“Every archaeologist knows in his heart why he digs. He digs, in pity and humility, that the dead may live again, that what is past may not be forever lost, that something may be salvaged from the wreck of ages.” This quote was written by archaeologist Geoffrey Bibby, in his publication ‘The Testimony of the Spade’ in 1956. It was at a time where archaeology was still a male dominated world (note the use of the word ‘he’), and vastly a white middle to upper class profession. Many excavations were carried out overseas, when people of that country were often employed as diggers but not necessarily in roles to provide interpretation and subsequently publications.
Archaeology in the proceeding years changed significantly, with new technologies, objectives, methodologies and people working within it. However, there are still systemic issues within archaeology, with research such as the BAJR Poverty Impact Report of September 2022 highlighting poor pay, less than adequate working conditions alongside barriers like lack of childcare and low diversity.
Why am I starting this blog post with such pretty hard hitting facts? I want to because this is the lived experience of many within archaeology as it stands within the UK. But as I have slowly come to realise, archaeology is not an island but a piece of a large, varied landscape. Whether positive or negative archaeology has many connections to other heritage perspectives that I had not really explored until I joined the Heritage Trust Youth Forum.
For example, in many commercial units we carry out historic building recording of properties for renovation, demolition or conservation. It was not until the Network’s Conference of 2022 that I realised how many organisations are dedicated to heritage architecture or built heritage as someone described it to me. There are many societies (e.g. the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings), trusts (e.g. National Churches Trust) and local groups all invested in the use and conservation of historic buildings.
Organisations like the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists are equally matched by the Institute for Conservation (formed 2005), the Institute for Historic Building Conservation and the Royal Town Planning Institute (formed 1914). These professional bodies represent some heritage employees and will interact directly with the use and application of heritage in a variety of ways.
In May 2020 Historic England published a report on heritage and its contribution to the UK Economy. In 2019 it noted that there were ‘206,000 employees in England’s heritage sector’. The ‘Profiling the Profession’ survey, led by Landward Research, recorded in 2020 6300 archaeologists working within the UK with the role of ‘museum or heritage/ cultural attraction’ being the fourth highest category of organisation which responded to the survey. As the numbers show there are quite a few of us who count ourselves as heritage employees. It is important to highlight the dates these reports were compiled, as new data would highlight the subsequent effects of COVID, Brexit and the Cost of Living Crisis. These factors impacted both the archaeological sector and the wider heritage sector (museums, organisations, heritage charities) so I believe it would be beneficial to increase more communication of how both sectors responded to such factors. What worked, what didn’t work, how was funding allocated or raised, which professional bodies made a difference, and how can future safeguarding measures be implemented.
An example of this communication in action is the Heritage Connects Knowledge Hub. The Heritage Workspace, supported by Historic England, includes a forum called Heritage Connects Knowledge Hub which describes itself as ‘a general, open group where heritage professionals can share, collaborate, and connect!’ This forum at the time of writing had 289 members and two group facilitators who provides support and prompts for discussion. Innovative forums like this could aid cross-sector communication in an informal and accessible way.
The Heritage Trust Network Youth Forum is also an example of this communication in action. When I attended last year’s conference in Caernarfon I met a wide variety of people ranging from managers to consultants to architects. I never would have met them without the Youth Forum as up until joining the forum the only conferences I had attended were strictly ‘archaeological’. To my knowledge, I was only one of three archaeologists there, which I hope will change as more communication happens between heritage employees.
I believe that those within the heritage sector have more in common than it may first be presumed. And I believe given the right circumstances and opportunities, this will be realised.
- Archaeologists in Financial Crisis – BAJR Survey 2022 | UK Archaeology News (bajrfed.co.uk)
- The heritage sector in England and its impact on the economy (historicengland.org.uk)
- 1.1 Size of UK Archaeology – Profiling the Profession
- About – Heritage Workspace – Knowledge Hub (khub.net)
By Tabitha Lawrence, Youth Forum Member
Image copyright from from Annie Spratt