Archaeology, communities and the public

  1. On a chilly November afternoon in York, archaeologists of many kinds gathered at the University of York’s Department of Archaeology for a half-day conference titled: Archaeology and the material past in the public realm organised by the Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past (IPUP). The event was co-sponsored by York Archaeological Trust.The day’s programme included a keynote from history broadcaster Michael Wood and talks from archaeologists with a diverse experience of community and public engagement work.I (Pat Hadley) arrived with Lorna Richardson, Don Henson and Ruth Whyte. All of us on twitter with various levels of engagement (read addiction). As Lorna and I were familiar with how poor the twitter use at archaeology conferences tends to be we had little optimism that live tweeting would be particularly appreciated.

  2. Share
    I make my own hashtag for this afternoon’s Archaeology in the Public Realm: #ipup2011. I will be Tweeting to no one but myself…
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 08:06:17
  3. I immediately messed up my twitter etiquette by forgetting the hashtag….
  4. Share
    @lornarichardson I’ll read your tweets even though I’m sat right next to you. Maybe @Beth_Compton and @portableant will want to follow?
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 08:13:49
  5. But, then a pleasant surprise! Hugh Corley was also in the audience and began to help the cause:
  6. Share
    @lornarichardson cool I’ll follow your lead #ipup2011
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 08:15:44
  7. Hugh also tweets for the official English Heritage account, and massively amplified our reach by using this account too
  8. Share
    RT @lornarichardson: I make my own hashtag for this afternoon’s Archaeology in the Public Realm: #ipup2011. I will be Tweeting to no one but myself…
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 08:15:44
  9. And apparently we were being heeded.
  10. Share
    @lornarichardson @EHArchaeology Never underestimate the power of Twitter!! #ipup2011
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 08:18:42
  11. The room filled up fast:
  12. Share

