The Irish Archaeology Field School has a long history of becoming embedded in their localities, designing archaeological and heritage projects that are of direct benefit to their host community. Our community outreach and integration varies from project to project, based on the desires of the community we are working with – but all aim to facilitate active participation by the surrounding community. This collaboration with the archaeological excavation comes in many forms, from active participation in the excavation, engagement with the archaeology or participation in the decision-making, management and future use of the site.
For students joining us this means you will be welcomed into, and may frequently interact, with the community as an ambassador for IAFS, your home institution and your nation! The below examples of current and past community projects may give a better example of what participation in a community focused archaeology project can entail.
Ferrycarrig Heritage and Archaeology Project
Our partnership with the Irish National Heritage Park (INHP) is a new one, having only commenced this year! The INHP is s 35 acre (14 hectares) outdoor museum of natural forestry and wet woodland, with exhibits and activities representing 9000 years of Irish History. It is located on public land and operated by a Board of Trust as a non-for-profit organisation, aiming to bring archaeology and history to the people of southeast Ireland – whilst also encouraging large numbers of tourists to the region.
While our archaeological activities within the park are focused on the excavation of a 12th century ringwork, the wider project aims to ‘bring archaeology to the masses’. We aim to draw the local community to the excavation site and give all visitors to the park (from the community and further afield) a unique insight into the process of archaeology (from buried find to museum display) in an engaging, up-close manner, through archaeological training, archaeological tours, open air museums, volunteer experiences and interpretive displays. This project is mainly focused on community outreach, with a community calendar of events soon to be drafted and circulated – so watch this space!
Our archaeological research in the Midlands largely came about as a result of a partnership with the Birr 20/20 group. This group was founded as an initiative to fill the gap left by the town council, which ceased to exist in May 2014. The dissolution of the town councils left a ‘gap in local governance’. Birr 20/20 is run by local people for local people, with pillars in each area that it sees as critical to the community of Birr, such as heritage, sports, tourism, food, the arts etc.
The group aims to develop a vision for Birr, its people and environment and plan an implementation strategy for the town in which partnership, collaboration and co-operation are the dominant characteristics. One early objective of the group was the establishment of a summer school in Birr, which ultimately brought about a conversation with the IAFS.
From conversations beginning on the scope to bring students to the Birr, we have since facilitated a program of non-invasive research, looking at monastic sites in the Midlands. Since December 2016 our project has seen the IAFS support geophysical research at three sites and digital preservation, through 3D scanning, at two. The collaboration with Birr Town and specifically Birr 20/20 is burgeoning and ambitious, but is only made possible by an enthused and participative local community. With their support the seeds have been sown for a larger most ambitious research project, incorporating the smaller projects undertaken to date. So again watch this space for updates or to see further detail on the work to date look here!
Black Friary Community Heritage and Archaeology Project
The Blackfriary Community Heritage and Archaeology Project (BCHAP) was established in 2010 as a joint initiative of several partners, including the Irish Archaeology Field School (IAFS), Cultural Tourism Ireland, Trim Municipal District, Meath Country Council, statutory organisations, a range of academic partners and, crucially, the local community. BCHAP can be summarised as having had three main objectives – (A) to provide heritage community outreach and education events, helping to further enthuse the Trim community on their fantastic medieval heritage; (B) to help rehabilitate the Black Friary site into a valuable amenity/green space for the local community of Trim and (C) for the research excavations at the 13th century Black Friary, and wider community project, to gradually migrate to a self-sustaining community driven enterprise. All these objectives are in keeping with the founding principle of BCHAP – ‘to help protect the heritage of the Black Friary site’ by making it into a cherished place for its local community.
The work of BCHAP has proved hugely successful, gaining widespread national and international recognition, and testifies to the potential of community driven partnership heritage projects. While its success have been reported extensively previously highlights include: the rehabilitation of the site from a derelict wasteland; installation of a community garden and orchard; annual delivery of a community calendar, which peaked in 2016 at 33 events; significant positive economic gains for the town based on increased visitor numbers; the creation, and dissemination, of new knowledge through archaeological excavation.
Perhaps the greatest success of the project was that it captured the interest and support of the community of Trim. As a result of the project is now becoming a more community focused and driven entity, allowing IAFS to roam on to new community projects!
International Experience in Community Archaeology
Immediately prior to joining IAFS, Dr. Denis Shine coordinated a community driven program of anthropological/archaeological research in the UNESCO World Heritage area of Kakadu, within the Northern Territory of Australia; this was the first systematic programme of archaeological excavation in Kakadu for over 30 years and focused on human connections to place, between an Aboriginal clan and their clan estate.
The project was multi-stranded in nature, cross-articulating different approaches to the past including oral testimonies, rock art, written histories and archaeological excavations. Such an archaeological programme necessitated a community driven approach, focused on the community’s desires – as is often the case in Australia. The research was instigated, and led by, by the host community and undertaken wholly as a partnership between them and the archaeologists over a period of three years. The partnership resulted in an extremely successful and well rounded body of research (see here), which allowed both western and traditional dialogues to combine to document, and help preserve, the unique and varied culture of the region.
Getting to learn the benefits of an integrated partnership approach to archaeology in Australia was a unique privilege, with Australia regularly recognised as a world leader in community archaeology. Such experience has, and will, undoubtedly help guide the IAFS approach to working with communities, not least on the need for concerted and coherent engagement strategies.