SHA 2013: Public Archaeology event

The Past Beneath Your Feet: archaeology and history in Leicestershire

In addition to a three-day academic programme the Society for Historical Archaeology’s 2013 conference will include a free, public programme of events, to be held at Leicester University on the afternoon of Saturday 12th January.

The event will feature three headline public lectures, re-enactment performances, living history displays, archaeological exhibits, interactive and educational activities (delivered by Leicester University’s student outreach team), and stands containing information from local and national archaeology and history societies. The Portable Antiquities Scheme will be present so if you are from the local area and have a ‘find’ why not bring it along to be identified and logged on the national database?

There will be something of interest for everyone – from the youngest child to the oldest adult – and the event will showcase the depth and richness of Leicestershire’s archaeological heritage, representing a diversity of peoples, places, and events.

The provisional timetable for the afternoon’s events is as follows:
Public lectures (Peter Williams Lecture Theatre, Fielding Johnson South Wing)
12pm-1pm: Prof. Francis Pryor MBE FSA: The prehistory of the recent past
2pm-3pm: Dr Carenza Lewis FSA: Disaster Recovery? Reconstructing the impact of the Black Death from mini-digs in medieval villages
4pm-5pm: Dr Kevin Leahy: Historical archaeology and the Portable Antiquities Scheme: the Staffordshire Hoard and other bits and pieces

Archaeology and history exhibition (O2 Academy at the Percy Gee Students Union)
Confirmed exhibitors so far include:
- Re-enactors
- National organisations: National Trust, English Heritage
- Leicestershire museums: Jewry Wall Museum, Belgrave Hall, Guildhall, Snibston, Bosworth, Donnington-Le-Heath Manor House, Sir John Moore Foundation, Heritage Forum, Leicester County Council Parks
- Local archaeology and history societies: Archaeological Fieldwork Group; Leicestershire and Rutland Family History Society, Great Bowden Archaeology and Heritage Group, Friends of Jewry Wall, Croft Heritage Group, Vaughan Archaeological & Historical Society, Friends of Grace Dieu, Leicestershire Industrial History Society, Leicestershire Victoria County History Trust, Wigston Historical Society
- National archaeology groups: Portable Antiquities Scheme, Young Archaeologists Club
- University of Leicester: School of Archaeology and Ancient History (distance learning and campus-based education programmes), University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS), Department of Genetics, Archaeology and Ancient History student outreach team.

Biographies of speakers
Dr. Carenza Lewis is an archaeologist based at the University of Cambridge. She is widely recognised for her 13-year stint on the innovative, long-running and award-winning Channel 4 archaeological series Time Team, and more recently for her involvement in Michael Wood’s The Great British Story (BBC). Outside of her television appearances, Carenza has long-standing research interests in settlement development in medieval England and since 2004 has developed and co-ordinated the Access Cambridge Archaeology programme at the University of Cambridge. The aim of this programme is to enhance educational, economic and social wellbeing through active participation in archaeology. It seeks to achieve this by running novel, fun and challenging activities for members of the public, including school pupils, to develop new skills and confidence; raise their educational aspirations, boost their academic performance; enjoy learning for the love of it; take part in new archaeological excavations and make new discoveries about themselves and the world around them.

Professor Francis Pryor has been a British archaeologist for over forty years, having excavated several major sites, mostly in the Fens of eastern England. He is famous for his role in the discovery of Flag Fen, a Bronze Age archaeological site near Peterborough. Francis has now retired from full-time field archaeology, but still appears on television and writes books as well as being a working farmer. His specialties are the Bronze and Iron Ages, to which he brings a unique perspective as a working farmer. Francis has tried to bring archaeology to a wider audience, with a number of books, radio and television programmes, including Channel 4’s Time Team and Britain AD.