    Wed, Nov 23 2011 08:29:53
  13. Share
    #ipup2011 wow, very busy waiting for michael wood!
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  14. Share
    Already sitting in the aisles at #ipup2011 never underestimate the power of a tv personality!
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  15. The afternoon was opened by Julian Richards head of the archaeology department at York and his remarks were swiftly followed by Helen Weinstein, Director of IPUP.
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    #ipup2011 public engagement & impact needs wider study & debate according to Julian Richards..
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  17. Share
    #ipup2011 Prof Helen Weinstein IPUP: we (archaeologists) are only one community in many communities & the past belongs to all
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  18. Michael Wood’s keynote piece got underway very quickly with a behind-the-scenes look at the Story of England series filmed in Kibworth, Leicestershire. The talk was very engaging and positive and Michael’s enthusiasm and that of the participants shone through.
  19. Share
    Landscape heaven! Beautiful aerial pics of Kibworth #ipup2011
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  20. Share
    Good energy in the room. Easy to preach to the converted? Michael Wood getting laughs already! Good stuff though! #ipup2011
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  21. There were some concerns from the audience that despite it’s great
    successes a more balanced view of the project might be needed:
  22. Share
    #ipup2011 interesting point – communal archaeology vs community archaeology..
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  23. Share
    #ipup2011 Michael Wood: “history is what we make of it & how we relate to it” but if no knowledge/experience beyond school, how to relate?
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  24. Share
    Anecdotes of localism in Kibworth. Heritage identity is strong and often invisible to outsiders. #ipup2011
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  25. Many picked up on the techniques and issues the project had dealt with:
  26. Share
    #ipup2011 the importance of placenames in providing clues to the landscapes of the past- a good starting point for any local historian!
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  27. Share
    Tying the microcosm to the macrocosm. Always a challenge, always worthwhile! #ipup2011
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  28. This led to a wry observation that translating the lessons of such a high-profile project into less well-funded environments is not always easy.
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    #ipup2011 i think that you could probably manage a v. good community archaeology project if you had the budget of a TV co & put people on TV
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  30. I drew on a meeting I’d had with John Walker of YAT that morning in which he’d mentioned EU documents pointing out that much archaeological work can be a seed for developing economic, social and cultural capital.:
  31. Share
    @lornarichardson #ipup2011 John Walker said this morning – invert that thought and you can see the archaeology as something to invest in.
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  32. The reply encapsulated a sentiment which, for me, was one of the take-home lessons for the whole day:
  33. Share
    #ipup2011 @PatHadley if comm archaeology takes place in a very public eye, it becomes so much better
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  34. Share
    Hear! Hear! RT @lornarichardson #ipup2011 @PatHadley if comm archaeology takes place in a very public eye, it becomes so much better
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  35. Questions covered logistics, the notion of having an authoritative voice as a film-maker and whether the project had stimulated ongoing interest in local history/archaeology among the residents.
    More challenging were questions falling on both sides of an issue of ‘Englishness’ and identity: Firstly whether non-white residents had felt excluded from the process and whether their absence from the film (even if accidental) affected the film’s claim to represent England in microcosm. Second was a question about whether interest in ‘English’ history was particularly high at the moment due to a need to assert identity in the face of multiculturalism and pressure to be European.
  36. Share
    #ipup2011 ‘interesting’ audience question if growth in interest in English history is related to our membership of EU & possibly immigration
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  37. Share
    MW fielding a question on Englishness with pro-multicultural quotes from the 10th century. Oops forgot: #ipup2011
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  38. Michael’s responses were decisive and pragmatic. To the first question: Yes, there were biases in the make-up of those in the film but they had done the best they could with the available time and the inevitable self selection of volunteers. To the second: No. We’ve always been interested in our stories and we’ve also been a much more mixed nation for far longer than many people think.
    One question came in from twitter, but unfortunately there wasn’t time to have it answered
  39. Share
    @lornarichardson I’d like to know how much he thinks History programming has changed on the #BBC since his ‘Trojan War’ series #ipup2011
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  40. After much enthusiastic applause we broke for tea and cake.
  41. Share
    Back in now for Cath Neal and straight through with 5 speakers between now and 5:30. Hope I have the stamina! #ipup2011
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  42. Adam Gutteridge of IPUP (the day’s main organiser) chaired the afternoon session and introduced Cath Neal, the director of the University’s field school and community excavations at Heslington East the site of the new campus.
  43. Share
    #ipup2011 Cath Neal is talking about this community & commercial #archaeology project here: heslingtoneastarchaeology….
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  44. Share
    #ipup2011 Cath Neals talk fantastic- not just taking about the expected outcomes of engagements but also belonging, ownership and memory
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  45. Share
    Cath Neal ‘community archaeology is seen as an implicity good thing’, highlighting the need to look at it critically #ipup2011
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  46. Cath used some ideas from community engagement theory (even delving as deep as Foucault!) to point out that there is a big difference between merely informing the public, token engagement and proper involvement in decision making. She noted that often there are conflicts between these strategies and that an entire industry has grown up to try and help big business engage with community consultation.
  47. Share
    #ipup2011 Cath Neal: empowering public and then regulating public in conflict esp with archaeology/heritage
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  48. Share
    There appears to be a lot of resource getting the big society engaged #ipup2011
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  49. Next up was Jon Kenny, full time community archaeologist for YAT. Jon decided to avoid getting too bogged down in the problems and concentrate on the positives.
  50. Share
    #ipup2011 Jon Kenny- I’m going to talk about fun! Life as a Community Archaeologist is next up!
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  51. Share
    #ipup2011 Jon Kenny, Life as a Community Archaeologist – talking about having fun doing archaeology!
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  52. Within this, he made some pretty serious points.
  53. Share
    #ipup2011 Jon K makes a really important point – is what we do fun enough? Do people enjoy our work & their involvement with archaeology?
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  54. Share
    #ipup2011 For most people, interested in #archaeology and heritage, it’s a recreational leisure pursuit
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  55. Share
    Jon Kenny – community archaeology has to understand and manage community divides #ipup2011
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  56. Jon pointed out that being completely ‘bottom-up’ with engagement is impossible for those who do not know how to get help with their archaeology interests or goals.
  57. Share
    #ipup2011 Jon K How to get beyond the local history group?
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  58. Share
    #ipup2011 Jon Kenny: 2 aspects to my work- being visible to those who are able but need a contact. But many would not know where to look!
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  59. Share
    #ipup2011… Therefore I have to be able to reach out
