Can Archaeology be Inclusive?

Public participation in archaeology has increased over the last decade with the rise in community-orientated projects.  This has seen many individuals and community groups making the transition from interested audiences to active participants.  Community archaeology tends to operate separately to research or commercial undertakings, and has only recently has started to receive attention and acceptance from the wider discipline.  For the most part, the demographic of participants in these community projects frequently mirror the demographic of the existing archaeological community: white, educated, advantaged and able-bodied (though there are some exceptions to this observation).

If archaeology is to rise to the challenge, set down by the National Planning Policy Framework, of a further increase in public participation and engagement, and establish demonstrable public benefits of its activities, particularly within the commercial sector, surely it should aspire to have inclusivity at its core?  The general public is by-no-means a homogeneous group, and thus mechanisms for public participation should not follow a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.  The questions we should be asking ourselves are: Can archaeology ever become fully inclusive?  And if so, what does inclusive archaeology look like?  Are inclusive strategies in archaeology sustainable?  How can archaeology benefit disadvantaged groups and individuals?  And how can their participation in-turn benefit the archaeological discipline?

We look forward to your views on this subject.


5 responses to “Can Archaeology be Inclusive?

  1. Our project and is inclusive and research based and some clearly demonstrable public benefits are coming out (subject of my not quite finished yet PhD). Benefits include a richer and more nuanced understanding of places we ‘think’ we know and also benefits not usually associated with archaeological work. For example, in terms of health and well-being, enhanced self-esteem and confidence and increased life-skills and employability among those involved, myself included. As your blog post says, the policy is there for us to make archaeology truly inclusive but the onus is on us, the archaeologists, to develop methodologies for working with diverse groups who might have the perception that this ‘white, European’ pastime is not for them, irrelevant or just boring. We don’t have to lose academic or archaeological integrity by changing the way we do things a little, just find new/more ways to explore, explain, elicit, train and inspire people. If we’re passionate about the past, it should be easy to enthuse even the ‘hardest to reach’ people.

    • Thanks Rachael. I think being passionate is the key. One of our groups initially were a little demoralized that they were not going to get to dig but the passion of the tutor for exploring landscapes changed their minds and opened up a whole new aspect of archaeology they had never considered.

  2. I would also like to say that archaeology is about shared heritage. In the past the field focused on the rich and important figures, and was restricted to academia or those who could work in the field. However the focus of archaeological study today is much more on the daily lives of ordinary people, people with whom it is easier for us all to identify. With this focus, archaeology provides the means for everyone to connect to a shared heritage, to understand how people lived in the past through direct participation in archaeological events and classes. Programs that stress inclusiveness and building communities give people who normally would not otherwise have the opportunity, a hands on understanding of archaeology and a direct connection to their heritage. By valuing all who have an interest in archaeology, participants in turn will also value heritage and archaeology. This results both in an understanding that heritage is worthwhile and feelings of self-worth and accomplishment.

  3. If I see the experiences I made working, as archaeologist, with disabled people, I prefer to say that archaeology must be inclusive.

    I think it’s right consider that our “first employer” is the public, all the public; between them, there are all kind of persons, including disabled ones. And archaeology is a good tool to improve their potentialities.

    The archaeology is a science; so we can use it to improve the following areas:

    • Cognitive area
    • Manual area
    • Relationship area
    • Emotional area

    With this idea in our minds, we built laboratories with (and not for) persons with cognitive-behavioral disabilities.

    We worked together, as archaeologists: we dug, washed potteries, cataloged fragments, inventoried and took photos of them … we learnt (we all learnt!) to tell stories about our archaeological objects.

    I cannot say if we included them or they included us. I know this experience is useful for both!!!

  4. Thanks Dario. I like the idea of who is including who. From the groups I have worked with I often find by the end of the course I have learnt as much from them as they have from me. A question or a statement from a learner sometimes triggers a new way of looking at an artefact or a site, challenging the theory and asking us to think again which can only be a good thing. We all use our own experiences to interpret information, sharing those experiences can help lead to better interpretations.

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