What is ‘archaeology’?

Some use the term to refer to practice: acts of performing methods and techniques of investigation in the field (e.g. excavating sites, surveying standing buildings and earthworks, the aerial reconnaissence of buried features) the lab (e.g. the analysis of pollen from core samples or the chemical analysis of ancient glass), and deskbased research (e.g. evaluating grey literature or writing new analyses and synthesis of archaeological contexts and sites).

Some see it as a discipline: modes of thinking and investigation to explore the material traces of people past and present that extends beyond and encapsulates historical research and tells stories written sources cannot, spanning from earliest times to the present.

These things are correct. Yet, as it has often been said, archaeology is nothing without people.

People past and people present – in dialogue through material and corporeal media. This includes bodies of ancient people themselves and their past places and spaces. Yet also, whether it be community groups, amateur practitioners, students, professionals or academics: without active participants – without living people actively engaging in the discipline – archaeology is dead and the past is erased.

Traces of prehistoric settlement, Roman-period burial grounds, later medieval churches, early modern hoards, industrial ruins and contemporary statuary: these are all subjects of archaeological enquiry, but they are inert and silent, dead and buried without rigorous research and new voices tackling and telling their stories. Uncover those traces, break into those layers, retrieve ancient art and artefacts, this won’t tell you about the human past without living people to interpret them. Put them in a museum store, sculpt statues of historic subjects, publish photographs of them on Instagram: whatever we do they remain still and sullen without people to pose questions and pursue investigations about their making, display, use and reuse. The same applies to the conservation, management and interpretation of our historic environment for present and future generations.

So if you are worried about the ‘erasure’ of the human past, then you should be outraged and opposing attempts to sack archaeology and heritage staff and even shut down archaeology departments.

That’s why yesterday I was out on the streets of the historic city of Chester protesting against plans to make Archaeology and Heritage staff redundant.

Staff and students from across the University of Chester marched in protest against the proposed compulsory redundancy process currently ongoing. Between 1pm and 4pm on Sunday 23 Mary 2021, we made our voices heard loud and clear.

It was a positive and passionate afternoon involving chanting, chatting to the public and with each other, banner waving, dogs of solarity, a lion of protest and much more besides.

It was powerful and evocative that our march encapsulated the heart of the Roman legionary fortress, Saxon town, medieval and modern city, as we walked between Chester’s town hall and cathedral and the Eastgate Clock. All these traces of the human past are silent and erased, despite their physical presence, without active vibrant practitioners and thinkers interrogating these traces and spaces!

Archaeology and heritage staff at risk thank those who continue to support the UCU stance of ‘no compulsory redundancies’ after over 50 days of campaigning! #noredundancieschester

Our petition continues to grow and now has 5,800 signatures! CLICK HERE TO SIGN AND SHARE!

For more images and info, check out the ArchaeologyChester blog!