Review by Allyson Blank : Alumni Experience

Allyson Blank service dog Bo in Ferrycarrig (2019).

Review by Allyson Blanck

(IAFS Alumni)


Allyson Blank service dog Bo in Ferrycarrig (2019).

The Irish National Heritage Park (INHP) in Wexford Ireland has many impressive cultural reconstructions and attractions, but arguably the most historically fascinating section of the park is the archaeological dig. The Ferrycarrig excavations, run by the Irish Archaeology Field School (IAFS) in partnership with the INHP under the name “Digging the lost town of Carrig Project”, is a place where budding archaeologists and interested scholars can come to participate in the unearthing of a Anglo-Norman era castle.  This dig, while fascinating for many reasons, also has a unique quality as an archaeological site: it is accessible. Visitors with wheelchairs and other mobility aids are regularly able to come visit the site, discuss with working archaeologists, and view the ongoing dig work. Archaeology is notoriously terrified of disability, it is seen as dangerous and unpredictable. However, by participating in a larger cultural heritage site which encourages visitors, the accessibility of the site is naturally improved over normal dig conditions. Access to a clean and functional restroom, sloped walkways and ramps, and the use of golf carts allow a different type of person to visit, whom many archaeological sites leave behind in favour of archaeological tradition.

As a new archaeologist myself, with zero European dig experience and a disability, I was welcomed with open arms at Ferrycarrig, as was my service dog Bo! After a difficult few months looking for a program that might welcome my needs and my unusual medical equipment, I was introduced to the IAFS through the Institute for Field Research. IAFS directors Denis and Steve made me feel welcome immediately, wishing only to know if I personally felt capable of the work involved in attending the field school. Once I arrived, the same warmth was continuously present throughout my time digging, and I began to realize how truly special this program is. Not only for the incredible directors and field supervisors, but also the staff park as a whole. Other students joined in as well, inviting me and Bo to come explore the town in the evenings and off days. Embarking on this trip was a big step, and I was petrified of the possible outcomes; but I was continually proved wrong.

The site is located atop a hill, which can be accessed by walking up a reasonably inclined path. The path often sees golf carts zipping up and down, which can carry passengers to the top of the hill when needed. Not only is this path well maintained, but it has benches periodically placed which offer a natural break. Once on the site itself, there is a bridge which crosses the large ditch from the ringwork, which on other sites might be left as is or given a temporary but inaccessible crossing. The site also has an associated lab right next door, which can offer shelter from rain and cold weather, while also providing a break and lunch area a minute’s walk away.  All these features and others combined allow a disabled archaeologist, like myself, not only to participate, but to participate fully and comfortably.

Disabled archaeologists are not common, and an archaeologist with a service dog is virtually unheard of.  Yet, disability should not be a barrier to becoming an archaeologist, and the site at Ferrycarrig proves just how possible that notion is. Non-traditional medical equipment is becoming more and more common, service dogs and wearable technology can open up the world to individuals like me who had previously been restricted in their travels. I have travelled the world with my service dog, and we have visited 6 different countries and counting! I have found barriers in unreasonable places, but I also found sites and individuals like those at IAFS who wish to address these boundaries with me. From working at the site, I have developed a theoretical framework for how other field schools might better accommodate non-traditional equipment, and how to better engage and support disabled archaeologists in general. All of that research will be presented at the Society of American Archaeology’s next annual conference, and was originally planned for April 2020. My hope is that from my own career and advocacy in archaeology a disabled student who has an interest in archaeology will not feel deterred from the field due to perceived inaccessibility. The field school at Ferrycarrig was an important first step in my journey toward that goal, and I look forward to continuing work with Denis and Steve and all of IAFS in the future.