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  60. Share
    #ipup2011 working with people who don’t think they are included such as homeless, young offenders,refugees – needs imagination & commitment
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  61. Share
    If tokenism, specifically selecting a group for involvement, leads to good results for that group, is it really that bad? #ipup2011
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  62. Jon was well received and just as the next speaker was being announced our reach beyond the room was confirmed with feedback from Scotland!
  63. Share
    Enjoying the stream of tweets from #ipup2011 – almost as good as actually being there! Interesting stuff.
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  64. Anne Curtis, a longtime volunteer at both YAT’s Hungate excavations and the University’s Heslington East project gave a brilliant talk from the perspective that rarely gets enough space at such events.
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    #ipup2011 Anne Curtis now. A rare chance to hear from a volunteer in a formal context. Only one story but most welcome.
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  66. Share
    Anne Curtis tells her personal story about how archaeology has empowered her through public engagement programmes #ipup2011
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  67. Anne commented on how digging and being a valued part of an archaeological team had helped her through difficult parts of her life.
  68. Share
    #ipup2011 personal comment – not enough research has been done on benefit of participating in archaeology/heritage on mental well-being
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  69. Share
    @lornarichardson lots of our volunteers tell us they find the process of digging very therapeutic – and I know I do as well! #ipup2011
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  70. Next, Pete Connelly, Director of the Hungate excavations, enlightened us about what archaeologists stood to gain from community engagement. We also found we were now being followed in Spain!
  71. Share
    Follow @lornarichardson and #ipup2011 for tweets about “#Archaeology and the Public Realm”, very interesting!
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  72. Share
    #ipup2011 Peter Connelly up next talking about what we as archaeologists get from doing community #archaeology
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  73. Share
    #ipup2011 Pete Connolly now being ‘twinkly’. Looking at why archaeologists do public participation and what they get out of it.
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  74. Share
    #ipup2011 Peter did a survey of archl colleagues abt their involvement with community archaeology – Q’s = why and what do you get out of it?
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  75. Pete did a great (if admittedly unscientific) survey of colleagues and Lorna took great care to tweet the themes he saw in their answers in detail.
  76. Share
    #ipup2011 themes = 1) because my employer does it! Requirement of job, “should be done”, part of PPS5
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  77. Share
    #ipup2011 Theme 2 = ownership: archaeology belongs to everyone, belongs to nation, doesn’t just belong to archaeologists
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  78. Share
    #ipup2011 Theme 3 = relevance. Imp to bridge gap between academia & society, context. Public need to like us or our funding will die!
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  79. Share
    #ipup2011 Theme 4 – “providing a route into archaeology as career” – mostly from senior respondees to survey
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  80. Share
    #ipup2011 Theme 5 =Skills & contributions, we need help from public, expands physical & social development, vols bring essential skills
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  81. The reasons that Jon had picked up on as being important for the community groups were also seen as important by the professionals.
  82. Share
    #ipup2011 happiness in workplace imp part of community archaeology for paid staff too!
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  83. Share
    #ipup2011 and never underestimate the importance and relevance of gift exchange in community & public archaeology (biscuits, pints, tea)
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  84. Share
    @lornarichardson #ipup2011 and don’t forget cake too!
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  85. Peter’s final message was that all this was implicitly recognised but needed to be built into archaeology at stage one.
  86. Share
    Interesting talk by Peter Connelly making me think about what I actually get out of the process of engagement too #ipup2011
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  87. Share
    Peter Connelly – we nd to get across the benefits to the archaeologists of doing comm. arch better than we are doing at the moment #ipup2011
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  88. The final speaker of the main session was Suzie Thomas from the Coucil for British Archaeology examining the data we have on community archaeology nationally and the impact of recent government spending cuts.
  89. Share
    #ipup2011 Now Suzie Thomas from the CBA. ‘Goodbye big spenders, Hello big society’ The big picture and the bottom line….
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  90. Share
    #ipup2011 233 200 individuals approx involved in archaeological heritage in UK in 2011, 2200 voluntary groups
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  91. Share
    #ipup2011 scary stuff actually seeing the impact of cuts on community archs and implication of this to local groups
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  92. Share
    #ipup2011 now the depressing stuff about #cuts to HER services, museums #archaeology units etc. Mapped here: rescue.crowdmap.com/
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  93. Share
    #ipup2011 On happy note, Comm Archaeology Bursary Funding, and HLF has increased funding available..(but like putting plaster on broken leg)
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  94. She ended with an appeal to save the Young Archaeologists Club an important network for introducing archaeology to 8-16 year-olds (apologies for the typo at the end of the tweet).
  95. Share
    #ipup2011 Suzie Thomas now on the appeal to save the Young Archaeologists Club. A very good cause. undefined
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  96. We next had discussion with the entire panel. There was some interesting unpacking of the categories used by the speakers: were archaeologists being defined in opposition to communities.
  97. Share
    #ipup2011 questions now to the panel: What is the difference between the archaeologists and the public?
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  98. Everyone agreed that these terms weren’t perfect but that distinctions were often useful.
  99. Share
    #ipup2011 The categories we’ve created can become traps but we are aware of them and can tread carefully – Pete Connolly.
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  100. The day ended with a wrap up from Mike Nevell from the Centre for Applied Archaeology at the University of Salford.
  101. Share
    #ipup2011 Mike Nevell from Salford with final thoughts and some stuff on DigManchester. When is it means and when is it an ends in itself?
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  102. Share
    Final round up discussing the impact of engagement within archaeology #ipup2011
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  103. During this the collective on twitter began to get distracted…..
  104. Share
    What would be the collective term for a group of community archaeologists? #ipup2011
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  105. Share
    @hscorley @lornarichardson Dedicated and passionate (DaP) #ipup2011
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  106. Share
    @lornarichardson surely not Commies…
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  107. Share
    @lornarichardson An ‘outreach’ of community archaeologists?
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  108. Share
    @lornarichardson @iknowjoseph well we always said the collective noun for archaeologists in general was ‘shower’ …
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  109. Share
    @lornarichardson troop, herd, colony, culture, murder (my favorite), mob… ow.ly/7DbvL
    Wed, Nov 23 2011 13:32:20
  110. This level of toungue-in-cheek but enthusiastic chatter was continued in real life by the participants at a wine reception and later in the pub. A brilliant afternoon was had, some great ideas were discussed and thanks are owed to the speakers, the discussants (digital and real) and most to the organisers! Here’s to the next one!

