Accessibility in Archaeology

Archaeology as a discipline was originally the preserve of a very niche group of people - wealthy Europeans, most of whom were men. Archaeological finds were purchased at markets while travelling abroad, especially on the Grand Tour, a 17th/18th century trip around Europe and sometimes Egypt or the Middle East, that young men took to conclude their formal education. These artefacts were then stored within private residences where only the upper class owners and their associates had access to such materials. A clear example of this which you can see today is Sir John Soane's Museum in London which was the home of the wealthy Soane and is now a museum accessible to the public, housing over 40 000 antiquities including an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus! The drawing below shows how the breakfast room at Soane's house looked in the 1800s.

Drawing of breakfast room at Soane's house in the 1800s, with walls covered in paintings and antiquities
By Unknown - see above, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6882026

Accessibility in Archaeology as a Profession

More and more women and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are pursuing a career in archaeology, which is a promising shift away from the upper class, colonial origins of the discipline. Still, the prominence of unpaid volunteering (and even volunteers paying to participate) as a means for gaining professional experience serves as one significant barrier to entry, particularly for those who are unable to participate in unpaid work for financial reasons.

During my undergraduate studies I participated as a volunteer on two overseas excavations, one on of the island of Andros, Greece, and the other in rural northern Spain. I was fortunate enough to only have to pay a subsidised rate for the first excavation as the project was partially funded by the government, and I received a university scholarship that contributed to the fee for the second excavation. However, its not uncommon for archaeology students to pay thousands of dollars to participate in overseas volunteer excavations, which still doesn't take into account the extra cost of flights and transport.

Here are a few photos of my archaeological trip to Greece.
Zagora, the archaeological site on Andros
Zagora, the archaeological site on Andros

Batsi, the town we stayed in on Andros
Batsi, the town we stayed in on Andros
Batsi, the town we stayed in on Andros
Batsi, the town we stayed in on Andros
And these are a few photos from Spain. 
View of town near archaeological site in northern Spain
View of town near archaeological site in northern Spain
The morning walk between the fields to the archaeological site
The morning walk between the fields to the archaeological site
The night sky over the archaeological site in northern Spain
The night sky over the archaeological site in northern Spain


Aside from this, the most significant barrier to accessibility in professional archaeology is to those with disabilities, particularly people with limitations to their mobility. This is something I am particularly passionate about as I myself have a chronic illness that can impact my mobility in various ways.

Excluding the world of academia, entry into professional archaeology usually involves initial work as excavators in fieldwork. Contradictory to the popular image of archaeologists with small brushes and dental tools carefully excavating an artefact, the majority of archaeological fieldwork involves very physically strenuous activities including shovelling, pick axeing and mattocking in order to clear land and excavate large amounts of soil that lay on top of the objects being sought. 

There have been some actions taken to improve accessibility in archaeology, but the reach of this has not yet significantly impacted professional archaeology. Some work has been taking place in the United Kingdom to investigate the prevalence of participants with disabilities engaging in archaeology, either as students (fieldwork is a necessary component in the study of archaeology at university in the UK) or in a professional capacity.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England funded a project in the mid-2000s titled 'Inclusive, Accessible, Archaeology'. This study was primarily conducted by the Department of Archaeology at the University of Reading and aimed to increase awareness of disability issues in archaeology, and support the integration of disability into fieldwork teaching and practice. The study found that many disabilities, particularly unseen disabilities, are not declared, but that up to 14% of undergraduate archaeology students and between 2% and 10% of professional archaeologists may have some form of disability. In these cases, students who experienced difficulty with the fieldwork component of their studies received modified fieldwork tasks that they were able to complete.

Overall the study found that archaeology subject providers, i.e. universities, desire to fully include  students with disabilities in fieldwork, and are happy to make modifications on a case by case basis as required. However, employers were found to be more mixed in their feedback, and although some employer responses were positive, smaller firms tended to display the most opposition to the employment of people with disabilities as archaeologists. This shows that although the education sector is supporting the inclusion of students with disabilities in archaeological fieldwork, this does not necessarily have flow on effects to the workplace.

However, it was found that when appropriately supported and given the necessary modifications, students with disabilities were able to successfully participate in archaeological fieldwork (see full report). Enabled archaeology, with particular focus on fieldwork, is also promoted by the UK government's Ministry of Defence through Operation Nightingale, an initiative that aims to use archaeological excavation at sites on defence estates to rehabilitate service personnel injured in recent military conflict. This program has been highly successful with positive experiences communicated by participants with various types of injuries and disabilities, with some even going on to work in professional archaeology. Here are a few photos from Operation Nightingale excavations.

Operation Nightingale fieldwork
Operation Nightingale, Inside DIO Blog, UK Gov. https://insidedio.blog.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/29/2018/10/FE13B409-8BF0-4A5A-B7DB-ED60E6A51C39-e1543852904169-768x511.jpeg

Operation Nightingale fieldwork
Operation Nightingale Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/operationnightingale/photos/a.1859902210943741/2529025870698035/?type=3&theater.

