Institute of Archaeology



Archaeological Activists and the Untold Histories of Archaeology | Tue Dec 17 09:30:00 | Room 739

Our text books tell the orthodox story of how archaeology, as a discipline and a profession, has unfolded. Mostly constructed from the perspectives of straight white men, we hear how they moved through the theoretical paradigms, developing theories and methods which have become standardised and enshrined in our contemporary practices and heritage organisations. In between those grand themes however, unrecorded movements, initiatives and individuals did their own things in an effort to make a difference. How representative, therefore, are the ‘official’ accounts of what has happened? For some time, the feminist critique has been particularly strong in illustrating women who have “trowelblazed” (Cf. https://trowelblazers.com/) their way through the profession, and feminism has made real impacts in challenging persisting standard narratives. In the 1980s Archaeologists for Peace, together with Archaeologists Communicate Transform, briefly emphasised the wider concerns of archaeologists, attempting to promote the social investment archaeology makes. Before them, RESCUE was formed as a pressure group which retains that focus today. What other such stories might there be, of people getting together, or acting on their own, to protest, pressurise, influence and change the progress of archaeology on its otherwise established, and establishment-led, course? How, through their actions, have relatively unknown figures tilted at the relationships of power and knowledge between the establishment and the rest of us? How many more untold stories can be rescued from the margins? In this session we invite papers that build upon this examination of the intertwining of theory and practice, to tell the radical untold histories of archaeology.

Session timetable
9:30 | Hannah Cobb, University of Manchester; Duncan Brown, Historic England

Session introduction

9:35 | Jude Plouviez, RESCUE; Robin Densem, RESCUE

Rescue - A Secret Society?

With the post-war housing boom and a growth in infrastructure, particularly the development of the motorway network it became apparent by the late 1960’s that provision for archaeology was completely inadequate in the UK, particularly as it was realised just how many sites there were across the country. A group of active archaeologists joined forces and 1971 saw the establishment of RESCUE, a charitable organisation campaigning for threatened sites to be excavated.

With the establishment of county and regional units it seemed that Rescue might have fulfilled its brief, but then it took the issues raised by urban sites in the 1980’s – the Queen’s Hotel in York, Huggin Hill in the City of London and the Rose in Southwark – before archaeology was fully recognised within the planning process in 1990. And so the story continues.

Today, the structures in place for the protection of the historic environment remain vulnerable. Rescue remains independent, mainly funded by our members, often saying the things that others then agree with later. In this presentation we will discuss why archaeology still needs Rescue amongst the many voices in the archaeological landscape.

9:55 | Kate Geary, CIfA; Rob Lennox, CIfA

‘The Establishment’ Strikes Back: What CIfA activists are doing and why you should care

In 1982, a band of rebels founded the Institute for Field Archaeologists. Their vision was to shape an archaeological profession – to raise standards and deliver new hope for the industry.

This act of activism was a success, enabling archaeologists to take charge of their own destiny through self-regulation, to develop their reputation, and begin to tackle endemic problems.

The IFA (now CIfA) is now a more mature organisation, recognised both within and beyond archaeology, and respected by government. But with maturity comes the tarnishing of an original vision, accusations that it is now part of ‘the establishment’. A purveyor of the authorised world view, a blocker of change and a new wave of radical thinking.

This could not be further from the truth. In the face of increasing threats and challenges to the practice of archaeology, the need for CIfA activism is even stronger today. CIfA is run by an elected Board of Directors, advised by a Council of members and special interest groups, all volunteers - activists – who give their time and expertise to ‘pressurise, influence and change the progress of archaeology’. And also, where necessary, to protest.

This paper will explore the role and tactics of CIfA activists in shaping the profession and engaging in advocacy, and consider why you should be one of them.

10:15 | Duncan Brown, Historic England

Archaeologists Communicate Transform!

Everyone was angry in the 1980s and we mostly blamed the government, or more precisely its leader. We were young too, which meant we thought we could change things. ACT grew out of that feeling of invincible youth and a growing discontent with the archaeological ‘establishment’, which we thought was represented by the IFA (as it was then) and the newly created English Heritage, personified by its Chairman, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu and Geoff Wainwright, the irascible Chief Archaeologist. At the 1988 Young Archaeologists Conference in Southampton, hostile questioning of the flagship excavation at Maiden Castle led a small local group to discuss the formation of a pressure group to represent the interests of those towards the bottom of employment ladder. We felt we had no voice anywhere else and we wanted to be heard. There was a lot of interest nationally, from people in the same boat and ACT became a movement. A short-lived one perhaps, but the meetings were tremendous, the organisation chaotic and ultimately self-defeating and the ethos impeccable. Did we make a difference? We like to think so but come to the talk to find out.

