Science Communication as a chance to Shape Research Perception

News from science and about research has become a regular part of today’s mediascape, and public outreach is considered an important component of universities’ and research institutions’ communication strategies. Hinting at the peculiar importance of science communication thus must seem like a platitude. Yet still there is quite noticeable debate about the question whether or not scientists should actively participate in the communication of (their own) research. It would be absurd and surely counterproductive to construct ‘communication pressure’, but the benefits (for both sides) of active science communication are worth pointing this out again.

In archaeology our work and research are enjoying particular and remarkably large public interest – as proven by a quick glance into any newspaper stand and bookstall or respective TV shows. The market for popular scientific contributions to archaeological and historical topics has become almost unmanageably large. However, all too often next to this interest in archaeology in general, lots of clichés and stereotypes seem to dominate these popular accounts. The public image of archaeology and archaeologists is characterized by object-focussed treasure hunt, romanticized adventure, and bravado.

It seems that there is no lack of communication of archaeological subjects. It is just not necessarily coming from the researchers themselves and not always covering the topics we would prioritize or emphasize. Of course it is absolutely reasonable and most welcome to have journalists covering matters of science and reporting on the work of researchers. Actually, this is explicitly desirable. But journalists are very much depending on the willingness of said researchers to cooperate – and to communicate. Actually, this is where active science communication starts. It is absolutely legitimate (and sometimes even necessary) to leave this task of translating research results into comprehensible language to professional communicators.

Concisely conveying complex topics (especially those occupying a significant period of one’s time) can be a challenge – to scientists as much as to everybody else. Problems arise when specialists start drawing back from public discourse, leaving depiction and discussion of research data to others completely. This creates a gap. A gap that is being bridged by others then. Interest in and demand for information remain – indifferent of an active communication offer coming from science itself (or not). Research data will still be mediated and interpreted … but now without the active reflection and (where necessary) correction of those who produced these data. If this is the case, science and researchers are voluntarily and incautiously giving up relevance in shaping the perception of their own research narratives.

Archaeology may be looking back into the past, but it never seems to lose relevance for present topical debates – as repeated coupling of archaeological / historical data and current events in daily media reporting suggests. Yet monocausal models proposing essential impact of, for example changing climate, on social systems up to (allegedly) failure of past cultures are reducing complex data to occasional single occurrences. Or the correlation of current discussions about migration with the results of ancient DNA analyses from a limited number of prehistoric burials which are – often not further commented – brought up to provide historical depth to an otherwise momentary debate, but leave out many other relevant (and from case to case rather individual) factors. Instead this conjunction revives nationalist images of a 19th century archaeology, narratives the discipline believed to have abandoned long ago. Narratives of this kind are often based on over-simplified explanations, but once more they also emphasize the general interest in such reporting. And there always remains a chance to correct such narratives.

More serious than ideas going back to deficient information are those blank spaces which are seized by communicators with a specific agenda. In the worst and most extreme case the partial, uncommented, and out of context emphasis of single cultural phenomena or hyper-diffusionist analogies establishes and deepens pseudoscientific narratives. Narratives for instance, claiming that (pre)historic or indigenous cultural achievements were not coming from these peoples themselves, but from mythical super races of the past or from extra-terrestrial beings – as was proposed for the Neolithic megaliths of Stonehenge, the Egyptian pyramids, or the colossal Moai sculptures at Rapa Nui to just name a few. The subtext of all this mystification in the end always leads to racism; ‘Alternative’ explanations would be the only logically right ones since such ‘primitive’ cultures hardly could have been able to accomplish these achievements.

Such made-up theses are particularly dubious from an ethical point of view, since they can be, and actually are, used to justify and legitimize political-extremist positions. This was illustrated for instance recently with a revival of the (highly controversial and problematic) ’Solutrean Hypothesis’ among the US Alt-Right movement. According to this hypothesis the first human occupation of the American continent during the Upper Paleolithic about 13,000 years ago was emerging from Europe and not from Asia via the Bering Strait – thus ethnically white Europeans were the real Native Americans, including all related rights to land etc. Of course, such claims can hardly withstand a scientific examination, but the narrative exists and is being spread. Replacing the vague concept of ‘white European’ with Vikings or Germanic people or Aryans in other variations of this lore opens up an even larger canon of related examples – effectively illustrating that scientists are not relieved from their obligation of publishing and delivering raw data, but that there also is need for an interpretational framework to provide these data with some context.

Science communication means social responsibility, science communication means to help avoid misunderstandings, to counter unknowingly, but also especially purposefully, misleading narratives. The public does have an interest in our work. Which is not only good, but essential for legitimizing research – which, at least in the humanities, is often paid for from public funds. Naturally this means that the public also has a right to be informed about this research, that science and scientists on the other hand have the obligation to inform, to communicate about their research. If not directly to a public audience, then necessarily through mediators like journalists. It is time to understand science communication as a genuine part of research, and to plan research staff and projects accordingly. Science communication is not a chore, it is a chance. The chance to shape and change the perception of our work, of research in general and archaeology in particular – and its relevance for society.