Unfortunately, this awareness of disability in archaeology does not seem to have yet reached Australia. Part of the difficulty with accessibility in archaeology in Australia is that it is not an issue that is addressed first in the learning context, as has occurred in the UK. When I completed my undergraduate degree in archaeology, field skills were not a compulsory component to earn the degree and so the notion of accessibility in field work and excavation was not considered in the academic context. As a result, budding archaeologists are required to learn crucial field skills by working as sub-contracting field archaeologists on development projects around the country. As can be expected, this creates a barrier to entry for people with disabilities, particularly those with mobility restrictions, as the context of sub-contracting, short-term contracts does not exactly gel with the requirement for reasonable adjustments that generally exist within the workplace in Australia. Aside from practical considerations, the attitudinal barriers within the profession to those with disabilities is also not necessarily one of inclusivity.

In the future I hope that accessibility in professional archaeology will become more commonplace, particularly as fieldwork is only one component of a varied job that involves processing artefacts, analysing data, mapping, report writing, liaison with stakeholders and general office work. 

Accessibility in Archaeology for the Public

Within public archaeology there are a number of different areas of accessibility. Archaeological sites are increasingly becoming tourist destinations around the world, and physical accessibility to these attractions is a key issue that is considered in the design of these sites. Wheelchair access, audio induction hearing loops and braille signage all enable people with disabilities to engage with these spaces in ways that were traditionally not available to them.

Archaeological sites are scattered across the globe, and many people do not have the financial means to visit them in person. Museums provide the opportunity for the public to engage with material culture and human history from different areas of the world. Depending on the location and the particular institution, museum entry can also prove to be expensive. In the UK an inquiry in the mid-1990s took place into accessibility of archaeological institutions and as a result the entry fee for many museums in London was abolished. Education programs at museums are also increasingly working on appealing to the general public, making information about our past more engaging and interesting to the average person, and providing this information in easy language that everyone can understand. This helps to remove the intellectual barriers that have historically enshrouded the academic disciplines of archaeology and history.

Me outside the British Museum, one of the London museums that removed entry fees
Me outside the British Museum, one of the London museums that removed entry fees

Aside from museums, new technology has also been making cultural heritage and archaeology more accessible and intriguing to the public than ever before. 3D modelling and 3D printing technology lets artefacts and archaeological buildings and sites be reproduced all around the world. As well as removing the need for the objects to be viewed at a particular location, these models have the added advantage that they, unlike real artefacts, can be handled over and over again by members of the public. This tactile experience is particularly useful for people with vision impairments.

Although not by any means an accurate scale model, Lego has been used to create reconstructions of archaeological sites. The University of Sydney's Lego Pompeii museum exhibit is the largest Lego historical reconstruction in the world and contains tens of thousands of individual Lego bricks to recreate both ancient and modern components of the famous city.

The University of Sydney's Lego Pompeii
The University of Sydney's Lego Pompeii, by Yuju61 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lego_Pompeii.jpg.

Digital archaeological resources, online heritage repositories and online museum catalogues also provide more and more people access to images, videos and information about archaeological sites, artefacts and archival documents and a huge wealth of other types of data that can be explored at the viewer's leisure.

Even Google maps is trying its hand at making archaeological tourism more exciting and accessible to the public, with Google Earth and Street view now available for certain archaeological sites and monuments. Building on this, virtual reality technology, although not yet available to most of the general public, can allow people to personally explore archaeological attractions without leaving their hometown or even their own house. This technology has immense potential to facilitate a new form of archaeological tourism in the future as growing numbers of people use virtual reality. Likewise, augmented reality has the capacity to bring archaeological sites around the world, or even in your own backyard, to life by embedding elements of history into your everyday surroundings through phone apps.



All of this use of technology and new approaches to public archaeology make archaeological and cultural heritage available to a much wider cross-section of society than just elite academics locked away in their ivory towers. Circumventing the opposition that has at times been highlighted between tourism and preservation/conservation, these approaches make tourists' experiences much more engaging and relatable, but not at the expense of protecting the archaeology.

Accessibility in Archaeology in the Future

It only makes sense to think that archaeology will become increasingly accessible to the public into the future as new technologies are developed and museums and archaeological sites continue to compete with one another for public interest as tourist attractions. Hopefully the archaeological profession will also follow this lead.

Accessibility in archaeology is so important because archaeology reflects the history and culture of all of us as humans. Everyone should have access to learn about the human past as it is the shared past of the human experience. Multiple perspectives are included in archaeology, and disenfranchised groups such as women, children, those with lower socioeconomic status and others, are being given greater emphasis as traditionally these voices have been suppressed by the voices of the powerful few. This has to be a two-pronged approach; archaeologists working to make all voices in the archaeological record heard, and equally, all people being given the opportunity to engage with the archaeological past.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Coal Loader Site (Sydney, Australia)

An Archaeologist's Guide to Maharashtra, India: Mumbai

Grotto Point (Sydney, Australia)