At the moment of writing I’m in the second year of my four year PhD trajectory at the Faculty of Archaeology at Leiden University. My PhD research is part of the European NEARCH project which aims to explore the various dimensions of public participation in contemporary archaeology and bring to the field, which is strongly influenced by economic and social developments in society, new ways of working and collaborating. More specifically, I’m looking at the social and economic impact of public activities in archaeology in order to better understand what the effects are of those activities on people’s lives. Understanding, revealing and predicting the actual impact of public archaeological activities is getting more important each day, since those two factors are gaining importance in local and international policy making, which is in turn based on pressure on governments to deal with rapid social and economic change.
Two weeks ago I was on a lovely and sunny field trip in the South-western part of Germany, in Landau, near Karlsruhe with my friend and colleague from Leiden University, Arnout van Rhijn. There, a huge flower park is created in order to celebrate the ‘Landesgartenschau‘. The show opened spring this year and will close coming fall, giving people all over Germany (although most visitors came from nearby, actually) a chance to visit this beautiful place and enjoy the views and smell.
Interesting for me was that within this flower park a Linearbandkeramik longhouse was recreated by a nearby archaeology and history museum called Museum Herxheim, based on the results of local archaeological digs, but also based on international literature (there was actually a blog about this on last year’s Day of Archaeology, if you remember). The longhouse was not fully reconstructed (the roof was not closed, for instance) and also done by means of modern tools instead of authentic ones, but this was no problem since the reason to create this reconstruction was to give people an impression on how large and tall those early farms were and to arouse their curiosity. Alongside the longhouse, several authentic plants are presented as well (including, for instance, einkorn wheat and poppy) next to the reconstruction of a Neolithic wooden well an Iron Age smelting oven/furnace and a giant adze created by local art students.
We were invited by Museum Herxheim, and were able to perform a variety of studies there in order to gain insight into two things: peoples behavior on such a public site, and the impact of this activity on people’s perceptions: a perfect case study for my PhD research. In that one week of fieldwork, we were able to perform two different types of research:
1) We performed a visitor-tracking study, to see how people move around the plot, at what point they would halt and start to read explanations or start to have conversations with each other. We also tried to keep kind of the seconds people would halt. However, the longhouse turned out to be a great visitor attraction, and at sometimes there were more than 40 people (including lots of school classes) in and around the house so it was impossible for us to keep track (and time) of everybody.
2) Furthermore, we asked people to fill out a questionnaire in order for us to gain an insight into the social impact of such a public archaeological activity. We asked questions if the visit made them happy, for instance, or whether or not they would visit Museum Herxheim afterwards. In the end, more than 100 people took their time to fill-out the questionnaire and we tracked more than 200 peoples movements around the longhouse plot.
At the moment of writing, on the actual Day of Archaeology, I’m busy working out the results of those two studies in both Excel and through an online tool called SurveyMonkey. The idea is to write an article about our findings, not only on the actual results, but also on a ‘best practices’ guide in doing these kinds of research, which is, quite frankly, something not every archaeologist (nor heritage manager for that matter) has a feeling for or has experience in. This week provided me with lots of useful data, but, perhaps more importantly, a wonderful experience.
I hope you had fun reading this small entry and wish you a pleasant Day of Archaeology! Oh and if you are in the vicinity of Landau before the 18th of October, please have a visit!