Jens Notroff studied Prehistoric Archaeology, History, and Journalism in Berlin. His is in particular interested in Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeology and cultural heritage protection. He is currently working on his dissertation about the miniature swords of the Northern Central European Bronze Age and is a research assistant in the German Archaeological Institute’s Göbekli Tepe research project.

Oliver Dietrich studied Prehistoric Archaeology in Berlin. His research focus lies in the Near Eastern Neolithic and the Bronze Age particularly of southeast Europe. He is currently writing a dissertation about the socketed axes from Romania and is a research assistant at the German Archaeological Institute’s Göbekli Tepe research project.

(This text was first published 9th November 2018 in German at wissenschaftskommunikation.de)

Communicating heritage at Hadrian’s Wall

As an archaeologist, it seems inevitable that one ends up spending one’s holidays exploring heritage. Preferably in combination with hiking and other outdoor activities, and in the company of others who enjoy the same. This summer, I had the pleasure of hiking Hadrian’s Wall in northern England with a family member. This proved to be an exciting opportunity to compare my impression of how the heritage is communicated with that of a non-heritage professional.

Hadrian’s Wall is inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. It was built around AD 122 by the emperor Hadrian, and is an impressive stone wall that stretches from the mouth of the River Tyne in the east to Solway Firth in the west, more than 130 km. When it was finished, it consisted of a high wall with a ditch and forts, towers and garrisons at regular intervals. Today many sections of the Wall are gone, while others have been rebuilt at a later date.

We started our journey near Brampton in Cumbria, and hiked for three days before ending up at Chollerford in Northumberland. We stopped at the garrison at Birdoswald and spent half a day at the Vindolanda museum and excavations. The communication strategy at the Wall is thorough. Most features such as towers have signs with illustration of what it would have looked like in AD 122, and information about the construction of the Wall.

A section of the Wall at Hare Hill.
Illustration of a watchtower.
The remains of a watchtower.

The information and illustrations paint a vivid image of what it was like to be a Roman soldier working there. Visitors are really taken back in time and given a sense of the magnitude of the building process. This is an impression shared by both of us hikers. The signs and exhibitions also gave an insight into the cultural melting pot that was the Roman army. The Mithras temple is an excellent example of this. Mithras was a deity that was worshipped in the Roman army, and later gave way to Christianity.

The Mithras temple along the wall at Carrawburgh.

In addition to shedding light on life at the Wall, you are also presented with information about what happened to the Wall after the Romans left, how it was used as building material and the ‘rediscovery’ of the Wall in modern times. This gives a sense of continuity and links to the past that are very valuable. On many archaeological sites, the archaeological record is seen as completely distinct from the present.

The Vindolanda museum in particular has done an amazing job bringing Roman Britain to life, with its display of artefacts, such as the Vindolanda writing tablets, in combination with video installations and models of how objects would have been used. The exhibition takes particular care not only to display the show-stoppers, but also to display artefacts showing everyday life. The Vindolanda museum also included displays of life as an archaeologist, including an ‘evidence room’.

A showcase at the Roman museum at Vindolanda.

Excavations on site are still ongoing, and all visitors can visit the excavation and get information from the archaeologists on site. On the grounds, one can see a reconstructed Roman tower of timber and stone, to see how well the towers would have kept. This was a refreshing angle that gave a sense of the grandeur of the constructions.

Wall recreations at Vindolanda.

All in all, Hadrian’s Wall is very accessible. Both in terms in how it is communicated and how to get there. A shuttle bus continuosly services the major sites, museums and Wall sections, meaning that everyone can get there. Plenty of reading material and maps are available, so you can explore the Wall at your own leisure.

The history of the Wall was mostly seen from a Roman perspective. I did wonder if the signs would have been different had they been written from a native ‘British’ perspective. Just imagine if some strangers built a wall through your field?

One thing I did miss was more information about the other parts of the construction that comprised the Wall. Although some signs mentioned the ditch running alongside the Wall. It would have been even more impressive if more than the actual wall was maintained and signposted. In some fields it was possible to discern the ditch and other earthworks –  these should have been marked with signs of their own. This notion was not shared by the non-heritage hiker.

Explore Hadrian’s Wall for yourself:



Linn Marie Krogsrud is a Norwegian archaeologist. She works as a heritage advisor for Buskerud County Municipality and is a member of ArchaeologistsEngage.

Introducing Confusion2.0: Who owns our heritage?

