In this great Future, we cannot forget our Past

My first experience with archaeology was through the Young Archaeologists Club in the Netherlands: as a young teenager, we could actually go excavate every weekend, discover artefacts and document those, while the lead archaeologist would turn all of that into a good story. I remember spending weekends in a castle, cleaning sherds, and trying to reconstruct pots. The best thing was having the area around the castle for ourselves in the evenings. This way of working with archaeology was about getting a personal thrill, a satisfaction, discovering and learning new things. It did not take long until we started explaining to passers-by about the exciting things from the past we had just found out. Maybe we were attention seekers in the beginning, but our stories improved and so did our methods. We learned to try out how we believed people in the past had cooked, fought, worked, not just to test our ideas, but also to tell others.

Open-air museum at Oerlinghausen, Germany

Open-air museum at Oerlinghausen, Germany

I then went to university and there it hit me: many people do research (that is what they teach you there), but the question “why do you do this?” is not often asked. Is it personal satisfaction? I got the question at my next university, though. After gaining my MA, I started working in a museum. I was eager to go tell complete strangers about what I had learned at university, from books and excavations. My museum colleagues however had different methods to do research and also different stories with mixed qualities. Now, I learned very fast not to become the Authenticity Police but help these colleagues in doing simple but effective research. It is very important that literature has become more accessible in recent years, and is not monopolized by scientists. Many archaeologists have become more approachable for the public. Even if ten percent of those approaching scientists may be difficult cases, we should not turn ourselves away from the other ninety percent.

These museums are good at quite a lot of things, but if it would be a bit better structured, so much more value would come out of it. I feel that these museums are very much in the air, not linked well with science on the one hand and with the public on the other. So I went back to university, and did a PhD in archaeological open-air museums. On my first day there, I got the question: “do I want to do research to pursue an academic career (ivory tower) or is my intention to use what I learn in the real world?” I believe there are enough archaeologists out there doing research, but if we do not make the insights we gain from that available to the public, then why do research, except for personal satisfaction?

My position, I feel, is in-between: sitting in a museum, I can help get the message across to the public, but without underlying research, these stories are worthless. That is why I am part of an international network, called EXARC. This is an international networking organization for Archaeological Open-Air Museums, Experimental Archaeology, Ancient Technology and Interpretation. EXARC aims to improve professional standards and promote professional ethics. We provide advice, information, practical tools and learning opportunities to our members. We issue publications and provide opportunities for members to meet. Finally, EXARC actively represents the interests of its members.

Experienced people or newbies, all are working with reconstructing the past. Our membership (300 members across 40 countries) includes Lofotr in Norway, Guédelon in France, Saalburg in Germany, and Butser in the UK. We are a very mixed group of people and organisations including scientists, museums, craftspeople, teachers and actors. More information about EXARC, including an open access Journal with hundreds of articles, can be found at:

As EXARC director, I facilitate our members, showing them where in our network to find the answers, the resources and ideas for quality research and dissemination. We believe in open access, not only online, but also the chance for outsiders to step into our bubble and ask questions, join us in conferences, workshops or writing their first serious research article and publishing with us. The strength of EXARC is our diversity. We decided very early we do not want to be an exclusive club of museum directors only, but an inclusive network, somewhere at the edge of the establishment and those who rather step off the beaten path.

Our aim is to improve the stories told to the public: not just making sure the latest archaeological research is reflected in the museums and at festivals, but also how professionally these stories are told. One can have a brilliant professor orating for an hour but he should be a good researcher, actor and teacher, all in one person. You do not find such people easily. And there is more to it: it is not just about the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which in a museum context means that if there is no good coffee and toilets, people will not be able to pick up the message you try to share with them because physiological needs are not met. It is also about simple things, like you may have a great story to tell, but how do you reach your potential audience, how do you convince them to come and see you?

I started with archaeology because of the great stories about the people who were here before us. I however believe there are much greater researchers and better storytellers in this world. With EXARC, we create the tools; we master the logistics of how to get these stories across. Janus Bifrons was a Roman god. He was the patron of our Young Archaeologists Club; god of beginnings, transitions and endings, he looks in two directions.

