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.

Typology of Heritage Utopia: Some essentials on the good heritage experience

As conductors of heritage mediation, we are often enrolled in a tale about the increasing need for making heritage experiences popular and relevant. As solutions, this discourse usually brings forward newest technologies, active participation in ‘living history’ and critical constructivist learning approaches. What seems missed, is that ‘traditional’ monumental heritage experiences still are the most visited heritage attractions, and that there is a large heritage consuming segment seeking passive and meditative experiences (as passive consumers of heritage exhibitions and through recent movements such as ‘slow-tourism’, ‘digital detox’ and ‘micro-adventure’) (Hansen 2016: 24, 80). The simple ‘being’ in a heritage environment has great value for many. In relation, we need to recognize how heritage affects our very basic tactile senses: the experience of drinking a beer is different (better) in for example the square of a medieval town than a 70s concrete building in a capital suburb.

The background for this paper, is my PhD thesis on medieval heritage experiences in Northern Europe. The project had the purpose of developing heritage industry in the Danish region of West Zealand: a region with remarkable medieval heritage and good conditions in tourism and infrastructure, but with very little budget set for attraction development (Hansen 2016). Thus, the project aimed to develop methods to detect experience attributes carried mainly by the heritage itself. In the project more than forty heritage attractions were studied. The most popular and engaging attractions had a wide extent of idiosyncratic physiognomy to it, which carries experience potentials far beyond just attracting many visitors, and much stronger than what technology and learning strategies can bring (Hansen 2016: 132ff.).

Instead of approaching these matters via the theories that have become traditional in heritage studies – the so called ‘critical’ or ‘new’ (e.g. Hooper-Greenhill 2013; Smith 2015) – I turned the theoretical attention towards thinkers on the ways ‘historical space’ is created emotionally and physically.  In particular, I found great use of Jörn Rüsen and his ‘five dimensions of historical culture’ (Rüsen 2013) and Gernot Böhme’s atmosphere theory (Böhme 1995).

The theories and attraction data led to the idea that the essentials of good heritage experiences is the Utopia of heritage: heritage (at a certain preservation state) is too good to be true – it has survived the most apocalyptic force of all, time. Moreover, it is the closest we get to communicating with the world beyond. These two factors make heritage divine and Utopian, and are what heritage experience attributes are created from (Hansen 2016: 56-58, 73-80). However, the features reflecting Utopia, differ in the various types of heritage. Hence, the typology below is an attempt to describe the different features.

  • The artifact

The artifacts with the highest degree of Utopia-effect need to carry an exotic expression to the degree where layman can recognize that the artifact is from a ‘world beyond’. Moreover, the patina needs to be at a stage where it contributes to ‘the world beyond’-experience. At the same time, it must reflect a naturalistic expression to the degree where it becomes recognizable, as well as the level of preservation should be complete at a degree where the artifact is experienced as having ‘survived’ time. In addition, the materiality of the artifacts, or its craftsmanship or exhibiting institution should also give some exclusive impression. All of these criteria are for example met in ‘the Sky Plate from Nebra’.

  • The Ruin

The Utopia-effect of a ruin is met when the degree of decay symbolizes the struggle against time, but the preservation is at a degree where the ruin is experienced as having ‘won the battle’. The big question is where the limit goes. One explanation could be at a size where grandness of the architecture and the dimensions can be discovered and the visitor can ‘go into’ the monument. Moreover, an iconic shape seems to feed the Utopia-effect. One the best examples is Hammershus Castle on Bornholm, Denmark.

  • The isolated monument (the UFO)

Another Utopia-effect can be achieved when a monument is isolated and remote to a degree where a full overview is easily accessible. Thus, it will be experienced as a fully preserved vessel from ‘another world’ just ‘landed’. Grand open landscapes and recreational settings seem to increase this experience. Ales Stenar in southern Sweden is a brilliant example of a ‘heritage UFO’.

  • The heritage room

Understood as heritage preserved to the stage where one can enter it, be inside it fully covered by roof and walls, where this space of being can be overviewed and thus the dimensions and aesthetics are grasped. Moreover, one of the important features of the experience here is the distinct border to the contemporary world outside the heritage room. The Utopia-effect is obtained when the aesthetical reflection of time is obvious (style and patina), but the spatial borders are fully preserved. The most obvious example of the heritage room is a historic church of an age and style (e.g. gothic) of which ‘the other world’ is obvious.

  • Things that dissolve Utopia

In certain cases, the awareness of heritage being ‘lost’ can lead to a Utopia-effect of its function or the process of its reconstruction. Mostly, reconstructions and replicas tend to lose their Utopia-effect. However, if the experience contains an illustration of the object being lost to time, a Utopia-effect can be achieved by an experience of the skills that created the object in the first place or the demonstration function of the ‘lost’ object. An example could be the Viking ship museum in Roskilde: an exhibition shows the ‘poor’ state of a series of Viking ship wrecks. In addition, the museum contains a fleet of Viking ships reconstructed from the archaeological knowledge of the wrecks – some of these have set for long and epic voyages under great public attentions. These are all experiences of a materialization of skills and functions that have survived beyond their tangible sources.