Thinking about things – two and a half days at the British Museum

How should we be thinking about deep prehistory? What formats are suitable for what sorts of discussion? Are some formats better suited to engage with ideas or theoretical perspectives while others are more appropriate to presenting data, broad-brushed syntheses, detailed analyses and so on? How should we maintain links across period specialisms and interest in broader themes?

These questions have come to the forefront of my mind after two days attending the British Museum’s regular Palaeolithic-Mesolithic conference (17-18 Nov 2011 – weirdly has no website!) and a morning spent at Grayson Perry’s special exhibition at the British Museum – ‘The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman

Pal-Meso 2011

Palaeolithic-Mesolithic Conference Programme
Palaeolithic-Mesolithic Conference Programme

The overall impression I got at the Palaeolithic-Mesolithic conference (known as Pal-Meso) was one of an in-crowd. With no website or publicity (beyond a limited mailing list and word-of-mouth) the conference remains the preserve of those in-the-know. Despite this it has seen incredible growth – now regularly two days long and, in this instance, attended by nearly 200 people.

The programme was dominated by the Palaeolithic. Understandably this much longer period is better represented at the conference. The entire conference was dominated by the results of primary analysis using a diverse range of methodologies (lithic analysis, environmental/ecofactual analysis, remote sensing). A few papers looked at more synthetic topics such as entire periods/lithic technocomplexes and a very few looked at less frequently found evidence types such as art.