I am fully convinced that if you look in only one direction, you will hit your head hard, very hard.  We should work together towards a well-informed presentation of the past to the public, with relevance to the present. That is the only way to catch the attention of the audience and enable them to learn something useful from the past.

Roeland Paardekooper is Director of the ICOM Affiliated Organisation EXARC (International Organisation of Archaeological Open-Air Museums and Experimental Archaeology).

A Heritage Walk for Hearing-Impaired Children

GoUNESCO Make Heritage Fun – Calcutta, March 2017

On 27th March 2017, Heritage Walk Calcutta, in collaboration with Made in Bengal and ArchaeologistsEngage, hosted the year’s first GoUNESCO Make Heritage Fun event in Kolkata, India. Make Heritage Fun is a global initiative by GoUNESCO, aimed at celebrating local culture—simultaneously, across the world. This campaign provides a platform for heritage and culture enthusiasts to share local heritage with others in their community. In Calcutta, we organized an event to help children with hearing-related disabilities explore Calcutta’s history through a guided and assisted 2-hour walking tour inside the compound of St. John’s Church, one of the oldest in the city. For this event, we were proud to work with the Ideal School for the Deaf, located in Salt Lake, Kolkata. 26 of their students from 6th to 10th grade (12-17 years old) and 6 teachers actively participated in this event. The tour was led by Tathagata Neogi, an archaeologist and the co-founder of Heritage Walk Calcutta, and translated into sign language by the accompanying teachers.


After the walking tour, we asked the children to create a work of art about what they learned during the walk.  When ready, these paintings/sketches will be shared through our online platforms and displayed during an exhibition at the Ideal School for the Deaf later this year.

The following is a link to the live telecast at the beginning of the walk.

The accessibility of historic sites is an issue that has not been widely addressed globally. While some countries have recently passed legislation to ensure the accessibility of major historic sites for various groups with disabilities, this issue has not been systematically addressed in India, despite the country’s rich tangible and intangible heritage, and large population of people with disabilities. By conducting a heritage walk specifically aimed at children with hearing-related disabilities under the GoUNESCO Make Heritage Fun umbrella, we at Heritage Walk Calcutta wanted to start a discussion about the issue of accessibility in India’s historic sites. Heritage Walk Calcutta and our collaborators believe in a common, shared heritage, which members of disabled communities have an equal right to access.

Heritage Walk Calcutta approached GoUNESCO about hosting this event under the Make Heritage Fun umbrella at the end of February. The original plan was to provide a bus tour of several major heritage sites for school children. When GoUNESCO approved our application to host an event, this idea was further refined in the hope of addressing accessibility issues in Indian heritage sites. At this time, our collaborators, Made in Bengal and ArchaeologistsEngage, came on board to provide support for the event. The idea of a bus tour was abandoned in favour of a walking tour to increase the experiential value of the event, and to give ample time for the children to connect with a single historic site in a deeper way.

The St. John’s Church complex was chosen as the venue because of its central location and historical importance as the first Anglican Cathedral of Calcutta. The church compound also houses the graves of Job Charnock, the “founder” of the city, and some other important East India Company personalities from the city’s very early days. The Church complex is also a protected site under the Archaeological Survey of India, which is a perfect setting to start discussions about the accessibility of heritage sites, and which does not have any restrictions on entry. Finally, since the children have hearing-related disabilities, the church compound provided safety from the fast moving traffic on some busiest streets in Kolkata, just outside the walls.


After this plan was finalized, we approached the Ideal School for the Deaf through a common friend. Their authorities were very enthusiastic about the event. We discussed our plan with the head of the institute and other faculty members to come up with an accessible narrative for the children. The school requested that the event be done on Monday, March 27th, rather than on Sunday, which was the day of the international event. GoUNESCO very kindly agreed to let us host the event on this alternate day to make it easier for the children to attend, since many of them come from very far distances to attend the school. The Friday before the event, Tathagata made a presentation at the school to give the children some historical context through pictures and paintings, with translation into sign language. This also provided us, the students, and the teachers with a warm-up run for the event.


