Wednesday, 9 April 2014

East Midlands Community Archaeology Conference Nottingham University April 2014

East Midlands Community Archaeology Conference
Report by Lynda Mallett
Organised by Mercian Archaeological Services CIC
Nottingham University Archaeology Museum,
Lakeside Arts Centre,
University of Nottingham Campus
April 5th 2014
Andy Gaunt Introduces The Sherwood Forest Archaeology Project.    Photo Credit Lynda Mallett
Presentations by:
Introduction Tim Yarnell Archaeologist Forestry Commission,
Stuart Reddish of The Friends of Thynghowe The Friends of Thynghowe,
John Lock of Southwell Burgage Earthworks Project Burgage Earthworks,
Janet Spavold and Sue Brown of Ticknall Archaeological Research Group Targ Archaeology,
James Wright of the Clipstone Research Project Archaeology & History of King's Clipstone, Nottinghamshire,
Jim Priest of the Sherwood Archaeology Society,
Richard Tyndall Archaeology in Ancaster,
Chris Rawson and Alex Southern from Elmet Archaeological Services Ltd
Daryl Garton of The Ice Age Journeys Project Ice Age Journeys,
Andy Gaunt of the Sherwood Forest Archaeology Project ( Archaeology and History of Medieval Sherwood Forest ) .
This inaugural East Midlands conference organised by Mercian Archaeological Services CIC was targeted at community groups already involved in archaeological projects. Also attending were individuals or groups wishing to become involved and to learn from more experienced groups.
The Nottingham University Museum and lecture theatre at the Department of Archaeology provided an interesting and most suitable venue for this event.
The topics covered provided an interesting range of opportunities from the more traditional methods of archaeological participation to an up to the minute approach of developing community led landscape archaeology. The presentations by both professional archaeologists and volunteer led projects demonstrated different approaches in involvement of community, and how varied the idea of 'community' could be.
Community volunteer led projects that have received HLF funding have a mandate to include individuals and groups that may not normally be engaged in heritage and archaeology. Some of the groups told of involving the local community payback probation team, children and school groups re-enactment, taking archaeological finds into a shopping mall, washing pot sherds in a café, finding a wider regional and international community and sharing knowledge.
Conversations outside the lecture theatre whilst having breaks provided a different forum for sharing experiences and highlighted some of the differences between 'top down' direction and control and 'bottom up' community led decision making.
Around half of the presentations were by community members and volunteers reflecting on the success and difficulties relating to their own projects. Recruitment of participants and the range of inventive methods of maintaining interest and momentum were common to all presentations.
The sharing process did provide a forum to consider common problems on the subject of access to sites by permission from site owners and the influence of ongoing management of sites at the end of current funding.
Tim Yarnell (opening speaker) Cultural Advisor, Historic Environment Advisor and Archaeologist for the Forestry Commission talked about the importance for the heritage within the FC estates in England being led by community groups. He described the participation, facilitation, and involvement of a number of community led heritage projects within the Forestry Commission forests. He firmly believes that the research output although done by local volunteers was not academically inferior.
Issues of definition and methodology of community archaeology were considered in one presentation. This presentation also explored the importance of the sense of place to those volunteers involved with the archaeological work. This work on the discovery of a Viking Assembly site is now being shared within the much wider community of the Viking diaspora.
One group spoke of how they overcame the recording and training problem, and tackled it by finders doing their own pot sherd washing, drying and recording at home. This was sometimes facilitated by a 'buddy' system, the pairing of experienced volunteers with new recruits.
A group that only had small parcels of funding carried out most of their research using map regression and archive research.
Another group spoke about the difficulties of changing farming practices like deep ploughing and how to maintain the integrity of a site that often had to be left and returned to years later.
It was also pointed out that the underlying geology of a site needs to be understood because changes in the prehistoric geological formation needs to be considered when locating significant
sites in the landscape. This group also had to consider larger excavation areas as small trial trenches can only give limited information.
We learned that the University of Hull part-time BA degree in Archaeology is now the last course of its kind and there is no more intake and it will finish in four years – this is sad for mature learners in this field. Archaeologists from Elmet Archaeological Services Ltd. who teach this degree course also give their time free in outreach work to adults with learning requirements.
There was also an element in another presentation that pointed out the interface between the need for specialist equipment and training and using it by volunteers in the discovery of concentrated finds – in this case mechanical auguring equipment.
It was noted that some professional archaeology companies and community led groups were interdependent – community groups providing the funding for professional support and training – the professionals providing free advice, support and training and the loan of equipment to community groups. When this is done with respect and trust it is a win win for archaeological heritage.
The value of this type of event lies within the opportunity for public knowledge transfer. This process not only brings to attention new discoveries but also provides the opportunity for individuals to expand their own knowledge in the field of community archaeology.
In providing an academic setting and giving local groups an opportunity to present their research findings it can only strengthen the success of the individual groups. In order to spread the word, and further their presentation skills, it is essential that volunteers in community archaeology have the opportunity to present their experience and knowledge to a wider community.
This event has the intention of becoming an annual event and as the East Midlands community archaeology and heritage groups continue to pro-actively network this will provide a conduit for other activities and training opportunities.

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