To our dismay, we have now learned that another well-respected archaeology unit is under threat of cuts and closure: the world-renowned Department of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield. The options for Sheffield’s Senior Executive Board are apparently threefold:

1. Invest in the department

2. Close the department and make all staff redundant

3. Make most staff redundant, but retain some post-graduate degree schemes within other faculties e.g. human osteology within medicine, and heritage management within the Management School

We learn on Tuesday 25 May which of these options will be pursued, with 2 and 3 effectively ending the Department of Archaeology if selected.

My archaeology colleagues and I have written to the Sheffield Vice-Chancellor and Senior Executive Board and we have expressed solidarity with the staff affected.

The Sheffield situation is different from our own in scale and severity, but we stand with them in solidarity as UK HEIs seem to be using the pandemic as an opportunity for a range of ill-considered purges across subject areas, with history and archaeology clearly in their sights.

Of course, this isn’t just about Chester or Sheffield, we are standing up for other departments that have been downsized or closed in recent years, including Bangor, Hull and Manchester among others.

This isn’t about just archaeology either, it is starting to look as if we are entering a time of crisis for UK archaeology but also for the cognate disciplines of history and heritage too.

So we think the Chester and Sheffield situations together call for a concerted effort to promote our subject against a host of pressures and factors, including attempts to discredit and dismantle the rigorous and critical investigation of the human past to enrich and enhance our present and future.

Thanks to @ZooarchLabSheff for use of the logo!

I’d like to share the text of my own letter to the Sheffield Vice-Chancellor which reflects my personal views and affinities with the department where I completed my undergraduate degree 1992-1995. Yes, I’m one of the #ArchaeologistsMadeInSheffield lobbying to #SaveSheffieldArchaeology.

While my name also appears on a joint letter sent today in support of Archaeology at Sheffield together with my archaeology and heritage colleagues from Chester, I’m here writing in a more personal capacity. As Professor of Archaeology at the University of Chester, I am one of the more senior of Sheffield’s archaeology alumni working in UK HE. I’m writing to beg you to opt for investment and support for the Department of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield rather than fragmentation and closure.

Others writing to you will outline better than I can the merits of the subject and the many potentials for Sheffield to continue to lead on the national and international stage in archaeological teaching and research. Archaeologists bear a unique set of roles and responsibilities in exploring and explaining the many millennia of the human past based on robust theories, methods and techniques for the benefit of our present and future generations. Moreover, telling rich data-driven stories and countering political appropriations and extremist fantasies of our shared human past has never been more important and necessary. Others will write too of the looming skills shortage in the archaeology and heritage sectors and how the discipline of archaeology provides a platform for embarking on a host of careers given its rich and critical transferable skills. Yet for me as for so many others, Sheffield’s Archaeology department is not only synonymous with high-quality archaeology, heritage and archaeological science teaching and research, the Department is the hallmark of those attributes.

Throughout my career, the knowledge and expertise I gained from my BSc Archaeological Science degree from Sheffield has not only underpinned all my endeavours, in turn it has enriched those of my colleagues and collaborators and students. My experiences and understanding of the discipline shaped by my years at Sheffield also drive my public and community engagements to this day. While Sheffield’s undergraduate and postgraduate programmes have changed and developed, these core strengths and qualities have been sustained and revitalised. Hence, I sincerely hope future generations have access to these programmes.

In this context, Sheffield’s Department of Archaeology is something utterly unique and special, prompting both admiration and inspiration. I sincerely believe that if Sheffield can hold fast against the many pressures facing UK HE following the global pandemic, the discipline as a whole has a firm and vibrant future ahead. The eyes of the global heritage and archaeology communities are watching Sheffield for signs of leadership and hope. I sincerely wish you well with your pivotal decisions in coming days and trust you reflect on the compelling reasons why so many are writing to you directly in support of your much-loved and much-respected Department of Archaeology.