Institute of Archaeology


Theatres of the Past

This project examines the history of public audiences at archaeological sites in Britain from the mid-nineteenth century through to the present. This period witnessed the emergence and growth of modern archaeology as well as the rise of leisure tourism and the popular media. The relationship between archaeologists and the public combines intellectual, economic, social and political elements. The aim of this project is to examine these connections, asking: what has been the role of public audiences in the intellectual history of British archaeology?

Public visitors are rarely mentioned in site reports or as a factor in the history of archaeology, due at least in part to intellectual and social snobbery, but a few examples illustrate both the diversity and the profound importance of these interactions. In the 1930s Mortimer Wheeler welcomed thousands of visitors to his digs at Maiden Castle, funding his fieldwork with the sale of postcards and souvenirs. In 1950s London WF Grimes was horrified by the crowds who flocked to his excavation at the Mithraeum, and had police eject them from the site.

This project focuses on a few particular areas: the relationship between popular science and public archaeology in early nineteenth century Britain; Wheeler's philosophy and practice of public engagement; and the fad for public unrollings of Egyptian mummies in 1830s and 40s London. Drawing these disparate examples together is a study of the archaeological gaze, specifically the epistemological role of the public audience at archaeological sites.

Related outputs

  • G. Moshenska and T. Schadla-Hall. 2011. Mortimer Wheeler's Theatre of the Past. Public Archaeology 10(1).
  • G. Moshenska. 2010. 'At variance with both general and expert opinion': the later works of Lieutenant-Colonel Professor Laurence Austine Waddell. Bulletin of the History of Archaeology 20(1): 49-52.
  • G. Moshenska. 2009. Beyond the viewing platform: excavations and audiences. Archaeological Review from Cambridge 24(1): 39-53.
  • G. Moshenska. 2009. Project note. The theatre of the past: a history of public archaeology. Bulletin of the History of Archaeology 19(2): 42-3.
  • G.Moshenska. 2009. What is public archaeology? Present Pasts 1: 46-8.


  • Leverhulme Trust