New scenarios for a community-involved archaeology

Archaeology has undergone significant professional developments over the last 25 years, possibly the most important amongst all of the Humanities disciplines. During this process, the field has reinforced its ties with the construction industry, commerce and heritage management and has created new synergies with domains like the information and communication technologies. Several thousand people work in Archaeology and related fields only in Europe and the sector has been, in the recent years, one of the most dynamic and fast-growing within the EU.

As in most cases, the crisis of 2008 and the following years of economic uncertainty shook the relative stability of this domain and jeopardized the established role of archaeology. The sustainability of the economic model that supported the archaeological activity for decades has been challenged and largely lost its relevance and justification.

A recent EU-supported project entitled Archaeology in Contemporary Europe created with the aim of analysing and evaluating the current situation of archaeology in Europe, had the opportunity to monitor the effects of the economic crisis on the archaeological profession, and on the model of preventive and commercial archaeology that has been developed in Europe since the early 1980s. It came clear that the current situation represents more than a major economic crisis. To a larger extent, it is also a cultural crisis and a crisis of values, a crisis of the ideas that outlined the agenda of European Modernity and made it a reference for the rest of the world. Even more, this is a crisis of the very “European Idea” that shaped the European Union that we have today.

The purpose of this project is to assess the crisis’ implications in the fields of Archaeology and Heritage, and to propose new ways of working and interacting. These areas have a significant cultural and economic importance and bring a specific contribution towards the construction of the idea of a Europe actively and positively engaged with the past and the tradition. Their innovative and cross-disciplinary nature, together with their ability to adapt quickly to new conditions, allow to better identify and draw significant lessons and experiences for other fields, such as the social sciences, the natural and physical sciences, the cultural industries or the artistic representations.

The project also explores the different dimensions of public participation as well as the multi-scalar significance of archaeological heritage intertwined with different processes underway in today’s Europe. The essential issues that will be covered in the project will be the following:

  • 1. The public engagement in the construction and appropriation of archaeological knowledge, in view of transforming scientific academic data into public outreach materials, thus enabling the general public to be actively involved instead of merely being a spectator.
  • 2. This implies debating the role of the community in archaeology and heritage: how do we improve active dialogue with the civil society? How do we create a participative archaeology, open to the different kinds of social engagement present today?
  • 3. This especially points towards a relationship with the arts and other related fields, by focusing on alternatives means of expression (such as land-art or street-art).
  • 4. In relation to the social and public dimension of archaeology, it is necessary to re-think the role of amateur archaeology. How is it possible to improve the dialogue and the collaborations between amateurs and archaeology professionals?
  • 5. In a socio-political context that highlights the intercultural dimension of Europe by multiplying cooperation within the continent and with third parties, we may ask what is the developing relationship between the immigrant populations and the centuries-old European heritage ? What are the possibilities offered by heritage as a means for a better social integration? How could archaeology become a social mediator?
  • 6. Moreover, and going beyond economics, which other social or cultural values can be fostered through archaeology, thus justifying a closer attention and more resources for this activity?
  • 7. Given the present crisis, it is compulsory to seek out new professional and economic sustainable models for archaeology. Following the previous boom in commercial archaeology resulting from the unprecedented growth in the real estate and construction sectors, how can this professional practice be restructured so as to cope with the current recession?
  • 8. Finally, how are we going to produce meaning and encourage positive action in a knowledge system shattered by postmodernity, multivocality, the proliferation of interests, and often conflicts or tensions between different alternatives?

The project aims to reflect on these themes using empirical data analysed with consolidated methodologies, in the framework of a true European-wide cooperation scheme among organizations specialized in the study, management and dissemination of archaeological heritage. The objective is not to speculate, but instead to produce knowledge whose value can be demonstrated, validated and applied on the field. NEARCH will also highlight the potential of these interdisciplinary and cross-cultural interconnections in providing new scenarios for research and field activities. It also extends this approach to archaeology outside Europe, taking into account situations and experiences that can provide new insights and instructive examples of best practices.

The above text was taken from the NEARCH project proposal.

More information on NEARCH will be coming soon.

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