Archaeology South-East


ASE placement student reflects on CIfA conference 2024

27 June 2024

Each year UCL Institute of Archaeology placement students at ASE are supported to attend CIfA’s annual conference. Sol Whitehouse reflects on his CIfA conference experience in April 2024, which had a theme of ‘legacy’.

Composite image titled "CIfA Conference Chester 2024". A smiling man in a high viz orange jacket is highlighted against dark blue background. An arrow points to him with the phrase "ASE placement student reflects"

Arrival in Chester

Enjoying a coffee whilst getting lost in Chester

Where better than the historic Cathedral city of Chester to host this year’s CIfA conference? Founded by the Romans in 79AD, Chester’s near two-thousand-year history is expansive and important in understanding the story of Britain.

As I walked with fellow placement students through the city with fellow students Claire and Tasnima, we were struck with a strong sense of times past. The Victorian shopfronts, a Roman amphitheatre and the Medieval city walls are but a reminder of the city’s deep history.

The conference itself was held at the rather more modern Crowne Plaza Hotel. The discussions over the next two days focussed on CIfA’s theme of ‘legacy’: trying to understand the role of today’s heritage industry, and the responsibility we have when considering those of tomorrow.

Day 1: Legacies and archaeological data

After registering and collecting our conference passes, the first day kicked off with a keynote session. It underlined the theme of ‘legacy’ for the next couple of days, as well as giving an in-detail look at Albion Archaeology’s experience with the Level 3 Archaeological Technician Apprenticeship. As was the case throughout the conference, the floor was opened for questions, with an expert panel in place to engage in discussion.

Later I attended a session on archaeological data, a focus on the challenges faced today by the industry, with discussions related to sector wide standardisation. This provided food for thought of which I will be conscious when managing data going forward.

Day 2: Heritage crime and even more legacies

The morning topic for me on day two was heritage crime. This session was packed with many different speakers. Mark Harrison (Historic England) was the first and introduced the room to the Heritage Crime Special Interest Group (SIG). He then went on to cover several case studies that he has been involved with at Historic England. This was very informative; I had been totally unaware of the severity of threat posed to Historic sites and monuments. These presentations shone light on the collaborative approaches between the heritage industry and local communities, police forces, and government officials when trying to put in place preventative measures to protect heritage from crime.

Dr Jon Berry gives an insightful presentation in relation to heritage crime in Wales

The afternoon’s session took a direct focus on the theme of legacy, with lots of organisations being represented in the session. The discussions were very forward thinking covering a wide range of topics. A heavy but important focus on EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) meant it was refreshing to hear the voices of people from many different backgrounds. Although it was acknowledged that archaeology as a discipline has come a long way in modernising and diversifying the field, the room agreed that much more must be done.


Where the old meets the new in Chester

The final speech was by Peter Hinton, CEO of CIfA. Peter thanked us all for attending and offered his own reflections on the conference, before announcing his retirement from the role that he has held since 1987.

In all, the CIfA conference was an enlightening experience which shed light on the industry. As a student, I can walk away with a firmer understanding of the industry’s goals and aspirations moving forward. A big takeaway for me was the networking. It seemed the entirety of the industry was in some way represented. Several hundred attendees meant that talking to everyone was impossible, but of those I did speak to, interesting conversations and strong connections were made. And as an employee I feel supported, and at ease when considering the many likeminded individuals I came across at CIfA in Chester.

To find out more about the BA Archaeology with Placement Year degree, check out the degree page on the UCL website.

And you can read, watch and listen to more student testimonials over in the Placement Student Hub.