One of the most ambitious projects that Heritage Walk Calcutta has been itching to take on is engaging students in heritage conservation. As a part of the three-day FUTURE (T)HERE International Youth Conference On Sustainable Living 2018, Heritage Walk Calcutta’s team worked with kids from Calcutta, Guwahati, and Kharagpur, discussing the legalities of conserving Calcutta’s built heritage. This conference, hosted by the Goethe Institut, Kolkata, was a perfect opportunity to help the students question the definitions and facts and rote learning that are often the bane of history classes. Asking individual students about their own understandings of words like ‘heritage’, ‘community’, ‘sustainability’, ‘conservation’, or ‘ownership’ — and even ‘old’, ‘ancient’, and ‘modern’ – brought to the fore the general confusion around what heritage means. The fact that Grandma’s old recipe book can also be a part of an individual’s heritage helped them come to terms with ideas of private and public ownership of heritage, and how ‘old’ things or ‘ancient’ artefacts are not the only ones worthy of being ‘heritage’.

On a personal level, it amazes me how little I learned about the general history of Bengal and Calcutta in school. We knew all about the Indian Independence Movement, the Harappan civilization, and even bits and pieces about Hitler and the World Wars. What was sorely lacking from my education was the concept that being a part of history was not an honour meant only for the nobles or elites, the gallants or villains. Instead, it is about you and me, our grandparents, our families, our letters, and the spaces we inhabit. The area now known as Calcutta was not transformed in the span of a day by the efforts of Job Charnock.  Beginning from fishing hamlets, rivers and creeks, and a Pilgrim’s Path that goes back centuries before Calcutta got its name, the developmental history of the region has often taken a backseat in the face of its colonial and postcolonial narratives.

During the conference, we introduced the students to the city, its history, and why it is how it is – all through visual mediums including maps, old photographs, and paintings. Before they could doze off to the hum of the projector, we led them out into the open and headed to Dalhousie Square on the first day of the workshop. They were suitably impressed on learning how St. John’s Church was built on an old burial ground, how it was overcrowded because of the high mortality among the first waves of Europeans visiting Calcutta in the 1700s, and how malaria, one of the many killers of the time, would be treated using mercury and bloodletting, often killing the sick anyway. St. John’s Church also happens to house Job Charnock’s Mausoleum, whose architecture is anything but European. We were pleasantly surprised when the kids correctly surmised that the local architects of the time probably did not know how to build European-style architecture, and that was the reason for its Indian design.

Heritage walk at Dalhousie Square on Day 1 of the workshop

The next morning the kids were excited about the prospect of another walk, this time to the sites around Kumartuli. The workshop was designed to let them observe the differences in the state of conservation of the built environment in various sections of the city. Our primary aim was to show them places they would not normally have access to, or even notice; by walking the streets, they learned to be more observant and empathetic to the needs of the spaces they populate.

The questions started pouring in once we started walking around Upper Chitpore Road, beginning near Bagbazar Ghat and ending at the Bhagyakul Roy Family Mansions. One of the children’s questions that stayed with me was: “Why should we preserve this building which apparently has no significance other than this woodwork sculpture on top? Why not keep that in a museum, and make the housing conditions more liveable?” This leads us to a larger question – what about creating community museums in Calcutta, or even a Calcutta Museum? Is the single gallery in Victoria Memorial sufficient for our future generations to fall back on? Why should we expect them to fall back on dusty papers and government documents in corridors full of bureaucratic red tape? Should the history of our city, the one we live in, not be available to the people of the city in a form that is relatable, understandable, and memorable?

The author simplified important aspects of the city’s heritage law for the students

On returning to the Goethe Institut, we had the children dissect the Kolkata Municipal Corporation’s mandates on heritage buildings, including snippets from the KMC Act of 1980. The task was to determine the specific legalities that could be used to improve the situation of the buildings we had seen on the walks, and how the law could be modified to be more flexible and sustainable in the long run. The students were divided into groups of threes and fours so that each could work on a different aspect or site for their final presentation.

It is sometimes distressing when innovation and creativity has to end in an action-oriented audience presentation in a short period of time, but the students masterfully dealt with the twin challenges of time and content. During the prep hour, their questions and concerns started pouring in: who owned the buildings; who owned the artefacts; should there be a dedicated museum for the communities; why are some buildings well-restored while others are falling apart; how can an estate be owned in the name of a god; why do the authorities not accept help from private citizens or involve the community; how can the community come together to achieve the sustainable conservation of sections of the city; and so on and so forth. It was humbling for me to see how much they had understood and unearthed in the short span of one and a half days. Amidst the volley of facts and stories and the sensory overload, the students had found breathing space from their rigorous academic pursuits to pursue lines of independent questioning about their own heritage.

To tie all of the lessons together, the last day of the conference included a visit to the community associations and Taoist temples in the Old Chinatown near Tiretti Bazar, Poddar Court. The community here draws their lineage from five different villages in the Guangzhou region of southern China. The descendants of people from each village have their own club and temple. As a classic example of community engagement, Mr. Lee from the Sei Vui temple and community association talked to the children about the origins of the club and the history of the Chinese immigrants, who were historically an important trading and industrial community in Calcutta. The club dormitory, which served as a resting place for new immigrants from Sei Vui village in the early 1900s, has recently been repurposed into a restaurant. As an excellent example of the reuse of heritage spaces, this visit reinforced the idea that heritage conservation is very possible for the people of this city and those who care about it.

