What is Community Archaeology?
Community archaeology is what was once known as the voluntary or amateur sector. It is one of the areas of archaeology that has experienced considerable growth over the last decade, despite having been around in some parts of the country since the late 1800s in the form of county societies.
Its success in recent years is due to the fact that it actively involves members of the local community working together in the area in which they live. Everyone is welcome, with neither experience or age being barriers.
With the success of Channel 4’s Time Team program since the late 1990s, many people have become involved with regional and local archaeology societies in the city, town or village in which they live. Indeed, some people have set up their own societies where there previously hadn’t been a society. Large numbers of the public have thought, ‘I want to have a go at that’, and have done so, often very successfully. A large number of community groups undertake archive or field work (survey or excavation) of their own, which is carried out on weekends, evenings and, in some cases, during people’s holidays! Some group volunteers have described it as being addictive!
If you have a broad interest in archaeology it is very likely there is a group in your area that you will be able to become involved with. Becoming involved means you have the option, ideally, to choose something at a level that you are interested and comfortable with. It may be that you want to go out and help dig an archaeological site; you may have illustrator or photographic skills which you think the group could use; you might want to get involved carrying out library archival research for a project the group is undertaking; you might want to learn how to survey a landscape; you may want to be involved but are unsure exactly what you’d like to do, but would like to have the opportunity to find out. You might just want to turn up and make the tea for those doing the excavation. With most community groups all of the things that are suggested here are on option usually. You can become part of the group without having any archaeological skills, and you will have the chance to learn how to do those things that you have an interest in.
Community archaeology groups are carrying out an increasing amount of archaeological fieldwork. The work is usually of great interest, and produces great results.
To give a few examples:
Royton Through the Ages is a community group to the north of Manchester. In 2002, the newly formed group decided to excavate the remains of the old town hall. Without any previous experience, but with assistance from the county archaeologist, they proceeded to do just that over the next six years, with outstanding results.
In Lincolnshire, the Washingborough Archaeology Group has been involved with landscape surveys of the medieval field systems to the east of the city, which has also involved the production of a DVD about the recreation of activities shown in a local medieval illuminated manuscript.
In Worcester, a community excavation was launched with the assistance of the county archaeology service in advance of the construction of a new library and history centre, which involved the excavation of the cities Roman heritage.
There are hundreds of other opportunities like these throughout the UK, and you can become involved with them.
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