To ensure the accessibility of the information during the walking tour, we prepared visual aids for the children. This included print outs of important names, dates and numbers in large fonts and visible colours. Tathagata also spoke slowly in Bangla so that the children, who are experts in lip-reading, could get some information immediately, without waiting for the translation. Both Tathagata and the teacher who was interpreting stood on higher ground whenever possible throughout the tour so that all of the children could easily see them. A small welcome kit was also provided for the children and their teachers, which included a bottle of water and some snacks.


The issue of the accessibility of historic sites is very close to our hearts at Heritage Walk Calcutta. We believe that, while one-off events like these can spark a discussion, this talk will die out if it is not regularly followed up by similar events and workshops. Heritage Walk Calcutta is therefore committed to making significant contributions to this discussion by organizing follow-up events for various disabled groups and by working with different stakeholders to make heritage sites more accessible for disabled communities.

Heritage Walk Calcutta is an academic-run company in Kolkata that aims to increase awareness of heritage in the community by connecting scholars and the common people through walking tours and workshops.

Tathagata Neogi is an archaeologist and the co-founder of Heritage Walk Calcutta.

The event would not be possible without the active support of our various collaborators and GoUNESCO. Here, I briefly introduce our collaborators and thank them for their support.

Ideal School for the Deaf: Established in 1967 by the Society for the Deaf, the school functions as a not for profit institution to provide free education for hearing impaired children. The organization is based out of Salt Lake Sector I, Kolkata, India. The school caters to students from all backgrounds in the Kolkata area and beyond.

Made in Bengal: ‘Made in’ is a digital platform for any product/service made by the people of Bengal…for the people of the world. The Made in Bengal team constantly work with artists, artisans and weavers to innovate in order to keep traditional techniques intact! The aim is to bring on more artists, manufacturers, designers, weavers, musicians, theatre artists, and so on, to this single e-platform and reach out to the world with our products, culture, art and cuisine.

ArchaeologistsEngage: ArchaeologistsEngage is an independent non-profit group of archaeologists who came together to enable engagement between professionals and the public. ArchaeologistsEngage is a registered voluntary organisation in the Norwegian Brønnøysund Register.

Engaging archaeologists from the ground up. Beginnings.

How can we help archaeologists to increase and improve communication with the public? That was the question Emily Wapshott, Belinda Tibbetts and I were left with after a discussion of a paper we presented with our anthropologist friend Veronica Buffon, entitled “Gender and Commodification of the Past: The (mis-)representations of Viking women in cultural production.” We were in Glasgow, it was September, and we had just rounded off a final session at the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) annual conference. The session was Conditioned Pasts: On the sociopolitical dimensions of current archaeologies. I mention this because the session was one where societal influences on archaeology where discussed in various forms. Suffice it to say that we did not expect the eruptive discussion that ended the session overtime, only really concentrating on our paper. At the end of it, we were all kindly asked to leave by security, who wanted to close up shop.

But let us start with the paper. Why was it causing so much stir? We presented an analysis of current fiction films about Vikings. In the presentation, we showed how Viking Age women are presented as sexy, bikini-clad, exceptional, caricatures of what we must expect a real Viking age woman to have been like. The women presented in the films hardly ever seemed to live through a normal everyday life. Yet of course, the Vikings had mostly that, farming and trading, building and eating, and yes, they used latrines, too. Even women must have done so. Still, we showed that the caricaturist sex-symbol representation did not really change between the 1920’s and 2000’s. Due to this total misrepresentation of the female role in the Viking Age, which frankly, we find an unhealthy ideal considering that archaeology is active in building identity, we suggested that archaeologists start talking to the public more. We suggested that we can prevent such commodification of women and other social roles to take place, by communicating better with the general audience, and that we specifically do not shy away from tackling Hollywood and other producers of popular fiction. Either we should never have said that, or we should say it even more often (we of course lean towards the second alternative). The discussion was loud, active, accusatory — and engaging. We were so pleased when we walked out of that auditorium, and possibly a bit stunned. How could a group of archaeologists who were there to listen to papers on the dynamics between current society and archaeology, react like this?

