Public Archaeology describes the joint effort between heritage professionals and the public to interpret, manage and promote heritage. The concept stemmed from the knowledge gap between archaeologists and the general public.
In practice, public archaeology employs stakeholders from all the related fields to heritage as archaeological, economic, ethnographic, cultural, educational, the audience and members of the local community; joining science and academics with communication.
In other words, professional archaeologists conduct work and include the participation of the public. Including but not limited to:
- Archaeologists working with the public through universities, museums and other institutions.
- Archaeology by the public, such as work by heritage amateurs or independent researchers.
- Public sector archaeology carried out for governmental or state organisations.
- Archaeology education, at all levels.
- Open access archaeology materials.
- Popular archaeology, through documentaries, magazines and other media outlets.
- Academic public archaeology; the study of the field.
Public Archaeology is extremely useful to our society at multiple levels. Either through the collection and contribution of holistic information to the scientific field. Gathering oral history reports, thus maintaining communal memory. Or by adding social values through heritage, starting with the ethical questions surrounding an archaeological site such as ownership and building social identity. Moreover, the practice offers a democratic approach to heritage as it is participatory and open to all. In addition to social values, public archaeology projects see great success as they are practical in nature, satisfy the majority of the stakeholders’ needs and are financially sustainable.
At the start of any project intending to be a collective effort between heritage professionals and community members, the following steps can be a sound strategy:
- SWOT Analysis (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, and Threat) is key to identify the situation and relationships around a heritage site. (You can find a free template within our article Marketing outline; essential for heritage management.)
- All stakeholders involved have a shared understanding of the heritage asset, as well as participate in related actions to improve it. Here are some suggestions for approaching and building rapport with the community:
- Meet and consult with the local stakeholders, such as local authority, people and business. Conduct interviews and establish together a committee to identify the local needs and objectives of the project
- Open a communication channel and allocate responsibility to team members. Promote heritage values by visits, workshops, participatory activities specific to the heritage and introductory to archaeology and heritage management.
- Create a management plan.
- A detailed plan consisting of:
- The project’s aims and stakeholders.
- Description and documentation of the site integrating reports of physical condition, values analysis and management context assessment.
- Define objectives, policies, strategies and synthesis of the plan, derived from Steps 1 and 2.
- Implementation and Monitoring; the data and responses gathered on the project’s implementation will formulate a revision of the plan communicated back to the stakeholders.
- Resource allocation
- Transparency in the execution and planning of the project
Individuals, community members and heritage professionals can use the above steps alike to start a heritage-related project. Projects incited by the community around a heritage often share most success as the heritage values, promotion and educational practices are defined jointly, thus maintaining interest to the site. The key elements needed to assure development and success are:
- Multidisciplinary team (archaeologists, conservators, ethnographers, sociologists etc. and community leaders, visitors, business etc.)
- Realistic objectives and actions.
- Detailed inputs.
- Abiding by local legislation and consulting international standards or conventions.
- Inclusive participation.
- Specific and realistic timeline of achieving goals.
- Monitoring and revision of steps.
This article intends to give you a general understanding of the methodology behind public archaeology, shared by many of the projects we site in past articles. A fantastic example constitutes Nunalleq, Stories from the Village of Our Ancestors: education for the future were the community and archaeologists worked side by side every step of the way and created multiple workshops and educational activities as part of the work. Many tools exist that can guide you through the definition and practices of public archaeology as well as communication with the public. Archaeology does not finish with the excavation of a site but is the beginning of reconnecting with it and the community.
I want to learn more:
Key Concepts in Public Archaeology edited by Gabriel Moshenska
Rapid Ethnographic Assessments: A Practical Approach and Toolkit For Collaborative Community Research by Thurka Sangaramoorthy and Karen A. Kroeger
Ask first: a guide to respecting Indigenous heritage places and values: issues and gaps analysis by Collett, David and Pocock, Celmara
The Burra Charter: the Australia ICOMOS Charter for Places of Cultural Significance, 2013; Burra Charter & Practice Notes
Oxford Bibliography: Public Archaeology by Jeremy A. Sabloff
What Public Engagement in Archaeology Really Means by Joe Flatman, Robert C. Chidester, David A. Gadsby