By early March 2020, news reports had made it clear that the world was about to change beyond recognition. Archaeology seems a tiny consideration in the face of such huge challenges for humanity, but it’s one that has been drastically affected.
This year’s fieldschools and research projects across the globe have been cancelled (including the first half of DV’s projects), leaving students without training, researchers without research, and volunteers with nowhere to go. Not to mention the archaeology itself, which is often under threat from attritional destruction due to agriculture, weather events, development, and looting. It’s a devastating loss for our sector, and one that we cannot even begin to understand yet in terms of knock-on effects.
And everyone is stuck inside.
So, on the 28th of March, we opened our online ‘How To Do Archaeology’ course to free registration, and crossed our fingers that a few people would take advantage of the opportunity. We ended up with a global guided cohort of 4,000 people from 69 countries, and a booming Facebook Study Group where they are all helping each other work through the course assignments, across language barriers and time zones.
This diverse group of people is also helping each other face challenges like loss of jobs, isolation anxieties, family flare-ups, cancer diagnoses, and the effects of COVID19. The connections being made through the medium of a shared passion for archaeology are forming their own dimension: and it’s a place where everyone is welcome to celebrate achievement, express fear, and help each other find a way through The Great Pause – between what was, and what will be.
Let it just sink in: 4,000 people. In 69 countries. All doing archaeology together. I reckon that means something.
Anyone familiar with community work will recognise the feeling of watching a loose collection of individuals unite themselves into a family. Anyone familiar with community archaeology has probably been shouting about this for years, into the deaf ears of developers and our own sector leadership. This is what is ultimately going to save our sector – not competitive tendering, or REF results, or stats on how much archaeology contributes to the economy. The sad thing is it doesn’t have to be a zero sum game.
DV developed the course because our community asked us for it. We made something that people wanted, and we shared it in a place where they already were. We flattened the path for them to participate. We created a process to recognise and reward participation. We paid attention to production value, because it matters in a time when 12 years olds on YouTube are getting movie deals. We did all of this because we WANTED to, because getting closer to our community means that more archaeology can happen.
Watching the process of the course being adopted from Azerbaijan to Alaska, England to Ethiopia, Jamaica to Jakarta, Siberia to South Dakota and on and on has just proven to us what we already know in our very bones: archaeology can do MORE. It is fundamental to our shared experience as human beings. Being close to archaeology allows people to come alive to curiosities, fascinations and wonder. It helps them love and appreciate the places they live with new eyes. It inspires pride, achievement, commitment, collaboration, scholarship, and togetherness.
This is the only hot take I want to hear about what life will be like after COVID19.
Put us in coach, we’re ready.
‘How to Do Archaeology’ is focused on the practical skills of how archaeologists do what they do, including ethics, desk based research, permissions, fieldwork techniques, tools, and reporting. It’s accredited by the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists, and is based around the BAJR Skills Passport structure, as well as linked to NOS guidelines.
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