Princesses and sex warrior goddesses. But what were they really like? (Left: From "The Northmen"/Elite Filmproduktion. Right: From "Vikings"/Take 5 Productions)

Princesses and sex warrior goddesses. But what were they really like? (Left: From “The Northmen”/Elite Filmproduktion. Right: From “Vikings”/Take 5 Productions)

That night we started discussing how we could do something in relation to the neglect and unwillingness we see amongst archaeologists when it comes to talking to the public. (For the sake of definition: when we say ‘public’, we mean non-archaeologists.) The three of us have a variety of opinions on why we should do so, ranging from getting the actual research out there and ‘correct’ unhealthy misunderstandings like in the case of Viking Age women, to purely ethical considerations. Common between us was the aim to actually make something happen! All that night we kept revisiting the idea and the next morning we started our initiative with a formal “yay” and a name: ArchaeologistsEngage. We wanted archaeologists to engage, and we wanted our name to reflect what we want.

The happy founders of ArchaeologistsEngage

The happy founders of ArchaeologistsEngage

The next few days we kept throwing out ideas in a massive brainstorm, all the while starting work on our website. The concept went from being a simple petition to all archaeologists to being an interest organisation for all archaeologists who want to do more for public outreach. We worked on mission statements, regulations, organisational structure, web design, texts, blog posts and pictures all at the same time. Phew, that was an intense month! But exactly a month post-formal-yay we launched our website ( and our petition. We cut a ribbon in front of a projected image of the website at a postgrad seminar in Exeter, UK, and so it began. And it never stops. There is more to this story, and you can read the iteration of our first few months in the next segment. Until then, go out there and engage! Talk to someone, don’t frown or sigh, and feel free to ring up Hollywood, we will not hold it against you!

Tine Schenck is a Norwegian experimental archaeologist and an archaeo-sociologist.

Using ‘primitive’ technology as an educational tool in archaeology

I have been teaching primitive technologies and ancient skills for over twenty years; working with schools, the general public, Native Awareness, and the Universities of Chester, Edinburgh and York. Throughout this time, the feedback from participants has always been extremely positive, they enjoy learning skills that would otherwise be lost to society, they enjoy working through the same problems as our ancestors. They enjoy the fact that something, e.g. a stone bead that may have just been recovered from the ground, is now being created by them using primitive technology, placing the artefact in a ‘creation’ context.
A key part of my PhD (Mesolithic fishing and shellfish procurement strategies on the west coast of Scotland) was the involvement of students. I taught them to make and use their own primitive fishing gear. A clear distinction developed between the experiences gained through individual activities and group activities. Students collaborated in small groups throughout the manufacture of portable traps, and, though working individually when making lines and hooks, sat together and were able to share their feelings and experiences. Through this the students gained an important social interaction and interestingly in some cases developed their own vocabulary as a way of communicating a new task.
flint knapping

Of course this experimental work can only benefit archaeologists if it is evaluated. Aspects of procurement, manufacture, the activity itself, evidence of learning and understanding, together with social interactions, are all important in unravelling how our ancestors might have lived.
This use of experimental archaeology to give an active living context to archaeological artefacts is an important educational bridge, linking often speculative theories with actual physical experience and increasing our understanding of the making
The use of primitive technologies and ancient skills as an educational tool found a passionate advocate in Cutts (2004, 45) who believed that such skills beckoned “us to reach across the eons to touch the core of humanity”. Not only do they open up the past to us providing an insight into the lifeway’s of our ancestors, Cutts believed such skills could also engender a genuine respect for our environment and our place within it. Important considerations when conducting a primitive skills workshop are;
1) Can the task be completed in the time allocated?
2) What is the skill level of the participants?
3) What are the facilities?
4) What resources are required?
5) What are the health and safety implications?
Remember, participants will want to go away enthused and inspired, not confused and frustrated.
Finally, ensure that the site is suitable for your activity. I can well recall a workshop at a University where I was teaching primitive fire making. Moved from a classroom which had a sprinkler system to a more suitable outdoor location, I discovered (once we had lit the fires), that we were directly outside the main air intake for the entire building. The students with me were tremendously enthused by their newly acquired skills, however some of the staff in the building were less so.
Cutts, R., 2004. Public Education and the Paleokit. Bulletin of Primitive Technology 28: 45.

Dr Peter Groom is Course Manager of the Environmental Archaeology and Primitive Skills Programme at Reaseheath College, Nantwich, Cheshire, and a director of the Mesolithic Resource Group