July sees the start of the Festival of Archaeology. The festival helps over half a million people participate in archaeology, explore stories of place, and connect with the environment around them.
To mark the Festival of Archaeology we sat down with Sam Fieldhouse, Community and Education Manager at Wessex Archaeology, to learn more about Wessex’s work to connect people with project archaeology and the power it has to teach and enhance the experiences of individuals and organisations alike.
Wessex Archaeology is the UK’s leading provider of archaeological and heritage services, and an educational charity. Established for 40 years, Wessex offer a range of services with organisations across sectors, including construction, to deliver practical, sustainable solutions to manage the historic environment. Wessex’s experience and knowledge helps projects engage communities and enhances the value of national historical assets.
What gives heritage its unique value?
It can be quite hard to understand life 3,000 years ago, but daily life was very similar. We all come from the same people, so heritage can give people an empathetic understanding of each other. We are all intrinsically connected to one another, we’re intrinsically connected to the land and heritage connects us to all of these things.
For me it’s about using archaeology as a hook, it can be a stimulus for learning about ourselves, building empathy with people who lived in our world in the past. It’s about understanding how the things have changed and it’s about telling that story to communities. Heritage gives us the opportunity to form a sense of place and to look back at where we’ve come from and where we’re going.
Through heritage we have the opportunity facilitate engagement with the landscape, the archaeological process, and those discoveries. From this we enhance well-being and learning about science, culture and heritage.
What do large construction projects unlock in terms of local history and heritage?
Big infrastructure gives us a unique opportunity to see large amounts of archaeology that we would otherwise not be able to. We work with construction projects to celebrate the archaeology and to give communities the opportunity to engage with it for decades to come.
If it wasn’t for these projects, we may never understand the history of certain communities. We’re able to tell people about their history as the their future is being shaped by new infrastructure.
How can archaeology be brought to life for communities?
It’s our drive to tell stories in a way that different audiences will understand. We look at the barriers people may have when interacting with archaeology in order to improve their understanding and enable them to reflect on the historical significance of a site.
We conducted a dig for a new housing project for soldiers returning from Germany and found that 3,000 years ago settlers from another country came to that site. Fast forward to the present and we’re seeing the same story unfold, so we used it as an opportunity for people to think about their legacy – what will they leave behind that people may one day come across. We won’t always make huge discoveries, but we know any find will be of importance to people. We look at ways to collaborate with organisations that invites local communities and wider audiences to discover the history of a project landscape.
How does archaeology shape community engagement for construction projects?
Archaeological activity can be used as a hook to spark interest and it’s a really good way for contractors to engage with communities, build understanding and advocacy,
We provide the opportunity to enhance public perception of a project, unlocking the potential to go beyond what is set out within the planning stages and get people excited and involved in a positive way.
Working with Wessex, Copper has developed engagement strategies and programmes for construction projects, encouraging people to discover the archaeology and heritage that is all around them – unearthing the journey of sites that make local communities so special.
You can find out more about the Festival of Archaeology on their website