Albania > UK #worldinterview #11

Albania > UK

Interviewee: Raksha Dave

What drew you to archaeology and what path did you follow in your archaeological career?

I’ve always been interested in history and archaeology as far as I can remember. I have a photo of me; I must have been about three years old trying to trowel in the back garden so I think the draw to pursue a career in archaeology has always been strong.

I studied at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL graduated in 1999 and have practised archaeology ever since. My archaeological roots are firmly planted in field archaeology having worked for commercial archaeology companies in London but this has happily deviated to a more Public Archaeology focus through my broadcasting work. I spent 10 years as a Senior Archaeologist and Presenter for the ‘Time Team’ and have since then presented a documentary for the BBC.

I’m very lucky to have had a varied career,  I’ve worked for the UK’s professional body Chartered Institute for archaeologists(CIfA) and developed and delivered community archaeology projects but now I’ve come back full circle to broadcasting and I’m currently working on a TV documentary for Channel 5 that I’m presenting which should be out in autumn 2017.

What difficulties do you think students face in pursuing a career in archaeology?

Here in the UK we have our own particular set of problems. For the commercial sector the bottom line is the lack of pay and the offer of permanent contracts in particular for those entering the profession at the graduate level.  A lot of archaeology graduates realise that a career in commercial archaeology is piecemeal, they often have to go from contract to contract, little or no training is offered, and career progression is difficult. Conversely, I also know from friends that trying to get employed into academic posts can require a lot of luck and persistence so most people look to shoehorn themselves into better paid and structured jobs in curatorial archaeology, the museums or consultancy.

The downside to this is that retention is poor and the sector inevitably haemorrhages talent. It’s not unusual for early career archaeologists in the UK to decide to re-train or move sectors because they feel the profession is unable to support a decent standard of living.

Rather frustratingly these problems have been recognised for a long time and yes, whilst there has been some move towards addressing the above we now have other issues such as attracting students to archaeology in the first instance – but that’s another discussion for another time!

What is the relation between archaeology and the public in the UK?

It’s probably been the best it ever has been – the UK has a strong public archaeology presence and year upon year the public offer is very strong. Impact is now seen as an integral output to any archaeological project whether that’s commercial, research or academic. Advancement in digital technology has made it possible to access and disseminate archaeological information and stories instantly. Public and community archaeology in the UK has emerged as a specialist field in its own right and I look forward to see how this develops further.

The main problem for the UK is finding new ways to engage those audiences we don’t reach. There’s not a year that goes by that I don’t attend a conference session discussing the lack of diversity and representation in archaeology but I haven’t seen any real progress on how this agenda has moved on. We are really good at disseminating information to audiences but only to the individuals that are ‘engaged consumers’ of archaeology, not to others who may have zero knowledge or appreciation about the subject. Archaeology as a career, sadly, is a reflection of this, we lack diverse representation within the sector at differing career levels whether that’s on basis of gender, socio-economic background, ethnicity and disability, to name a few. I’d like to see archaeology in the UK move towards addressing this issue.

There’s a debate in the UK at the moment about the lack of alternative narratives in the public history we produce and teach, that we are still reflecting white, male, colonial attitudes. Archaeologists are way ahead of the historian curve and are well aware of the dangerous pitfalls of having such a narrow outlook.I don’t want to see equality and diversity shoe-horned as a specialist interest; surely it’s in everyone’s interest to have a varied workforce that produce and curate narratives that reflect all aspects of society.

What are the challenges that archaeological theory faces in the new millennium/post-processual era?

Blimey what a question and what a minefield! I think the real question is what does archaeology theory do for us? For the majority of the non-academic sector many would wonder what relevance theory has for them in the everyday practise of archaeology in their workplace. Many would say none or not hugely but in reality their work and methodology has in some way been influenced by archaeological theory.

I’ve been very lucky to have worked with Ian Hodder and with Peter Ucko both of which left a huge impression on my ideas of collaborative working. In fact I remember feeling quite shocked that Ian had taken his time out to thank me for coming out to Catalhoyuk. It was the first time that anyone – not to mention an eminent archaeologist, acknowledged my specialism as a field archaeologist rather than, ‘just another digger’. That experience left a huge impression on me -the realisation that everyone’s contribution is valid.

It’s really important that academic institutions and the commercial sector look at ways to work towards a more collaborative economy. The time of working in silos is over and we need to think more on how to deliver projects that would benefit academia, commercial practice and impact outcomes delivered to the public. I think it would be quite exciting to see this sort of reflexive working, one where new technology, theory and methods would be tested within a commercial setting and on the other hand commercial units benefiting from larger research agendas facilitated through graduate studies. This partnership working would benefit us all I can also see further positive knock-on effects with regards to training and career pathways into archaeology.

About Raksha:

Field Archaeologist, Pubic Archaeologist and Broadcaster.

Twitter: @Raksha_Digs

Questions from Nevila Molla in Albania.

Click the worldinterview tag for more interviews in this series.