Talks were short (15 minutes) and timekeeping was rigourously maintained. The short periods for questions before each break were used primarily for technical questions and the odd suggestion.

I struggled to keep up with the middle and lower Palaeolithic papers, not only is it difficult to keep up with the endlessly redefined techno-complexes (Gravettian, Aurignacian….) the data-heavy focus of most of the papers made it difficult to assess the ideas behind them. I found myself constantly asking myself: Why is this important? Why should anyone care?

I wasn’t alone in this feeling: though break-times were always buzzing with fruitful discussions, several colleagues felt similarly about many of the papers: Where are the people?

I realised that it was not that I felt that this use of data was inappropriate for archaeology but that it wasn’t making the best of the conference as a forum for sharing ideas. For me, data is best presented where it can be scrutinised, unpacked and tested by the reader in their own time. A conference is an opportunity to present more challenging ideas and engage with theory, to bring perspectives together and make connections across peoples’ work.

The conference felt atomised: though papers were grouped thematically there were rarely particularly strong synergies between them apart from geographic or chronological links.

There were exceptions to these trends: including personal highlights such as Jill Cook, Jessica Cooney and John Pipriani on upper Palaeolithic art, two presentations delivered by Matt Pope on La Cotte and Beedings, Alan Saville’s look at new upper Palaeolithic evidence from Scotland and Radu Iovita’s paper on a new Lower/middle Palaeolithic site in Romania. Most (but by no means all) of the Mesolithic papers were reasonably engaging (though I had the benefit of better background understanding for these).

I also noted that I was the only person to feel so strongly that an opportunity for discussion had been missed with many colleagues feeling that the information had been a useful way to keep up with neighbouring disciplines without having to do a lot of reading.

The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman

The contrast between the two day’s of the conference and my experience at Grayson Perry’s exhibition was dramatic. I went with one other archaeologist, a journalist, secondary school art teacher and an arts administrator. The exhibition is a mixture of objects from the British Museum’s stores, works produced for the purpose by Perry and his older works. Acting both as artist and curator Perry has been able to build connections between objects across cultures from a vast range of periods and places. Grouping artefacts according to diverse themes such as violence, sex, forgeries, mapping and magic Perry has managed to bring new light to these objects and his overall themes. These broader themes were woven through the exhibit and considered pilgrimage, the biographies of objects, their contexts and our relations to them.

Alan Measles
Alan Measles

I felt that the playfulness and transparency with which this was done avoided the self-obsessed seriousness or obfuscation that is common in much contemporary art. This is not to say that Perry did not use his personal life – his childhood teddy Alan Measles is a motif throughout his work – or lay everything out completely explicitly, but a balance was struck between exposition and allowing the audience to build their own connections and impressions. More importantly the humour in the connections – an Asante crown paired with Perry’s own ‘Ancient motorcycle helmet’ in the style of a Celtic crested helmet – brought welcome relief from the earnestness of most museums. It is rare to hear laughter as a reaction to material in the British Museum!

Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman
Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman

The final piece in the exhibit was the ‘Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman’ itself: a ship covered in casts of hundreds of objects from the museums collections and, on a central plinth on the deck, a real flint handaxe. This “tool that begat all tools” was given no archaeological context beyond its age: 250,000 years.

The contrast between this and the treatment given to almost identical objects in the conference was incredibly potent. All of a sudden an object that was not even produced by a member of our own species was being appreciated for its artistic integrity, for being the results of a person’s efforts rather than as a dot on a map or graph showing cognitive development or raw-material transport.

I am not for a moment saying that data-rich approaches to any archaeological period are wrong or even inappropriate. Both approaches – dry detail and playful poetics – feed off one another but I feel that each is more suited to given platforms for presentation – the media should suit the message. If people are in a space together talking about archaeology is that not a more appropriate environment to be engaging in our ideas of the past and the people that made it?

I don’t feel I have made my argument very well…… Maybe I need to talk to you about it?