Dr. Kevin Leahy. Before starting in archaeology Kevin trained as a foundry engineer and remains interested in metals. He read archaeology at Leicester and then spent twenty-nine years as archaeologist at the North Lincolnshire Museum. While at the Museum he excavated some important Anglo-Saxon sites including the Cleatham cemetery, which formed the basis of his Nottingham PhD. He started recording metal detector finds more than thirty years ago when he saw how ploughing was destroying sites. Kevin has written a number of books including ‘Anglo-Saxon Crafts’, ‘The Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Lindsey’ and ‘Interrupting the Pots; Excavation of Cleatham Anglo-Saxon Cemetery’. Retiring from the museum in 2007 he now works part-time for the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), as a National Finds Advisor covering the early medieval period but also assisting with flint and stone. Whilst with the PAS he was responsible for the first catalogue of the great Staffordshire Hoard of Anglo-Saxon treasure, a project with which he remains involved. He is also working on Anglo-Saxon tools hoards and Irish metalwork from England.

Missed Opportunities: Engaging Adults at Public Archaeology Days

Last week, Melissa Timo’s excellent blog discussed how the second annual celebration of National Archaeology Day is taking place at a time when public education and outreach in archaeology is more important than ever before. In the current fiscal climate, budget cuts have dealt harsh blows to historic preservation agencies, including the well-publicized recent closing of the Georgia State Archives and cuts to Parks Canada. At the same time, there has been a great deal of discussion within the archaeological community regarding the appropriate response(s) to several artifacts-for-profit themed television shows (on the SHA Blog, it has been discussed many times). Now more than ever, it is important to think critically about how we are engaging the public and to what end.

Archaeology days, in all their various permutations, have been a main point-of-contact between archaeologists and the general public. As an archaeologist/educator/mom, I have taken my family to several archaeology-themed public events; and—as a mom—I am totally thrilled when I see my girls really excited and interested in hands-on educational activities. As an educator and archaeologist, I tend to look a little more critically at the exhibits presented and the objectives of the activities. This, in addition to my husband’s stated impression that many presenters often seem more focused on informing other archaeologists about their work, has recently led me to consider the overall objective of public archaeology events.

In discussing this blog with my husband—my ‘representative sample’ of the general public—he said it was his impression that, although archaeologists clearly are passionate about their work and are trying to communicate their discoveries, they often leave out portions that would make it accessible to the public. I think it’s likely that my husband’s impressions from a variety of public archaeology day events represent the message unintentionally being sent to the majority of the general public. This is something we should seriously consider, especially since many of these public education events take place at major tourist sites or museum facilities. What terrific venues and terrific opportunities to inform a large audience about the importance of context, the precision of the work we do, the science of archaeology!

It seems, with the prevalence of television shows glorifying the more lucrative aspects of antiquities and artifacts, we should be trying to communicate some important messages to the general public, including an emphasis on the importance of preserving context through the use of appropriate scientific methodology and the knowledge that can be gained from everyday “garbage”—the kinds of artifacts, like ceramic sherds or faunal remains, that most for-profit shows would disregard completely. At every public archaeology event I’ve attended, there have been lots of hands-on activities meant to engage kids and excite them about archaeology—but are we engaging and educating the adults in equal fashion? I’m not sure we as professionals give a great deal of thought to the outcomes of our programs, especially in regards to what key ‘take away’ points are being communicated to adults. Perhaps the main questions we should be asking are: what should the overall message of a public archaeology day be? What do we want the public to learn? It is easy to engage kids in excavation activities, but how are we engaging the adult participants?

As an Educator for the Museum of the Grand Prairie here in Mahomet, Illinois, I had an opportunity recently to implement some of these ideas. I was asked to coordinate archaeology activities for our annual Prairie Stories fall event, which in this case meant tying the activities to the Museum’s mission of interpreting the natural and cultural history of Champaign County and East Central Illinois.

With Susan Kooiman’s guidance, children were encouraged to sort their “finds” into categories and record the artifacts by counting and drawing them on sheets of paper.


We used archaeology activities in part to discuss with our audience how we use archaeology to learn about people who have lived in our region in the past. Some colleagues from the Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS) kindly leant their assistance, as well, and with their help we were able to present quite a comprehensive picture of archaeological methodology.

With Susan Kooiman’s guidance, children were encouraged to sort their “finds” into categories and record the artifacts by counting and drawing them on sheets of paper.

