What is Community Archaeology?

Community archaeology involves members of the community actively working together in an area in which they live, and is often coordinated by broader archaeological projects, as identified below. It aims to incorporate every individual from a range of demographics.

Community archaeology comes from a need for archaeologists to provide a public service. In order to do this emphasis has been placed on how engagement between archaeology and the public can be created, and how public values can be incorporated, created and maintained within archaeological practice. This can achieved through a wide range of different activities including excavation, post-excavation, artefact handling and educational tours.

Community Archaeology at Oakington

A central aspect of the recent phase of excavation at Oakington early Anglo-Saxon cemetery (2010-14) has been community outreach. Outreach at Oakington is not merely focused on providing the public with expert opinion or archaeological ‘fact' but has sought to actively involve the public in excavation, interpretations and decisions regarding the future of the project.

Outlined below are some ways in which the project involves its audience each year:

  • Access. The open excavation policy the site has in place has allowed individuals and groups to come behind the barriers and immerse themselves in archaeology through active involvement in excavation, social media, and finds. As well as gain new information regarding archaeology through wider forms of media articles such as press releases and magazine articles (see the publication and news tabs for more details). This is one of the first projects in the UK to open up the excavation of human remains to the public without barriers, and to use this unique access to the past as its uncovered to encourage discourse and learning. This project has achieved this through a range of particle activities relating to ancient human remains, changing how the public both engage with past and with each other.

  • Learning. This project has provided a variety of learning activities and opportunities for over 300 children from local schools and youth groups allowing involvement with the archaeology both on and off site. This has included participation in the excavation, recording and interpretation of their own heritage and culture. Activity booklets and learning packs have also been created to provide self-guided learning on and off site. This area of outreach has been built upon through a Heritage Lottery Funded scheme, which aims to (through the input of the young people) to create a multi-phased educational project. A cross-curricular education system based on archaeological method and techniques has been put in place, which also involves the planning and hosting of a ‘festival day' allowing the young people to show off everything they have learnt throughout the project.

  • Engagement. The Oakington and Westwick annual village day has also provided the archaeologists with an ideal opportunity to engage with wider audiences. This has enabled the project to showcase the sites research, through open access, finds displays and stalls, children's activities and conducting on-site tours to small groups throughout the day. Engagement has been increased further through the adoption of social media; used during both the excavation and post-excavation periods. This has enabled the projects audiences to see into the heart of archaeological practice and understand the multi-faceted nature of the discipline. Furthermore, it has provided audiences with a year round platform to engage with the archaeology and allow their voices to be heard.

  • Evaluation. The project has undertaken quantitative and qualitative feedback from visitors, community members and the wider public. This has provided valuable information to guide the future of the project and the outreach elements the projects officers. This has led to community-guided elements, such as the Oakington Primary School project and village test pitting. This research has allowed future archaeological research into the values of community archaeology and to explore public attitudes towards their archaeology and heritage, including views on the excavation of ancient human remains.