TAG 2010 Session Review: An Artful Integration? Possible futures for archaeology and creative work

Following a successful conference session. Mhairi Maxwell and I wrote up our thoughts about archaeology and contemporary art for Michael Shanks blog/journal site: Archaeolog. The original has a few dead links in it which I’ve trimmed out here.


TAG 2010 Session Review: An Artful Integration? Possible futures for archaeology and creative work

Pascoe%20TAG%202010%20%281%29.jpg

This archaeolog reviews the session ‘An Artful Integration: Possible Futures for Archaeology and Creative Work’ which took place at TAG Bristol on December 17th 2010 and brought together archaeologists, artists, performers, composers and digital media creatives. The formal session summary further details available below:
http://www.nomadit.co.uk/tag/tag2010/panels.php5?PanelID=832
Here, in three parts, the aims of the session, a summary of the main themes presented, and directions for future interrogation will be briefly introduced. Feedback and comments on where we should go from here are actively invited.

Aims:

We (Hadley and Maxwell) seek positive ways of integrating and recognising the value of creative work into the archaeological discourse.
We designed the session as a mixture of contributions; those that showcase the benefits of creative work for archaeological practice, the presentation of the past and archaeological thinking (Bosch, Evans, Pascoe, Watson and Crewsden) and more reflexive engagements with the ideas that connect and divide archaeology from creative work (Cope, Dixon, Hadley, Maxwell).

It was hoped that further discussion would help the participants identify some of the issues that still make many archaeologists suspicious of creative work, in practice, the session developed in somewhat different, but positive, directions.

The session was a space for exhibition and criticism of artful integrations with archaeology and aimed overall to examine what steps may be necessary to recognise the value and utility of creative work for, and in, archaeology.

The four main issues raised were:

1. Archaeology is Art: Are there underplayed creative elements in accepted archaeological practice? Or ways in which archaeology can contribute to creative endeavour?

2. Transparent reasoning and rigour: The strength of formal text is its transparency of reasoning. Do creative works necessarily obscure reasoning?

3. Invisible humanity: What are the risks in portraying elements of the past invisible to archaeology?

4. Skills for creativity: How can archaeologists learn to interact with and interrogate creative work as a valued contribution to the field?

Main Themes Presented:

Follow this Flickr link to see photographs from the session: http://www.flickr.com/groups/1638287@N22/

Four main cross-over themes emerged from the session. These were:

1. The emotive, evoking, performative and communicative power of creative integration: putting things in an experiential context.

The success of different modes of creative integration were exhibited, including the employment of film (Bosch, Watson and Crewsdon), performance (Pascoe and Easterby), drawing (Evans), music (Watson and Crewsdon) and installation (Evans, Watson and Crewsdon). Watson and Crewsdon exhibited a film with a composed music score titled ‘Stones from the Sky’ (commissioned by Penrith and Eden Museum). This work expressed the knowledge gathered from traditional forms of archaeological data (papers, museum collections and fieldwork), following the sourcing, making and deposition of a Neolithic stone axe. They noted how the process of creating this installation prompted original research and it was clear how the resulting emotive interpretation fully contextualised the archaeological objects within whole landscapes visually and in the visitors’ imagination. The participatory performance of a noisy fire lighting ceremony by Red Earth (Pascoe and Easterby) in the courtyard of Bristol University Wills Memorial Building immersed people in togetherness, anticipation, unease and elation. The landscape, feelings and expectations of those who took part were effectively transformed through rhythmic movement, breathing, the playing of instruments (including horns and cymbals) and ultimately the lighting of fire.

redearth.jpg

2. Theories of creativity: the opening up of under-explored academic lines of discourse about our sensible relations with things.

It was noted by most contributors that archaeology has much to learn and gain from theories of creativity. Cope brought to attention Nietzsche’s thesis of the ‘Will to Power’ and how this provides an understanding of the innate creativity present in all objects enacted through ‘presencing’ and different ‘ways of seeing’ by the subject. This provides a move towards breaking down the subject/object dichotomy by understanding discursive and imaginative material-culture events and relations. Comparatively, Evans’ creative research as an artist is ‘presenced’ via a blog www.osteography.wordpress.com. Informed by Bourriaud’s theory of ‘Relational Aesthetics’, he is interested in modes of interactive representation and the resulting responses to his work, including drawings, paintings and writings. In this way, a dialogue between people and art work is manifested.