Mr Lee, the Secretary of the Sei Vui Club in Old Chinatown discusses the history of the Chinese community and how the Club members plan to preserve their heritage

For their final presentations, the three groups of students created: a quiz; a legal review of the current state of certain buildings; and a status report on the state of conservation of different sections of the city. While Group 1 worked on a trivia quiz on historically significant structures, they also came up with questions like “Who owns heritage? And what is our role in conservation?” They did a great job of putting our thoughts into words and presenting them to the parents and teachers who came to participate. Group 2 did a review of Madan Mohan Tala, buildings in various stages of dilapidation on Fancy Lane, and a house located on Upper Chitpore Road. They worked with the varying aspects of ownership and how certain legal functions of a temple estate are different from those of a corporate or private owner. I am glad they decided to work on an oft-misunderstood aspect of the conservation efforts around the city. The members of the third group presented a grading of sites according to their level of risk, regardless of their ownership. They focused on the relevance of heritage sectors in a city, where magnificent structures with forgotten owners deserve to be saved too. Highlighting places like Bishnuram Chakrabarti’s Shibtala and St John’s Church in various stages of the conversation spoke to how much they had retained, both in terms of facts and figures and their visual impressions, including architectural details.

Group 2 worked with varying aspects of ownership and how certain legal functions of a temple estate are different from those of a corporate or private owner

It is difficult to put into words how glad I am to have met these children who worked hard and convinced the general populace that ‘doing’ heritage and heritage walks is a gratifying and necessary objective for a concerned citizen. While it was fun to work with the kids, I have concerns about whether our social bias of pushing children to study science and technology will let them accomplish their own goals of heritage conservation, however small they may be. It also brought forward how the legalities involved in heritage efforts need to be simplified, and that the communities around heritage structures can themselves engage in collecting funds, formulating plans, and giving shape to conservation efforts. A lot remains to be done in terms of heritage identification and mapping, before steps can be taken to ameliorate the condition of the built heritage in the city. Bringing the people of the city together by creating a common digital platform for them to locate and document our built heritage is a very real dream for us. Petitioning the municipal body to disentangle the legalities of grading heritage buildings, or even clarifying the community’s role in sustaining any heritage conservation efforts will help the community come to terms with their heritage and rights to it. This city and the people have a lot of fight left in them. We would like to give their and their children’s hopes a place to find fruition.

Acknowledgements: Goethe Institut-Kolkata, Suvodeep Saha, Srinanda Ganguli, and Chelsea McGill.

Disclaimer: All images used in this post are the ownership of Heritage Walk Calcutta and may not be used without proper permission.

Pritha Mukherjee is a Research and Development Associate at Heritage Walk Calcutta.

In this great Future, we cannot forget our Past

My first experience with archaeology was through the Young Archaeologists Club in the Netherlands: as a young teenager, we could actually go excavate every weekend, discover artefacts and document those, while the lead archaeologist would turn all of that into a good story. I remember spending weekends in a castle, cleaning sherds, and trying to reconstruct pots. The best thing was having the area around the castle for ourselves in the evenings. This way of working with archaeology was about getting a personal thrill, a satisfaction, discovering and learning new things. It did not take long until we started explaining to passers-by about the exciting things from the past we had just found out. Maybe we were attention seekers in the beginning, but our stories improved and so did our methods. We learned to try out how we believed people in the past had cooked, fought, worked, not just to test our ideas, but also to tell others.

Open-air museum at Oerlinghausen, Germany

I then went to university and there it hit me: many people do research (that is what they teach you there), but the question “why do you do this?” is not often asked. Is it personal satisfaction? I got the question at my next university, though. After gaining my MA, I started working in a museum. I was eager to go tell complete strangers about what I had learned at university, from books and excavations. My museum colleagues however had different methods to do research and also different stories with mixed qualities. Now, I learned very fast not to become the Authenticity Police but help these colleagues in doing simple but effective research. It is very important that literature has become more accessible in recent years, and is not monopolized by scientists. Many archaeologists have become more approachable for the public. Even if ten percent of those approaching scientists may be difficult cases, we should not turn ourselves away from the other ninety percent.

These museums are good at quite a lot of things, but if it would be a bit better structured, so much more value would come out of it. I feel that these museums are very much in the air, not linked well with science on the one hand and with the public on the other. So I went back to university, and did a PhD in archaeological open-air museums. On my first day there, I got the question: “do I want to do research to pursue an academic career (ivory tower) or is my intention to use what I learn in the real world?” I believe there are enough archaeologists out there doing research, but if we do not make the insights we gain from that available to the public, then why do research, except for personal satisfaction?