The heritage universe

The heritage universe refers to heritage environments beyond a single building. Here, both buildings, artifacts and nature are in combination the heritage experience. The heritage universe is at one hand a very limited world on which escapism is stimulated as well as the experience of something endless. The good experience of the heritage universe stimulates all senses and are extensively tactile. In this experience, a paradox of ‘chrono-syndrome’ (disorder of ages) appears: the consumer will typically search for a ‘time travel experience’ but at the same time search for authenticity through the impressions of time (patina, smell, humidity, assimilation with nature etc.). These impressions would not be present if it was a ‘real’ time travel back to the environments ‘original’ use and creation. The chrono-syndrome paradox is the reason why fully reconstructed or replicated environments (e.g. Viking markets) often don’t have Utopia-effect. An example of the heritage universe is the traditional Scandinavian open air museums, where original buildings have been resurrected for more than a century. Around these buildings is staged an environment which not only has had century to develop its expression, but – in some cases – is an ‘original’ environment preserved at the open air museum, while modern cities grew around it.

I sincerely hope this typology as well as the thoughts and theories behind it, will inspire future strategic decisions on what to brand and display as heritage experiences and how to stage it.

Böhme, G. (1995). Atmosphäre: Essays zur neuen Ästhetik. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.
Hansen, A. B. (2016). Den gode oplevelse – af kulturarv fra vikingetid og middelalder I Midt- og Vestsjælland samt andre steder i Nordeuropa. PhD-thesis. University of Copenhagen/Museum Vestsjælland.
Hooper-Greenhill, E. (2013). Museums and Their Visitors. Routledge.
Rüsen, J. (2013): Historik, Theorie der geschichtwisenschaft. boehlau-verlag.
Smith, Laurajane. (2015). Theorizing Museum and Heritage Visiting. In Museum Theory. UK: Wiley Blackwell.

Andreas Bonde Hansen, PhD in Heritage Studies, Assistant Professor Leisure Management, University College Sjælland

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.

Field archaeology, responsibility and public outreach

One could argue that one of the most important aspects of archaeology is the public outreach. We have an obligation to share our growing knowledge with our community in order to give credibility to our work. What would be the point otherwise? Usually, the public comes into contact with archaeology through museum exhibits, lectures, daily news, scientific articles and books. The last ones are rarely aimed for the public and the museums are struggling with exhibiting more than just artefacts. Since our source material is produced in the field by field archaeologists I believe that it is here the meeting (real or metaphorical) between the public and the archaeologist should take place. If it’s through guided tours or a local journalist doesn’t really matter. What matters is what is said.

In the last 5 years or so there has been a positive change when it comes to public outreach in archaeology, at least in Sweden. This is, I think, largely due to the breakthrough of social media and the use of smartphones. An archaeologist can now easily give a brief report of what she or he is doing with a photo and a few lines of text. Several of the archaeological institutions also have blogs where they continually write about their projects, with content written and aimed for the public.

In 2009 I did a study of the conveyance of medieval archaeology in a journal called “Populär Arkeologi”. This is the only popular archaeology journal in Sweden and it has been coming out quarterly since 1983. By studying the content of every issue for two periods of time: 1983-1989 and 2003-2009, and comparing that content with the development of medieval archaeology at the university, I was able to see if the articles in the journal reflected the development of the subject. This empirical study acted as a foundation for the study of responsibility and lead up to the question: What is the situation of responsibility when it comes to field archaeology and public outreach?

In Sweden the law states that an archaeological survey or excavation has to take place if a contractor wants to build something that is suspected to affect archaeological remains, visible or hidden beneath the topsoil. The contractor has to report to the County Administrative board and they, in their turn, decide whether it’s necessary to start up an archaeological project or not. The law also states that the contractor has to pay for the archaeology. This system results in an abundance of archaeological projects where a lot of information is produced continually.


Table 1. Hierarchy of responsibility. Note that this is based on Swedish circumstances.

Politicians/Government Has the ultimate responsibility. Can make actual changes that enables more funding to public outreach in archaeology.
County administration Makes the decisions for contract archaeological projects. Could demand more effort in public outreach and approve higher costs.
University Could include more systematic training in public outreach.
Contract archaeological institutions and companies Has the responsibility to manage the competence in public outreach.
Archaeologists Is in direct contact with the public and has the responsibility to convey archaeology in a responsible way.
Popular archaeological journals Could, as an independent actor, raise the issue of archaeology being integral in the development of our society.


Several of my fellow archaeologists claims that they are working with public outreach as much as they can. But then we must ask ourselves, what kind of archaeology are we conveying? Well, basically it is the history or prehistory that we focus on in our outreach. In our communication with the public, directly or via a journalist, our message boils down to facts about human life in history and or prehistory. That’s not bad in any way. Our job is to produce these kinds of facts. But there is more to archaeology –  especially field archaeology.

The responsible way to convey archaeology is not only to focus on these facts but all the stuff surrounding archaeological science. In my opinion we have to include the following two aspects in our public outreach:

  1. The development of archaeological research. Archaeology is more than artefacts. It develops with our society and scholars are influenced by the current zeitgeist, which in itself is constantly changing. It’s not treasure hunting.
  2. The roll of field archaeology and the physical development of our environment. The field archaeologist in Sweden plays a vital role when it comes to urban and rural planning and it’s crucial that the public is aware of how the system works.

My hierarchy of responsibility (see table above) tries to summarize the complexity of the situation where everyone has a part to play. My opinion is that it should begin at the universities with the education of future archaeologists in how to deal with the more complex sides of archaeological public outreach. If we can establish a routine and a sense of comfort in conveying all aspects of archaeology, at the departments and in the field, we can do our subject justice.

To summarize, I want to stress the fact that we ourselves, as archaeologists, have a responsibility to our own collegium and to the public equally, to convey not just the dating of artefacts but also our methods and research thesis. What are the particular questions we’re looking to answer when we are writing our reports? The public has the right to know and I think it will benefit the archaeology in the long run.

Erik Johansson is a contract archaeologist currently working in Skåne, Sweden.