Why Archaeology is the Best Cultural Experience You Can Have

Four Trowels DigVentures

This week, we headed to Google HQ where we learned something surprising. But this is a story that deserves to be told from the very beginning…

In the beginning, there wasn’t very much stuff – just some space and some energy. But then it congealed to make particles, and particles congealed to make rocks and wind and things that were alive.

And then there were people. People who made things and solved problems with the things they made. And people carried on making things, so much so that instead of solving problems, it became one. And from empty beginnings we quickly started heading into a world full of stuff. Some people even started making things designed to break just so that there was an excuse to make more stuff and now there is too much STUFF and it’s clogging up our oceans and our homes and our minds.


When two archaeologists go to Google HQ, they inevitably dig up a bunch of old stuff hiding in the cupboards, like a Commodore and a battered copy of Encarta 95.

Thankfully, there is a renaissance happening. At least, that’s what DigVentures heard at the Remix Summit – a conference we went to this December at Google HQ that brings together the best people working in culture and technology today. People who are doing amazing things at places like the V&A, the Tate, Coney, the Almeida Theatre, the Guardian and the Natural History Museum.

What we heard from them was that instead of ‘stuff’, people are once again choosing to make, to have and to give things that last a lifetime. And those ‘things’ are experiences; experiences that you can have online, experiences that you can have in the real world, experiences that blur the lines between the two.

Experiences like Coney’s Early Days (of a Better Nation), a play set in a post-apocalyptic world with no actors, only you – the participating audience – who argue, debate and set the rules to decide the fate of their nation. A play that was so effective, the producers received a letter from someone saying they hated it because it made them feel terrible, and then another letter from the same person a few weeks later saying that upon reflection, it had changed their outlook on the world.

Experiences like Tate Sensorium, where curators bring you into an experiment. Wearing a fitbit, you wonder around an exhibition that combines famous works of art with smells and sounds and tastes and things to touch, and all the time you’re experiencing these sensations, you’re sending data to scientists who are researching how we react physically and emotionally to different stimuli. And at the end, they give you your data back to show you what was going on in your body to help you understand what was really going on in your mind.

What all these experiences have in common, the great minds at Remix agreed, is that they are real, they are live, they are visceral and they are shareable. Most of all, they are not just spectacle. They are transformative. They change the way you think about yourself and the world. What’s more, you have an effect on the outcome, and the outcome has an effect on you.

Now, it’s not often that we think of archaeology as a cultural experience, so let me tell you why by this definition DigVentures thinks archaeology is one of the greatest cultural experiences you can have.

The most exciting thing about culture is the understanding we come to of our shared past

– Steve Crossan, founder of the Google Cultural Institute, Remix Summit 2012

First, I’ll be damned if archaeology doesn’t go straight to the heart of what Steve Crossan is talking about. Archaeology is all about our shared past. It’s the foundation of all the culture we see around us today, and of our understanding of what culture is, and how it got here.

Second, what could be more real, live and visceral than getting your hands dirty and joining the hunt for the site of the first Vikings invasions in the UK, crawling into a cave to look for evidence of Ice Age hunters, picking through the remains of a Romano-British cave cult, or searching for Bronze Age rock art in the undergrowth?

Third, this is no spectacle. Sure, you can see archaeology in a museum, a wonderful amazing museum. But do you really get it? By experiencing archaeology, by actually doing it, you break through the glass case. You get to be the archaeologist. You get to explore how our understanding of the past is constructed. You get to make discoveries that have the potential to change everyone’s understanding of the world. And discovery is surely one of the most transformative experiences you can have.

Fourth, it is shareable. Wherever you choose to experience archaeology, we make sure everything you find pops up online so that anyone, anywhere in the world, can see what you’ve pulled out of the ground.

Finally, we love what we do and we want you to love it too. That’s why DigVentures exists. So while the best minds in the cultural industries are still figuring out ways to turn their collections into ‘cultural experiences’, just remember what we already know… archaeology already IS one of the best, most immersive cultural experiences you can have.

So stuff you disposable culture! Bring on cultural experience! These days, we no longer need to give our loved ones more STUFF. Instead, we can give something that will last a lifetime; an experience that will shape the way we, and others, think and feel forever.

Love archaeology?

DigVentures crowdfunds archaeological projects that everyone can be part of, in the UK and overseas. With help from people all over the world, we investigate the past and publish our discoveries online for free. Become a DigVentures Subscriber and be part of great archaeology - all year round!


Written by Maiya Pina-Dacier

Head of Community at DigVentures, Maiya digs with a trowel in one hand, and a Twitter feed in the other. She reports on all our discoveries live from the trenches, and keeps our Site Hut full of the latest archaeology news. Got a story? Just drop her a line...

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