My position, I feel, is in-between: sitting in a museum, I can help get the message across to the public, but without underlying research, these stories are worthless. That is why I am part of an international network, called EXARC. This is an international networking organization for Archaeological Open-Air Museums, Experimental Archaeology, Ancient Technology and Interpretation. EXARC aims to improve professional standards and promote professional ethics. We provide advice, information, practical tools and learning opportunities to our members. We issue publications and provide opportunities for members to meet. Finally, EXARC actively represents the interests of its members.
Experienced people or newbies, all are working with reconstructing the past. Our membership (300 members across 40 countries) includes Lofotr in Norway, Guédelon in France, Saalburg in Germany, and Butser in the UK. We are a very mixed group of people and organisations including scientists, museums, craftspeople, teachers and actors. More information about EXARC, including an open access Journal with hundreds of articles, can be found at: https://exarc.net.

As EXARC director, I facilitate our members, showing them where in our network to find the answers, the resources and ideas for quality research and dissemination. We believe in open access, not only online, but also the chance for outsiders to step into our bubble and ask questions, join us in conferences, workshops or writing their first serious research article and publishing with us. The strength of EXARC is our diversity. We decided very early we do not want to be an exclusive club of museum directors only, but an inclusive network, somewhere at the edge of the establishment and those who rather step off the beaten path.

Our aim is to improve the stories told to the public: not just making sure the latest archaeological research is reflected in the museums and at festivals, but also how professionally these stories are told. One can have a brilliant professor orating for an hour but he should be a good researcher, actor and teacher, all in one person. You do not find such people easily. And there is more to it: it is not just about the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which in a museum context means that if there is no good coffee and toilets, people will not be able to pick up the message you try to share with them because physiological needs are not met. It is also about simple things, like you may have a great story to tell, but how do you reach your potential audience, how do you convince them to come and see you?

I started with archaeology because of the great stories about the people who were here before us. I however believe there are much greater researchers and better storytellers in this world. With EXARC, we create the tools; we master the logistics of how to get these stories across. Janus Bifrons was a Roman god. He was the patron of our Young Archaeologists Club; god of beginnings, transitions and endings, he looks in two directions.

I am fully convinced that if you look in only one direction, you will hit your head hard, very hard. We should work together towards a well-informed presentation of the past to the public, with relevance to the present. That is the only way to catch the attention of the audience and enable them to learn something useful from the past.

Roeland Paardekooper is Director of the ICOM Affiliated Organisation EXARC (International Organisation of Archaeological Open-Air Museums and Experimental Archaeology).

Heritage Walk for Hearing Impaired Children (UNESCO)

On 27th March 2017, Heritage Walk Calcutta, in collaboration with Made in Bengal and ArchaeologistsEngage, hosted the year’s first GoUNESCO Make Heritage Fun event in Kolkata, India. Make Heritage Fun is a global initiative by GoUNESCO, aimed at celebrating local culture—simultaneously, across the world. This campaign provides a platform for heritage and culture enthusiasts to share local heritage with others in their community. In Calcutta, we organized an event to help children with hearing-related disabilities explore Calcutta’s history through a guided and assisted 2-hour walking tour inside the compound of St. John’s Church, one of the oldest in the city. For this event, we were proud to work with the Ideal School for the Deaf, located in Salt Lake, Kolkata. 26 of their students from 6th to 10th grade (12-17 years old) and 6 teachers actively participated in this event. The tour was led by Tathagata Neogi, an archaeologist and the co-founder of Heritage Walk Calcutta, and translated into sign language by the accompanying teachers.

After the walking tour, we asked the children to create a work of art about what they learned during the walk.  When ready, these paintings/sketches will be shared through our online platforms and displayed during an exhibition at the Ideal School for the Deaf later this year.


The accessibility of historic sites is an issue that has not been widely addressed globally. While some countries have recently passed legislation to ensure the accessibility of major historic sites for various groups with disabilities, this issue has not been systematically addressed in India, despite the country’s rich tangible and intangible heritage, and large population of people with disabilities. By conducting a heritage walk specifically aimed at children with hearing-related disabilities under the GoUNESCO Make Heritage Fun umbrella, we at Heritage Walk Calcutta wanted to start a discussion about the issue of accessibility in India’s historic sites. Heritage Walk Calcutta and our collaborators believe in a common, shared heritage, which members of disabled communities have an equal right to access.


Heritage Walk Calcutta approached GoUNESCO about hosting this event under the Make Heritage Fun umbrella at the end of February. The original plan was to provide a bus tour of several major heritage sites for school children. When GoUNESCO approved our application to host an event, this idea was further refined in the hope of addressing accessibility issues in Indian heritage sites. At this time, our collaborators, Made in Bengal and Archaeologists Engage, came on board to provide support for the event. The idea of a bus tour was abandoned in favour of a walking tour to increase the experiential value of the event, and to give ample time for the children to connect with a single historic site in a deeper way.

