29 Jul 2021
by Neil Redfern

Archaeology Reaching Out Across the Atlantic

The Council for British Archaeology (CBA) and the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) are working together to promote archaeology, public participation and understanding.

AIA Executive Director Rebecca King and CBA Executive Director Neil Redfern tell us more about the history of their organisations and how this collaborative approach has developed.

To kickstart our A Day in Archaeology series of blogs the Council for British Archaeology, based in the United Kingdom and the Archaeological Institute of America, based in North America, are pleased to announce a programme of supportive collaboration to help promote their work, championing archaeology and public participation and understanding.

The Archaeological Institute of America is North America’s oldest and largest organisation devoted to the world of archaeology. It is a nonprofit organization founded in 1879 and chartered by the United States Congress in 1906. Today, the AIA’s members are organised into over 100 Local Societies in the United States, Canada, and Europe. The AIA is unique because it counts professional archaeologists, students, and interested individuals from all walks of life among its members. This diverse group is united by a shared passion for archaeology and its role in furthering human knowledge. To this end, the AIA promotes archaeological inquiry and public understanding of the material record of the human past worldwide.

The AIA’s professional members have conducted archaeological fieldwork in Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia, and North and South America. The AIA has further promoted archaeological studies by founding research centres and schools in seven countries and maintains close relations with these institutions, including the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, the School of Classical Studies at the American Academy in Rome, and the American Schools of Oriental Research. Members are dedicated to the greater understanding of archaeology, the protection of the world’s archaeological resources, and the encouragement and support of archaeological research and publication.

The origins of the Council for British Archaeology lie in the Congress of Archaeological Societies, founded in 1898, but it was in 1943, with the tide of the Second World War turning, that archaeologists in Britain began to contemplate the magnitude of tasks and opportunities that would confront them at the end of hostilities. At a meeting of the Congress of Archaeological Societies "to discuss the requirements of archaeology in the post-war period”, it was agreed to form a 'Council for British Archaeology' to promote, both collectively and through its members, British archaeology in all its aspects.

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One of its objectives was the "safeguarding of all kinds of archaeological material and the strengthening of existing measures for the care of ancient and historic buildings, monuments, and antiquities". Following its first meeting in March 1944, the Council initiated local excavation committees in a number of war-damaged towns, began to seek information about reconstruction projects, and set its Regional Groups the task of watching sites of all kinds. The Congress of Archaeological Societies was quickly wound up, and one of the tasks that the CBA inherited from it was the drawing up of a Survey and Policy for Field Research, which was seen as fundamental to an integrated approach to the exploration of Britain's heritage. This monumental task was undertaken by Christopher Hawkes and Stuart Piggott (both subsequently CBA Presidents) and the first volume appeared in 1948. The CBA also recognised the need for adequate bibliographical backup for British archaeology, and the first volume of its regular Archaeological Bulletin (later renamed the Archaeological Bibliography, and then the British and Irish Archaeological Bibliography).

Within five years the CBA had established the direction of its programme and key roles to provide a forum and act as a facilitator for opinion, ideas and policy development in British archaeology, connecting government, the media, and the public. Today the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) is a charity committed to making archaeology accessible to anyone interested in exploring the stories of people and place. As the voice of archaeology in the UK, we bring together community groups, commercial units, academics and heritage organisations to create and share opportunities to participate, discover and be inspired by archaeology. 

Supporting a common and shared approach 

The AIA promotes archaeological inquiry and public understanding of the material record of the human past to foster an appreciation of diverse cultures and our shared humanity. The AIA supports archaeologists, their research and its dissemination, and the ethical practice of archaeology. The AIA educates people of all ages about the significance of archaeological discovery and advocates for the preservation of the world’s archaeological heritage.

The CBA provides opportunities for people to participate in archaeology through the annual Festival of Archaeology and Young Archaeologists’ Clubs, delivers the Archaeological Achievement Awards and a range of other events and activities throughout the year. Through our Listed Buildings Casework team and advocacy work, we fulfil our statutory role to speak up for the historic environment, while our youth engagement team ensures 16-25-year-olds have opportunities to develop skills and leadership tools. By supporting our affiliate members and CBA groups with guidance, networking, promotion and training opportunities we help ensure that anyone can access archaeology in their local area.  

It is through these shared values and approaches that the AIA and CBA hope to support, promote and share our work without collective members, partners and wider audiences. 

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Over the last year staff at the CBA and AIA have been regularly meeting to share experiences particularly around the changes that the global pandemic has brought to our engagement work. Increased digital delivery has created new opportunities for us to collaborate. Earlier this year the CBA contributed to the AIA’s Annual Meeting which was held online for the first time enabling CBA audiences to attend. In October the CBA will also be participating in International Archaeology Day which is coordinated by the AIA and celebrates the contribution archaeology makes to society. 

Looking forward we hope to continue to develop our collaborative relationship and build on our shared goals to develop new opportunities for participation in archaeology and to enable us to better support the work of voluntary archaeology groups on both sides of the Atlantic.