CBA Report Reveals Voluntary Archaeology Has Doubled in Twenty Years

A new report highlights the sheer scale of voluntary archaeology in the UK, and makes important recommendations about how these activities should be supported in the future.

The images on this page can be downloaded at print quality by clicking on them.

CLASP - Whitehall Roman Villa Excavation at Knights Templar Copmanthorpe 2006 Jon Kenny at Broughton La Societe Guernesaise Yorkshire Dales Landscape Research Trust

Over 200,000 individuals are involved in a community archaeology group or local society, carrying out activities as diverse as excavation, marine archaeology, recording a historic building or volunteering for a Young Archaeologists’ Club Branch. This figure has more than doubled since a similar survey was carried out in 1987.

The reasons for this increase are varied. Interest in archaeology is widening, with a greater range of television programmes, websites and publications available than ever before. It may also relate to a real expansion in voluntary activity of all kinds, with a recent report indicating that 43% of adults had volunteered formally within the last 12 months. It is also significant that increased funding opportunities for local archaeology groups have become available over the past decade, especially from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The CBA report, Community Archaeology in the UK: Recent Findings, brings together a UK-wide research project that surveyed, consulted and interviewed voluntary groups to gain a clearer understanding of the nature and scale of voluntary involvement in archaeology. Professional archaeologists and outreach workers were also consulted to assess how the activities of voluntary archaeologists could be better supported and recorded.

Key findings from the report are that:

  • There are at least 2,030 voluntary groups and societies active in the UK that interact with archaeological heritage in a wide variety of ways. This represents approximately 215,000 individuals with an active interest in archaeological heritage.
  • Relationships between voluntary archaeologists and the c 7500 professional archaeologists in the UK are mostly good, but some problems can be identified. Thus there is a case for more training for professional archaeologists to equip them better to work with and support volunteers.
  • Group activities, even levels of expertise, are significantly influenced by local conditions, such as relationships with professional archaeologists, legislation, and availability of grants.
  • The dramatic decline in continuing education departments and the closure/down-sizing of many archaeological organisations continues to have an impact.
  • Sustainability is a key issue that emerged throughout the research phases, and more research is needed into the means by which bottom-up, community-led archaeology projects may work to ensure sustainability.
  • There is a need for training, but this varies from area to area, and from group to group. Hence any training programmes must be tailored to specific regions or groups, and must have an emphasis on practical rather than passive sessions. Increased use of online learning models will enable learners to choose material appropriate to their needs. However, online provision cannot substitute for face-to-face interaction, which is still considered to be of most value.
  • Some community archaeology groups are very good at broadcasting and publishing their work, others less so. 11% of groups that responded to the survey claimed not to publish or broadcast their work at all.

The CBA will be acting on these conclusions with ambitious plans to train a new generation of professional community archaeology facilitators to help groups make the most of their activities. The CBA will also be expanding its suite of advice and guidance facilities, and focusing on raising the standard of work carried out by volunteers.

This research is funded by the Headley Trust, and links in with a broader programme of support for community archaeology launched by the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) in 2009. In 2006, the CBA created the double award-winning Community Archaeology Forum, a website which allows groups to create their own pages, upload advice and guidance materials and discuss their findings with others: www.britarch.ac.uk/caf

This report highlights the amazing variation and ingenuity of community archaeology carried out across the UK. For particular examples of projects, groups and local societies, please contact the CBA.

You can read further details about our community archaeology work here.

An article reporting on these findings can be found in the forthcoming British Archaeology magazine, due on 11 June 2010.