When I was 14, I went along to a weekend excavation at Old Down Farm, near Andover. My main reason for wanting to go was that I had heard everyone went to the pub for lunch — but it ended up that I was hooked on archaeology immediately.
That weekend turned into four years of weekends; and then eventually an undergraduate degree, MA and PhD. I started my career with English Heritage in the Ancient Monuments lab and that’s when I began getting involved with heritage politics though the IfA Council. I joined the CBA in 1990 to work on the British and Irish Bibliography Service and then became the first-ever CBA Information Officer. I never looked back after that first weekend when I was 14 — and yes, I’m sure it has something to do with the pub.
We’re a much bigger, bolder organisation, now. We have a greater range of activities but at the same time are much more focused. The CBA is very well-placed to take advantage of the rising public interest in archaeology and the heritage sector, and we do our best to be the champions of public archaeology.
Our focus has really settled on three main areas: participation, discovery and advocacy. Everything we do is meant to create opportunities for people to be engaged with archaeology.
We’re a ‘connecting body’; we’re here to answer queries and put people in touch with whatever aspect of archaeology that takes their interest. We often hear about things that might not be out there in the public domain, and can put those opportunities in front of individuals or organisations. In fact, that’s how many of the people in archaeology now first got started in the 1960s and 1970s — from reading the CBA Calendar of Excavations and getting a place on a dig.
Those years were considered by some to be the ‘Golden Age’ of volunteer archaeology, before PPG16 and the professionalisation that has made the amateur sector feel shut out. Things are swinging back around again to where local groups will have a much more important role in archaeological work, as we can see in the new PPS5 document. We’ve just done a survey of community archaeology that has recorded over 2,000 local groups doing archaeology, with over 200,000 members. That’s much more than any of us realised! With those numbers, there is a real need for good communication between the long-standing county archaeology groups and the newer, ultra-local projects that have sprung up as a result of the Heritage Lottery Fund grants. The CBA can put those pieces together through our website, group activities and forums.
PPS5 is the basis for a good, workable system and shows significant advances from PPG16. The archaeological community had some specific ‘asks’ when PPS5 was being drafted, and nearly all are reflected in the final document. I would like to have seen more specific encouragement to local authorities to use accredited organisations as part of a move to higher standards, but the hooks are in there if we can use them.
It is encouraging that there is more emphasis on the outputs of archaeological work and the need for suitable publication, with archives to be deposited in museums. The mention of public participation is also very welcome. Hopefully PPS5 will stand the test of time and will be robust if it is legally challenged in any way.
Climate change. Illegal metal detecting gets a lot of bad press and we do have serious issues with heritage crime, but research has shown time and again how much damage is caused to the historic environment through changing agricultural techniques and other development pressures. The new wrinkle is the mitigation and adaptation strategies being put in place to adjust to climate change, in both land-based and maritime environments. For example, we know so much more now about submerged prehistoric landscapes; what will happen to this archaeology when offshore wind-farms are built? Or even greater advances are made in commercial diving? We need to think hard and fast and really communicate with organizations who are working in these areas, to minimise threats to archaeology.
The event was expanding rapidly and we realised it needed to be longer than one week; and, we wanted to avoid the rather unfortunate acronym of ‘NAF’! In the 20 years since it began as National Archaeology Day, it’s grown phenomenally. We started with just 10 sites, and we’ve now got over 600 registered for this year’s event. Running for two weeks makes the Festival a real opportunity to showcase the great work going on across the UK, and for people to have a hands-on experience with archaeology in all of its many aspects, from universities to the professional sector, museums and local projects. We want to use that two-week window to raise the national profile of archaeology in general, and are planning some big announcements. Stay tuned.
We have so much going on, where to start? We’ve just completed three big research projects on participation and education, which will be published soon. We’ve also applied to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a grant to do a ‘Skills for the Future’ programme, to take professional archaeologists in danger of losing their jobs and train them to work with local groups.
Many archaeologists have the technical skills to do field work, but not the softer skills of working with the public. As we see in PPS5, local organisations will become increasingly important to the archaeological process and we need professionals who are facilitators and enablers, rather than strict controllers. The CBA is also sharpening up with an ambitious five-year plan. Many of our most important initiatives, such as training, publication, outreach and the Young Archaeologists’ Club, need more financial resources. We’re planning a formal development campaign to raise funds to support these efforts, which will launch towards the end of the year. It’s the first campaign in our history and a big step forward.
Impossible question! Let’s see … the Amesbury Archer, Boxgrove Man, Elizabeth I and Boudicca. And of course, Mortimer Wheeler. Actually, with that group, it would be interesting to see who paired up at the end of the evening!
1990-2010: 20 Years of Archaeology for Everyone!
The Festival showcases the best of British archaeology by presenting hundreds of special events organised and held by museums, local societies, national and countryside parks, universities, and heritage organisations across the UK. Events, ranging from excavation open days and behind-the-scenes tours to family fun days, hands-on activities, guided walks, talks and finds identification workshops, take place all over the UK during this special fortnight. With over 600 events registered for 2010, this year promises to be a big success.
For more information, visit the event website.
Or contact the CBA: St Mary’s House, 66 Bootham, York, YO30 7BZ. Tel: +(44) (0)1904 671417