Common problems local societies face and how to overcome them
Lack of expertise
This may especially be a problem when you are starting a new group or your group is just getting into archaeology. Many archaeological activities require a certain level of experience and training, which takes time and money.
Societies combat this in a number of ways:
- If there are any people with specific archaeological expertise in the group, they can run training sessions for everyone else.
- External experts from other societies or from the professional archaeology world can be asked to deliver training sessions.
- External professionals can be employed where certain skills are lacking.
- Individual members can do archaeological courses in skills that interest them.
Which one you decide on depends on how much money you have to spend and the interests of your membership.
Lack of money
Archaeological investigation, especially the equipment, analysis and publication can be very expensive. If you have a relatively inexperienced membership that needs professional support at professional rates, the money you generate from membership fees could run out quite fast. There are a number of methods to combat this:
- Raise membership fees. Unfortunately, this puts off some from re-joining and potential members from joining in the first place.
- Generate items for sale. In terms of an archaeology book, this actually takes quite a lot of money to create in the first place, but other items like post-cards can bring in some revenue. They can be sold at local fetes or fairs, where you can also run archaeological games that the public have to pay a small fee for.
- Raffles. Many societies have raffles at the member's evenings using items donated by members.
- Charge non-members for coming to lectures.
- Apply for funding for a specific project. See the funding page for more details.
Backlog of unpublished investigations
If you are setting up an archaeology society or your group is getting into archaeology, one of the most important pieces of advice is write up one investigation before you start another! Societies can end up with a backlog of investigations due for analysis and publication going back decades. Not only is this a problem in terms of furthering knowledge about the archaeology of an area, but it is also a problem in terms of storage of the artefacts and paper record. It takes up space and if left in a garage, cellar or attic, can be damaged by damp or rodents.
The experience of Hendon and District Archaeological Society (HADAS) in north-west London is a useful example. Their members were faced with a number of unpublished archives from excavations and other projects back to the 1960s. They had to make a decision about which projects would be worked up to publication, the rest being organised for deposition in the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre (LAARC). There was also the problem of how to pay for and find experts to analyse the material in the archive.
HADAS decided to talk to Birkbeck College, which already ran a very extensive archaeology programme, about devising certain courses for its members to learn the techniques of analysing pottery, animal bone and other types of artefact. This gave the society control over their own archive and publication as well as enriching skills for future projects. Some investigations were published as monographs by the society and some as articles in their own journal or other London based journals. The archives themselves took some skilled preparation to get them ready to be deposited and are now available for researchers at the LAARC.
This may not be a problem if you are just starting up, but many established archaeology societies are not attracting new members and as a result do not do as much archaeological research as they would like. Although archaeology is very popular amongst all age groups, it seems that it is mainly retired people who have the inclination to join societies. here are a few suggestions for ways to combat this:
- Link up with or establish a Young Archaeologists Club. When the young archaeologists get to 16 they can 'graduate' to your society. You may also get children's parents joining your society, too.
- Link up with a university and offer research ideas or placements or opportunities for fieldwork. Chess Valley Archaeology and History Society provided a very successful free training excavation for students in 2006. Otherwise, students have to pay to get the digging experience they need to pass their degree.
- Make partnerships with other community groups and offer to share expertise. This may be good in terms of widening participation in archaeology to a more diverse community as well as a younger one.
Professionalisation of archaeology
A lot has been said about how the professionalisation of archaeology has frozen local societies out of doing meaningful archaeological research. This is true to a certain extent, but many society members are very experienced and well qualified and with determination and a recognition that archaeological research does need a certain level of expertise, local societies can still make very important contributions to archaeology. With the new regional Solent and Thames research framework, local societies are in a great position to contribute to regional research. Commercial archaeology is driven more by where development is taking place than by a regional research agenda, although the research framework goes some way to addressing this. Local societies have the opportunity to choose and, guided by the research framework, can further archaeological knowledge immensely.
Click here to find out how you can get involved in archaeology.