The St. John’s Church complex was chosen as the venue because of its central location and historical importance as the first Anglican Cathedral of Calcutta. The church compound also houses the graves of Job Charnock, the “founder” of the city, and some other important East India Company personalities from the city’s very early days. The Church complex is also a protected site under the Archaeological Survey of India, which is a perfect setting to start discussions about the accessibility of heritage sites, and which does not have any restrictions on entry. Finally, since the children have hearing-related disabilities, the church compound provided safety from the fast moving traffic on some busiest streets in Kolkata, just outside the walls.

After this plan was finalized, we approached the Ideal School for the Deaf through a common friend. Their authorities were very enthusiastic about the event. We discussed our plan with the head of the institute and other faculty members to come up with an accessible narrative for the children. The school requested that the event be done on Monday, March 27th, rather than on Sunday, which was the day of the international event. GoUNESCO very kindly agreed to let us host the event on this alternate day to make it easier for the children to attend, since many of them come from very far distances to attend the school. The Friday before the event, Tathagata made a presentation at the school to give the children some historical context through pictures and paintings, with translation into sign language. This also provided us, the students, and the teachers with a warm-up run for the event.

To ensure the accessibility of the information during the walking tour, we prepared visual aids for the children. This included print outs of important names, dates and numbers in large fonts and visible colours. Tathagata also spoke slowly in Bangla so that the children, who are experts in lip-reading, could get some information immediately, without waiting for the translation. Both Tathagata and the teacher who was interpreting stood on higher ground whenever possible throughout the tour so that all of the children could easily see them. A small welcome kit was also provided for the children and their teachers, which included a bottle of water and some snacks.


The issue of the accessibility of historic sites is very close to our hearts at Heritage Walk Calcutta. We believe that, while one-off events like these can spark a discussion, this talk will die out if it is not regularly followed up by similar events and workshops. Heritage Walk Calcutta is therefore committed to making significant contributions to this discussion by organizing follow-up events for various disabled groups and by working with different stakeholders to make heritage sites more accessible for disabled communities.

Heritage Walk Calcutta is an academic-run company in Kolkata that aims to increase awareness of heritage in the community by connecting scholars and the common people through walking tours and workshops.


The event would not be possible without the active support of our various collaborators and GoUNESCO. Here, I briefly introduce our collaborators and thank them for their support.

Ideal School for the Deaf: Established in 1967 by the Society for the Deaf, the school functions as a not for profit institution to provide free education for hearing impaired children. The organization is based out of Salt Lake Sector I, Kolkata, India. The school caters to students from all backgrounds in the Kolkata area and beyond.

Made in Bengal: ‘Made in Bengal.in’ is a digital platform for any product/service made by the people of Bengal..in Bengal…for the people of the world. The Made in Bengal team constantly work with artists, artisans and weavers to innovate in order to keep traditional techniques intact! The aim is to bring on more artists, manufacturers, designers, weavers, musicians, theatre artists, and so on, to this single e-platform and reach out to the world with our products, culture, art and cuisine.

ArchaeologistsEngage: An independent non-profit group of archaeologists who came together to enable engagement between professionals and the public.

Typology of Heritage Utopia: Some essentials on the good heritage experience

As conductors of heritage mediation, we are often enrolled in a tale about the increasing need for making heritage experiences popular and relevant. As solutions, this discourse usually brings forward newest technologies, active participation in ‘living history’ and critical constructivist learning approaches. What seems missed, is that ‘traditional’ monumental heritage experiences still are the most visited heritage attractions, and that there is a large heritage consuming segment seeking passive and meditative experiences (as passive consumers of heritage exhibitions and through recent movements such as ‘slow-tourism’, ‘digital detox’ and ‘micro-adventure’) (Hansen 2016: 24, 80). The simple ‘being’ in a heritage environment has great value for many. In relation, we need to recognize how heritage affects our very basic tactile senses: the experience of drinking a beer is different (better) in for example the square of a medieval town than a 70s concrete building in a capital suburb.

The background for this paper, is my PhD thesis on medieval heritage experiences in Northern Europe. The project had the purpose of developing heritage industry in the Danish region of West Zealand: a region with remarkable medieval heritage and good conditions in tourism and infrastructure, but with very little budget set for attraction development (Hansen 2016). Thus, the project aimed to develop methods to detect experience attributes carried mainly by the heritage itself. In the project more than forty heritage attractions were studied. The most popular and engaging attractions had a wide extent of idiosyncratic physiognomy to it, which carries experience potentials far beyond just attracting many visitors, and much stronger than what technology and learning strategies can bring (Hansen 2016: 132ff.).

Instead of approaching these matters via the theories that have become traditional in heritage studies – the so called ‘critical’ or ‘new’ (e.g. Hooper-Greenhill 2013; Smith 2015) – I turned the theoretical attention towards thinkers on the ways ‘historical space’ is created emotionally and physically.  In particular, I found great use of Jörn Rüsen and his ‘five dimensions of historical culture’ (Rüsen 2013) and Gernot Böhme’s atmosphere theory (Böhme 1995).

