Monday, 11 September 2017


     The last three decades have witnessed a remarkable global revolution. Many of us, worldwide, now benefit from access to internet connections. You are reading this after all. So I have been wondering if we have really tapped into this global resource of people, the community within the global village. And if sufficient effort is being applied in this direction.

     Community archaeology seeks to involve the public in our discipline. Outreach programmes, in archaeology, are a form of science  that attempt to present archaeological findings to non-archaeologists. Public participation is usually a crucial aspect of most  archaeological projects. In the UK this will form an important part of most research submissions. Open days and school visits will be considered. As will presentations....maybe in the local Village/Community Hall with tea and biscuits. Free wine and beer evenings have been used as incentives. Artefacts may be presented in school classrooms, and opprtunities given on the dig. 

     Make believe sandpits, plastic trowels and colander sieves for the kids on a (hopefully) sunny afternoon. All worthwhile. All important. Use of the local media, both press and television, will be of consideration. Many sites publish their own daily blog. Day to day dissemination and progress reporting vital in ensuring the community is "included".

Open Day, Perdigoes, 2017
     As Dr. Antonio Carlos Valera wrote " As medicine is not developed for the doctors, archaeology is not developed for the archaeologists. Archaeology produces knowledge to be used in social arenas and in personal cultural enlargement"

     The key is the engagement, without which archaeology loses much of it's relevance. Allow me to give you a couple of examples. Ongoing projects that seek participation through the use of the internet. 

     Having grown up in Kenya and with a special interest in palaeoanthropology, the first is close to my heart. The Turkana basin is a wild, desolate, hot and very big place. 

Turkana Basin Institute, seen from the air
     Vast. I have been there (though we knew it as Lake Rudolph (showing my age 😜)). So hunting for fossils is an arduous and often frustrating task. Luck plays an enormous part, and we are not all as fortunate as Johansson. So a number of agencies came together to develop a novel collaboration. 

     Why spend days and weeks fieldwalking in forlorn hope, when technology can target areas most likely to give a result. Using a combination of drones and GPS the area has been photographed extensively. The project is ongoing. HD resolution provides detailed 1m x 1m photographs across the survey area. Many thousands of them. It would take a lifetime to view and analyse them. So the idea is simple. They are placed on a dedicated site and anybody, from a primary school hobbyist, to retired teachers, the unemployed, or those that are just bored at home, can have a peek. Students and staff with a spare five minutes. A simple reporting tool feeds back to the researchers who can then act as necessary. 


     So simple. It is given to anybody with web access to find a new hominin fossil. Simply beautiful. If you ever have a few spare minutes, then take a the UK National Lottery says "It could be you!". 

     A rather different project seeks to combine archaeology and health professionals. Led by Dr. K. Croucher the aim is to combine the disciplines to explore the meaning and legacy of death through past and contemporary practise. In collaboration archaeologists, health and social care professionals attempt to gain a better understanding of end of life care, grief and the relationships between the living, dying and dead.

     The project is active on a number of social media platforms, and invites participation from all those who have any experience, professional or otherwise, in dealing with death. Still in it's relative infancy the active use of the internet to attract a wider audience and dataset is to be commended.

     Now I appreciate that not all projects would benefit from active internet "marketing" for want of a better word. And also that internet use, and social media platforms in particular, are not without risk. Use and abuse, misinformation and conflagration is rife. Mass participation does not always lead to mass education. Similarly data obtained by such means will always contain a certain bias that must be considered.

     However, with the right project and team, then a truly global participation, through web based platforms, can be beneficial.

     And a final thought. Sarah Parcak has been instrumental in the development of satellite technology use in archaeology. But not all of us have access to the networks that she has. There is hope. Back to Dr. Valera who has found at least 17 previously unidentified ditched enclosures in Portugal (pers. comm.) using......wait for it......Google Earth. So if you have some free time, why not satellite surf? 

No project design, or research team. It's free. It's flexible. And with a bit of luck you might discover a major archaeological site.

The bottom line, however you do it, is in archaeology you will always need a bit of luck but the greater the participation, the bigger the sample, the luckier you might get. Just a thought.