An analysis of the social impact of participating in local place-based community archaeology excavations, using feedback data from CARE excavations in the Czech Republic, Netherlands and Poland in 2019-20 has been published in the Journal of Community Archaeology and Heritage. The review included data from 47 completed forms (20 from the Czech Republic (Vanovice and Myslinka); 14 from the Netherlands (from Woensel) and 13 from Poland (from Sławsko), all with the same questions (previously used in the UK) translated into Czech, Dutch and Polish.
The questionnaire included questions about enjoyment, attitudes to heritage and impact on skills. Analysis of responses about enjoyment of the activity showed 89% of all feedback respondents rated the experience ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ and 100% would recommend it to others. 66% said they had enjoyed ‘learning something new’; 40% ‘working independently’; 77% ‘meeting/working with others’; 57% ‘doing valuable research’; 60% ‘finding things from the past’ and 72% ‘learning about the past’. Analysis of responses about attitudes to heritage, showed 77% agreed/strongly agreed that the experience had increased their knowledge of local archaeology and history, and 70% that they felt more engaged with this than before. Asked about the impact the experience would have on their future interest, 55% said they would be more interested in local archaeology and history, and 57% in archaeology and history generally. Analysis of responses about skills showed 68% of respondents felt it had helped or helped a lot to develop skills in ‘verbal communication’; 63% in ‘working to set standards’; 77% in ‘creative thinking’; 60% in ‘reflective learning’; 60% in ‘resilient working’; and 70% in ‘team working’.
Reflection by the authors on these data alongside written-in comments by participants, in the context of the experience in delivering the CARE test pit excavation programmes identified several recurring themes in factors affecting the experience of community archaeology participants. The importance of working with existing local social networks in getting the novel idea of community test pit excavation successfully introduced was highlighted, as was good leadership and communication, with high value placed on the chance to work with and learn from archaeologists. Participants valued knowing they were making discoveries of genuine value for understanding the past, and appreciated the sense of privilege conferred by being part of a newly formed group discovering the history of their own village. The vital role of local and national authorities was noted, with support from these a very strong enabling factor in some states, but obstructive structures and systems very problematic in others. Other impediments included the impact of experiences during the Second World War and the communist era (including forced resettlement and collectivisation) which for some generated unease about community history which negatively impacted on inclination to get involved. Similarly, unease about authority made some participants reluctant to provide feedback.
Concluding, the authors noted that the CARE project (in spite of difficulties caused by the pandemic) has generated substantive data, from observation and feedback, to indicate that participative community archaeology with, within and about rural communities can be transnationally both popular and beneficial to people and places by enhancing skills, knowledge and wellbeing, and adding further value through heritage attachment, place attachment, place-making and place-branding, even in places lacking long-standing traditions of community archaeology, or where place attachment has been compromised; or where local authorities may be unsupportive. ‘It’s great! Very rewarding experience + well managed. I think it’s important for us to be aware of how our current objects and man-made materials have an effect on the future. They tell our story, who we are as a group and what kind of things were important part of our lives.’ (comment from Dutch participant in 2019)
The full paper, “Exploring the impact of participative place-based community archaeology in rural Europe: Community archaeology in rural environments meeting societal challenges” by Carenza Lewis, Heleen van Londen, Arek Marciniak, Pavel Vareka and Johan Verspay is available for anyone to read for free at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/20518196.2021.2014697?src=