Over the last few weeks I have sought to explore and explain some of the things that I am passionate about within the EAA. The things that are done well, the values that we should protect, and the opportunities that I think we can make more of.
Change and what we do with it
It has been clear, in all areas of our lives, that 2020 is very much a year of change. There have been some horrendous changes to our lives this year, but we have seen individuals, businesses and organisations - even the environment - take that disruption and make extremely powerful and positive changes in the wake of it.
As archaeologists, we are familiar with the impact of change on society and how it can influence the way we do things. We see it in our study, but it can also impact the way we work. You may have seen the news from Pompeii, for example, where a series of structural collapses since 2010 led to a restoration project that would not otherwise have been commissioned, and which in turn greatly increased our collective knowledge and understanding of the site.
Many of us within the EAA will also have watched the evolution of the way we work alongside commercial enterprise, and how archaeology and development are brought together. For example, through Covid-19 I have contributed to work chronicling how development-led archaeology in Scotland has continued through the pandemic. It is an effort to preserve lives and livelihoods, keeping people safe as well as keeping us working.
By working together, we are able to investigate the past in a place that would not otherwise have had funding, create and maintain jobs and take care of individuals’ health at the same time. Change has been forced upon us, but we have sought to make good things come from it, wherever possible.
Of course, in the last few years, another enormous change we have all faced, and continue to face, are those brought about by Brexit. Again, this is now inevitable, but something that we must seek to find ways to use positively, rather than letting it spoil the intrinsic values of the EAA. We can’t turn back the clock, but we do need to do all that we can to ensure that members still have the chances to come together at our events and in other ways as well. We must use our different experiences and locations to enhance the community, discussion and ideas.
On the one hand, Covid-19 has presented challenging experiences for all of us, including the EAA, that we weren’t expecting. On the other hand, it has exposed the need to take a closer look at what we do and how we do it to make sure that it’s sustainable and meeting the needs of our members as well as the market that we have, rather than the market that we think we have.
I think the most important publication in European archaeology in recent years has been the NEARCH project’s Europeans and Archaeology. This insightful piece of research looks at the way that European citizens think about and value archaeology, and how that sentiment intersects with the way we, as archaeologists, think about our work and what it contributes to society.
For example, it found that while 75% of Europeans think archaeology helps us to understand the past, only 11% of citizens think it helps us to understand the present. Compare that with EAA’s ‘beliefs’, as presented in the Bern Statement on Archaeology and the Future of Democracy – we like to think that our work contributes to contemporary politics and social issues. We need to be aware of when we are comfortably agreeing with ourselves, and when we are out of tune with what the public thinks.
While 47% of Europeans think that the role of archaeology is to pass history down to younger generations, only 8% think it contributes to the construction of national identity – this is very important, because time and again archaeologists argue that it does have a positive part to play in the creation of identities, and a rather flat 54% say it is an area to which they feel any emotional attachment.
This type of research can be extremely helpful in informing how, where and what we communicate to our members and the community around us in order to champion the role of archaeology as a profession. For example, I wrote last week of the spotlight effect that our annual meeting can bring to local communities, and the very real impact that can have on both local economies and the sense of pride and celebration that communities have when it comes to their own heritage. That is certainly something we can look to enhance in light of information from surveys like this.
Undoubtedly, this is a time for change, and I realise that my background is different to that of the current EAA President, and indeed other individuals who have been nominated for election to the Board both now and in the past. However, in a time of seismic change, if you don’t seek to act positively and proactively, you place yourself at the mercy of the changes that are happening around you.
This is the twentieth year that I have been a member of the EAA, and I have been a member of the archaeological community for more than 30 years. Through my work, and in more recent years my own company, I have also been a proactive contributor towards bridging the gap between the academic importance of archaeology and its relevance in the modern world. I think there are exciting opportunities for the sector, as well as its individuals, through recognising that and finding ways to implement processes that work for the benefit and enjoyment of all.
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