We included several hands-on activities aimed at a young audience, including an excavation activity where children could record their “finds” and a hugely popular “washing artifacts” activity.

My younger daughter assists at the “washing artifacts” activity. (Having spent hours in the lab washing artifacts, I never would have thought it an interesting job, but at my daughters’ suggestion I included it. Of course, it was one of the hits of the day!)

However, many of the posters and displays at other stations were meant to engage and inform adults, as well. A seed-sorting activity which included corn, pumpkin, bean, and sunflower seeds with accompanying displays gave adults an opportunity to read and learn about archaeobotany while their children identified and categorized seeds that might have been used by local indigenous peoples. Flintknapping and faunal stations displaying how indigenous groups in the region used natural resources provoked discussion about experimental archaeology, while an activity allowing the general public to try an atlatl (spear-throwing tool) allowed adults as well as older kids an opportunity for some hands-on learning.

Steve Keuhn teaches my daughter how to use an atlatl to throw a replica spear.

A mending activity also engaged both adults and children, while offering an opportunity to discuss the importance of context and the value of commonplace artifacts in learning about their past owners’ everyday lives, while an excellent display from ISAS used stacking trays to illustrate stratigraphy, showing various occupation levels from the Archaic Period through the present day.

We sanded the edges of modern ceramics for a mending activity that appealed to both adults and children.

Eve Hargrave, Public Engagement Coordinator for ISAS, explains stratigraphy to a family group.

Overall, I think we worked hard to engage both adults and children about what we do as archaeologists, and why our work is important. I think most people enjoyed themselves; it is my hope that they also left thinking about the science of archaeology and the careful precision with which we do our work. In planning the archaeological portion of the event, I wish I’d started with more specific outcomes in mind. I would have liked to provide information for the public on how they can get involved in archaeology locally and how to report a find. To this end, I think next year’s event should include representatives from the Illinois Association for the Advancement of Archaeology, an association of both professional and avocational archaeologists, to spread the word about how interested citizen-scientists can learn about and participate in local archaeological activities.

Reflecting on this activity has also allowed me to identify some goals in working towards future public archaeology events. These overall goals include clearly stated objectives like: 1) explaining how participants can get involved in local archaeology, 2) identifying steps private landowners should take if artifacts are found, and 3) educating participants about the scientific methodology archaeologists use to preserve information and context. A holistic presentation meant to tie together the individual displays might help to give context to individual hands-on activities and presentations, as well.

What are your thoughts? How has your organization approached public education and outreach events? Do you think it’s important to identify learning objectives for the general public? Please let me know your ideas in the comments below!

SHA 2013: Registration now open!

Registration for the Society for Historical Archaeology’s 46th Annual Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology, to be held in Leicester, UK, on 9th – 12th January 2013 is now open!

Conference registration is via the Conftool website, where you can also register for the many special events, receptions, round table luncheons, training workshops, trips and tours, and the Conference Banquet and Awards Ceremony. You can also plan your time in Leicester by viewing the conference program.

Discounted registration fees are available for delegates who are members of the Society for Historical Archaeology or its sister organization the Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology, and the first fifty members of SPMA to sign up for the conference will also have the opportunity to join SHA for a one-off special price of $20. Here are the Early Bird registration rates, which will apply until 3rd December:

- Member of the SHA or SPMA: $180

- Non-members: $280

- Student member of SHA or SPMA: $85

- Student non-member: $140

- Guest (includes entry to free events, but not paper sessions): $50

All the information you need to arrange your trip to Leicester, including travel and accommodation is located on the conference webpage, along with details of how your organization can assist with the running of the event by taking advantage of conference sponsorship opportunities, and exhibiting products and services in the conference bookroom.

The SHA and the local conference organising committee in Leicester will continue to make full use of social media in the run up to, and during, the conference; as well as this blog and the conference webpage, you will be able to follow the latest news on Twitter (#SHA2013) and Facebook, especially the conference event page.

If you have any questions regarding the conference or the registration process, please do not hesitate to contact us by emailing

We look forward to meeting you all for an exciting, stimulating conference in Leicester in January 2013!