The theories and attraction data led to the idea that the essentials of good heritage experiences is the Utopia of heritage: heritage (at a certain preservation state) is too good to be true – it has survived the most apocalyptic force of all, time. Moreover, it is the closest we get to communicating with the world beyond. These two factors make heritage divine and Utopian, and are what heritage experience attributes are created from (Hansen 2016: 56-58, 73-80). However, the features reflecting Utopia, differ in the various types of heritage. Hence, the typology below is an attempt to describe the different features.

  • The artifact

The artifacts with the highest degree of Utopia-effect need to carry an exotic expression to the degree where layman can recognize that the artifact is from a ‘world beyond’. Moreover, the patina needs to be at a stage where it contributes to ‘the world beyond’-experience. At the same time, it must reflect a naturalistic expression to the degree where it becomes recognizable, as well as the level of preservation should be complete at a degree where the artifact is experienced as having ‘survived’ time. In addition, the materiality of the artifacts, or its craftsmanship or exhibiting institution should also give some exclusive impression. All of these criteria are for example met in ‘the Sky Plate from Nebra’.  

  • The Ruin

The Utopia-effect of a ruin is met when the degree of decay symbolizes the struggle against time, but the preservation is at a degree where the ruin is experienced as having ‘won the battle’. The big question is where the limit goes. One explanation could be at a size where grandness of the architecture and the dimensions can be discovered and the visitor can ‘go into’ the monument. Moreover, an iconic shape seems to feed the Utopia-effect. One the best examples is Hammershus Castle on Bornholm, Denmark.

  • The isolated monument (the UFO)

Another Utopia-effect can be achieved when a monument is isolated and remote to a degree where a full overview is easily accessible. Thus, it will be experienced as a fully preserved vessel from ‘another world’ just ‘landed’. Grand open landscapes and recreational settings seem to increase this experience. Ales Stenar in southern Sweden is a brilliant example of a ‘heritage UFO’.   

  • The heritage room

Understood as heritage preserved to the stage where one can enter it, be inside it fully covered by roof and walls, where this space of being can be overviewed and thus the dimensions and aesthetics are grasped. Moreover, one of the important features of the experience here is the distinct border to the contemporary world outside the heritage room. The Utopia-effect is obtained when the aesthetical reflection of time is obvious (style and patina), but the spatial borders are fully preserved. The most obvious example of the heritage room is a historic church of an age and style (e.g. gothic) of which ‘the other world’ is obvious.  

  • Things that dissolve Utopia

In certain cases, the awareness of heritage being ‘lost’ can lead to a Utopia-effect of its function or the process of its reconstruction. Mostly, reconstructions and replicas tend to lose their Utopia-effect. However, if the experience contains an illustration of the object being lost to time, a Utopia-effect can be achieved by an experience of the skills that created the object in the first place or the demonstration function of the ‘lost’ object. An example could be the Viking ship museum in Roskilde: an exhibition shows the ‘poor’ state of a series of Viking ship wrecks. In addition, the museum contains a fleet of Viking ships reconstructed from the archaeological knowledge of the wrecks – some of these have set for long and epic voyages under great public attentions. These are all experiences of a materialization of skills and functions that have survived beyond their tangible sources.

The heritage universe

The heritage universe refers to heritage environments beyond a single building. Here, both buildings, artifacts and nature are in combination the heritage experience. The heritage universe is at one hand a very limited world on which escapism is stimulated as well as the experience of something endless. The good experience of the heritage universe stimulates all senses and are extensively tactile. In this experience, a paradox of ‘chrono-syndrome’ (disorder of ages) appears: the consumer will typically search for a ‘time travel experience’ but at the same time search for authenticity through the impressions of time (patina, smell, humidity, assimilation with nature etc.). These impressions would not be present if it was a ‘real’ time travel back to the environments ‘original’ use and creation. The chrono-syndrome paradox is the reason why fully reconstructed or replicated environments (e.g. Viking markets) often don’t have Utopia-effect. An example of the heritage universe is the traditional Scandinavian open air museums, where original buildings have been resurrected for more than a century. Around these buildings is staged an environment which not only has had century to develop its expression, but – in some cases – is an ‘original’ environment preserved at the open air museum, while modern cities grew around it. 

I sincerely hope this typology as well as the thoughts and theories behind it, will inspire future strategic decisions on what to brand and display as heritage experiences and how to stage it.


Böhme, G. (1995). Atmosphäre: Essays zur neuen Ästhetik. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Hansen, A. B. (2016). Den gode oplevelse – af kulturarv fra vikingetid og middelalder I Midt- og Vestsjælland samt andre steder i Nordeuropa. PhD-thesis. University of Copenhagen/Museum Vestsjælland. http://www.vestmuseum.dk/Viden/Forskning.aspx

Hooper-Greenhill, E. (2013). Museums and Their Visitors. Routledge.

Rüsen, J. (2013): Historik, Theorie der geschichtwisenschaft. boehlau-verlag.

