Archaeology and Public Benefit Project Update 1: Moving the Debate Forward

Dr Sadie Watson
10.03.2020

Dr Sadie Watson is leading a four-year UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship looking at maximising public benefit from archaeology carried out on UK infrastructure projects. In this blog series, she keeps us up to date with her progress…

A central aspect of my fellowship is the need to collaborate with partners to increase the value and relevance of my research, drawing on burgeoning best practice and the experiences of others from across the sector. An excellent vehicle for this is the Europae Archaeologiae Consilium, which was established in 1999 to support the management of archaeological heritage throughout Europe and provides a forum for organisations to establish closer and more structured cooperation and exchange of information. The current President is Barney Sloane, Specialist Services Director for Historic England and the Co-Investigator for my project.

I attended the EAC’s annual meeting, which was held from 5-7 March 2020 in Prague, and hosted by the National Heritage Institute. The theme for the symposium was ‘Archaeology and Public Benefit: Moving the Debate Forward’ and, over the course of the event, more than 20 papers were presented by representatives from across Europe. These included case studies on a range of innovations, from inclusive ways to engage metal detectorists in Hungary, to a major development project in Cork where unexpected archaeology became the focus for display and interpretation. It was both inspiring and enlightening to see the work that other members of the EAC were undertaking and the insights that they had to offer in terms of public benefit.

Other papers outlined challenging projects, where archaeology became the focus for political activity, for example the discovery of burials of executed rebels in Lithuania. Further case studies gave opposing views concerning the role of curators and developers within projects, including a paper outlining the results of a survey into public benefit provision for development-led projects in the UK. The latter was a sobering read and provided a necessary ‘reality check’ in terms of the current lack of meaningful and measurable social impact within this area. Of particular interest to me, were the papers which presented survey results of the public view of archaeology in Poland and the Netherlands, as well as another which outlined the potential for the wellbeing agenda to be adopted by archaeology and the need to evaluate these schemes appropriately.

Alongside the headline theme, the symposium also provided a backdrop for debate concerning the Faro Convention (2005), which came into force in 2011 and establishes the rights and responsibilities of member states to protect cultural heritage and the rights of their citizens to access and participate in that heritage. These are laudable aims and there are no easy answers in terms of how these can most successfully be achieved, however the EAC has set up a working group to look in detail at these issues and to move the debate forward. A summary of the group’s purpose and latest progress can be found online.

The EAC is already looking towards 2021 and I am collating the papers for publication at the next symposium. These will be available in a hard copy volume by Archaeolingua and online via Internet Archaeology.

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