10:35 | Kevin Wooldridge, Independent

How a group of archaeologists, supported by their trade union, took on management and won the largest ever protective award made by a UK industrial tribunal…

In September 1990 the Museum of London informed staff of its intention to make redundant over 300 archaeologists working for the Departments of Urban and Greater London Archaeology. From the outset, Museum of London management insisted that this could largely be achieved by non-renewal of fixed term contracts despite trade unions arguing that 90 days notice was required for ALL staff, irrespective of the type of contract they were employed under. Following negotiations, the number of redundancies was reduced to 243, but redundancies were still made in November 1990. The case came to an industrial tribunal in the summer of 1991, won by the trade union, awarding affected staff a protective award equal to their wages for the disputed notice period. At the time this was the largest ever protective award made by an industrial tribunal, amounting to an average of £2,200 per person.

At the time of the redundancies, I was the Museum of London trade union branch secretary. This paper will briefly outline the details of the case and the actions that the archaeologiststook to organise and present their case. I will also examine some of theconsequences of the archaeologicaldiaspora created by the redundancies.

10:55 | Session organisers


11:10 | BREAK
11:40 | Iia Shuteleva, UFA, Russia; Nikolai Shcherbakov, UFA, Russia; Tatiana Leonova, UFA, Russia

The "power of non-violence" or "Gandhism" of Russian provincial archaeology.

Starting from the 18th century, a special intellectual life was formed in the border provinces of the Russian Empire. Initially the basis of it consisted of convicted, exiled and hiding from government persecution people. The non-resistance to the authorities’ violence gave rise to active development of scientific research based on local history material, which determined the long-term trend of the Russian province up to the 20th century. A striking example was the archeology of the Southern Urals. Many of its representatives, who had previously received a brilliant education, were convicted of anti-Soviet activities. Once in the Southern Urals, in Ufa or in Orenburg, they got connected to it for the rest of their lives. These factors formed the unique intellectual environment of provincial Russia, as an artificial space devoid of estate, party, gender and other restrictions. The first women of Russian archeology V.V. Golmsten and A.V. Zbrueva carried out their research here. Separated from their environment, deprived of the possibility of direct communication, these researchers fully devoted themselves to science. The ban on leaving the territory of the Southern Urals forced a comprehensive study of the available source base. B.A. Koishevsky compiled a register of archeological monuments: "Card index of Koishevsky." He also applied a new method for excavating medieval barrows of the Urals. Many researchers had no right to be published in the mass press, their manuscripts were distributed through self-printing, therefore, their works are available only in the collections of museums and archives. The imposed authority restrictions had the opposite effect on the formation in the mid-20th century of an advanced archaeological school of science in the Southern Urals.

12:00 | Andy Hoaen, Open University; Stephen Sherlock, Independent

NO FUTURE: FROM MSC schemes to Master of Science Courses

The Manpower Services Commission (MSC) was set up by Ted Heath in 1973 and ran till 1990. During that time its role was to help reduce the unemployment figures. It did this through community projects, which could be in any area e.g. archaeology, environmental work etc., so long as lip service was paid to training. To participate you had to have been unemployed for a year, unless in a management position in which case that was waived. On most archaeology projects there was a clear class divide between university educated mainly middle class archaeologists who supervised and managed the projects, and unemployed working and under class people who were there to labour.

The authors come from white working class backgrounds and both started work in archaeology via MSC schemes in the early 80’s. Both have had long careers within different archaeological sectors. Sherlock now works as an advisor to Highways England on a variety of road projects currently the A14, Hoaen as an academic primarily in widening participation.
Both have run community archaeology projects such as the long running Street House project (Sherlock) and the Matterdale Archaeological project (Hoaen and Loney).

In this paper we want to reflect on the impact that MSC schemes had and continues to have on contemporary archaeology and our own histories as working class archaeologists. We will discuss our varying approaches to increasing access to the archaeological and heritage professions via our work as professional archaeologists, educators and community archaeologists. We will outline the major barriers to participation for working class and BAME groups and suggest ways to overcome them.

12:20 | Hannah Cobb, University of Manchester

Reflecting on Reflexivity

In the 1990s, several major Anglo-American projects set out to challenge established norms in archaeological theory and practice. This ground-breaking shift questioned the fundamental tenets of archaeology; namely the objectivity of the archaeological record and the archaeologist, instead advocating reflexive, multi-vocal practices. The most notable of these projects are Çatalhöyük, Turkey (which continues today), Stone Worlds/Leskernick on Bodmin Moor, and Framework Archaeology on the site of the Heathrow’s Terminal 5. But what impact have they had on contemporary practice? Have these innovative, radical methods been lost to the excesses of neoliberalism and austerity, or do their roots reach out into the way archaeology is practiced today? In this paper I will consider these questions and aim to trace some of the biographies of those who participated in these reflexive projects in order to examine the legacies of reflexive methods on contemporary Anglo-American and European archaeological practice.

12:40 | Session organisers


13:00 | END