3. Creative contribution to interpretation in the field and in the institution, providing previously unrecognised and unresearched possibilities.

Evans tackles this directly in his working methodology, while the artist Bosch, during her residency in Çatalhöyük, Turkey, demonstrated how her stop-motion video of the moving arc of light in one of the reconstructed prehistoric houses lead to a previously unrecognised interpretation of the positioning of the roof-top entrances. After seeing this creative integration, the archaeologist Hodder recognised the moving projection of light on the walls as a sun-clock, which may explain the placement of these entrances. This, it was argued, would not have been recognised using formal methods of archaeological excavation and data collection. Indeed, every paper in the session introduced novel methodological possibilities for enquiring into or imagining the past, whether these were performative, haptic, visual, acoustic, theoretical or any combination of these.

4. A healthy critical awareness of artful integration.

Dixon asked ’Is it Good?’, cautioning that art is too often adopted by archaeologists uncritically, as a form of primary evidence or as a good way of communicating the results of archaeology to the public. This is patronising and the actual processes of artistic interpretation and practice, it was argued, need to be recognised by archaeologists. On this theme, Maxwell’s exploration of an archaeological site plan displayed on the wall in a project office proposed that, in fact, art and archaeology both adopt creative methodologies. Both art and archaeology produce open-ended embodiments of ‘Messy Thinking’ (Mitchell quoted in Cajori 1992); artworks which can, and should, be re-interpreted and re-analysed. These two contributions, and others in the session, considered different ways of thinking: are creative ways of thinking unique to art, or can they also be found in archaeology?

Future Directions:

Contributions were eclectic and provoking, arousing exciting possibilities. It became clear that we are only at the start of a conversation, with many questions remaining unanswered. All of the contributors to the session exhibited the obvious value and utility of creative work and creative thinking for, and in, archaeology. Art and archaeology were recognised as having their own ontologies and skills (Dixon), though the boundaries are perhaps more blurred than previously realised (Maxwell). What remains unclear is how this relationship should progress and work practically:

1. How should this relationship between art and creative work be practically arranged in the field, in the office and in the museum? Should artful integration be considered its own discipline, or is its strength in its un-disciplining? Should museums and publications embrace more artful integrations and does this risk or alter the knowledge disseminated?

2. How can the varied creative methodologies of performative, haptic, visual, acoustic and theoretical be critically integrated into the archaeological discourse and recognised as a valuable contribution?

3. What does archaeology have to offer art? It has been brought to attention that we need to better understand the similarities and differences in artistic and archaeological practices.

Hadley began the session with an historical and contemporary examination of the ‘borderlands’ of artistic intervention in archaeology. Archaeologists’ fascination with art, and artists’ fascination with archaeology has a long history (Renfrew 2003). Now is the time for reflection on this relationship, with the hope of opening up positive possibilities for artful integration enriching our engagements, understandings, imaginings and disseminations of the past. Let’s embrace the future of creative artful integrations and not be scared to ‘Put our Pens Down’ (Pascoe) or revel in ‘Messy Thinking’ (Mitchell quoted in Cajori 1992)!

Acknowledgements:

Our extended thanks to Dr. Timothy Taylor who chaired the session and for providing the photographs and video attached here. Also, thanks to all the participants for making such a vibrant and successful session.

References:

Renfrew, C. 2003 Figuring it Out. Thames and Hudson: London

Cajori, M. 1992 Joan Mitchell, Portrait of an Abstract Painter, film 58 mins.

List of Contributors to Artful Integration at TAG 2010:

Andrew Cope (Plymouth University)

Aaron Watson and John Crewdson (Royal Holloway University of London)

Simon Pascoe and Caitlin Easterby (Red Earth)

James Dixon (UWE)

Paul Evans

Eva Bosch