Letter to a Young Archaeologist, July 2022

European Society of Black and Allied Archaeologists

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Dear Young Archaeologists,

We are the European Society of Black and Allied Archaeologists — a collective of archaeologists who are women of colour. People like us have historically been excluded in this field, but in spite of this, have always taken part in archaeology. We are archaeologists, but also more than just that: we are students, curators, mothers, excavators, lecturers, activists, community members, and many other things too.

Some of us are children of immigrants or immigrants ourselves. We are Palestinian, American, Nigerian, Indian, European, and Caribbean. Some of our families had mixed reactions about us following this career path. Some of us were told that we could not or should not become archaeologists by those who love us, and even by those who didn’t know us. 

We all started our archaeology journey at different times in our lives, and for different reasons. Amongst us, some knew from an early age that this was the work that would bring us joy, whilst others moved into archaeology later in our careers. Some of us are working class and have been made to feel like we don’t belong, but we’ve learned how important our voices are. Some members have made successful careers with PhDs, and some have done the same without them. Our individual journeys show that there isn’t just one route into archaeology, and there isn’t just one kind of person who can be an archaeologist. There are different pathways, and most importantly, you don’t have to have everything figured out when you take your first steps.

Although we’ve faced challenges, on balance archaeology has been something positive in our lives. Archaeology can mean something different to each person: fieldwork in the sunshine, or in the rain; working in a lab; analysis on a computer; teaching in classrooms; looking at bones, maps, soil, objects, plants, archives, buildings. It can mean bringing back experiences of ancestors who were not allowed to leave a written history behind; witnessing how the past is still very much in the present; and connecting to long-gone people in an act of rediscovery. 

One of the beautiful things about archaeology is finding what we have in common with people who lived thousands of years ago. We get to ask big questions, like what does it mean to be human, and how did we all get here? Sometimes we even get to answer them too. Archaeology is about having fun, but also about working responsibly with others. It can mean working on painful histories. It can be an act of healing. It is hard work, but it is joyful and meaningful work. 

Anyone can become an archaeologist. When you become one you will find your family in archaeology too. Despite the difficulties, we know it’s worth it. We’re waiting for you to join us — and archaeology is waiting for you too.

How to find out more: Twitter - @ESBAArchaeology

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