Smith, Laurajane. (2015). Theorizing Museum and Heritage Visiting. In Museum Theory. UK: Wiley Blackwell.

Andreas Bonde Hansen specialises in heritage studies and is an Assistant Professor Leisure Management at the University College Sjælland.

Archaeology and Heritage on the Way to Sustainability

This content was presented at the European Association of Archaeologists Conference in Vilnius, 2nd September 2016.

Sustainability has become one of those terms within heritage studies, with its meaning seemingly reducing the more it is used. It has become an all-encompassing tick-box term that provides enough justification in itself to gain the approval of funding bodies and those who want to keep heritage practice and research socially-relevant. As such, I was not necessarily expecting a lot from this session; at best hoping for a few interesting case studies that could be transferred, adapted or used in my own work. However, TH2-21 was much better than this: it had a common, if subtle, thread that linked the papers, and touched upon a broad range of issues that are actually critical for the future of archaeology and heritage as both a profession and a wider societal activity.

The session started with an interesting presentation from Anna-Carin Andersson of the University of Gothenburg. Her paper, Sustainable heritage and archaeology – a blessing or a curse? focused on archaeologists and the profession, and came to the somewhat unexpected conclusion that the concept of sustainability is not useful for archaeology: instead we should think about feasibility. It is not often that archaeologists approach the concept of what is professionally sustainable, and so this was a welcome break. Andersson left us to consider whether the EAA should move more towards being a Pan-European trade union; I am not sure about the benefits of this, but it is certainly a worthwhile discussion following the important work done in Discovering the Archaeologists of Europe.

A further discussion on practice was provided by Jan Vanmoerkerke of the French Ministry of Culture. Various legal frameworks affect the scale, scope and nature of archaeological work in France, and in the case of this paper we could also perhaps read sustainability as feasibility, but from a different perspective. If archaeological authorities only have finite resources and cannot investigate all building works, what should be prioritised? Land use and planning, as well as the law, need to be considered and connected in order to minimise the loss of archaeological sites and give heritage a sustainable future.

To papers from colleagues in Poland moved us back towards our interaction with the public. Anna Zalewska of the Polish Academy of Sciences introduced the concept of archaeological social responsibility, looking specifically at how we should address dark heritage and painful memories. This examination of the ‘memory boom’ was taken further by Kornelia Kajda of Adam Mickiewicz University; archaeologists should show that there are multiple pasts and histories and contribute with detail to enhance ‘public’ understandings of the past. Kajda looked particularly at the concept of Urbex, the exploration of abandoned places by the public: here-and-now experiences that inspire people to engage with heritage.

Sofia Voutsaki of the University of Groningen examined the use of the past in Laconia, Greece. To a certain extent, there were some similarities between this paper and that of Zalewska, in that it explored ideas of an appropriated and/or authorised past. Nationalism and identity were key elements here; but is seeking out and portraying a glorious past a sustainable strategy?

In Here I Live – interpretations of the past, present and future, Anita Synnestvedt from the University of Gothenburg introduced us to a project centred on a stone age monument situated within a residential area that is today home to many asylum seekers and people with immigrant backgrounds. The project shows how it is possible to use archaeology and heritage as a motor for integration and as a focal point for community-building. Engagement, involvement and giving the community a stake in the area’s heritage is critical in order to ensure a sustainable future for both the monument and those who live around it.

The final presentation was led by Andrea Travaglia from the University of Amsterdam and introduced a European portal for the blending of natural and cultural heritage management. It is in many ways a paradox that despite the World Heritage Convention connecting natural and cultural sites on a shared list of global significance, there is often little actual practical or administrative link between natural and cultural heritage managers. This online tool, then, is an attempt to give natural heritage professionals a better understanding of cultural heritage, and vice versa, with the hope that it will lead to better and more holistic thinking and practice. To a certain extent, this paper brought us back to the start and thinking about the sustainability or feasibility of our profession. Is a sustainable future to be found as nature-culture experts or is it essential that we stand in on the cultural/human/social side?

Sustainability, then, is not always an empty term. This session showed that it is perhaps best to see the concept of sustainability as a vessel which can be filled with multiple interpretations and meanings. The wide range of papers here testify to the fact that sustainability does not need a one-size-fits-all definition, and nor can we give it one. Archaeological sustainability is central to the discipline, and is arguably unconsciously present in the thoughts and actions of every archaeologist – although in different ways: from thinking about the feasibility of the profession, to the wider impact of one’s research, to the creation of a realistic excavation budget. Examples and ideas relating to sustainability lie latent and unconnected. Perhaps, then, in order to make the broader public aware of heritage and give archaeology and archaeologists a louder voice and role in society, we need to be more active when thinking about sustainability. How do one’s actions help make archaeology – at whatever scale – more sustainable? The lessons of this session suggest that we need to be more audible, more visible, more engaging, more engaged, more open and more collaborative.     

Mark Oldham is an archaeologist with a keen interest in outreach and the role of archaeology in society. He works in Norway.