Thoughts from a corner of Sweden: If the UK leaves Europe, where does that leave me ? (and the many other archaeologists in the same sinking boat)

This year my Day of Archaeology posting comes from Sweden…..At the moment I am working on the site of Nya Lödöse, the old town area of Gothenburg. I am told it is the largest urban excavation ever to have been undertaken in western Sweden. My interest is in the early post-medieval houses and workshops of the town, but we are also excavating the church and its associated cemetery. As with every urban excavation, anywhere in the world, we are under pressure both in terms of time and resources…. but there are many joys. The scale and survival of the buildings is brilliant, the cemetery is producing all kinds of interesting anatomical and spatial data.


Nya Lödöse excavations 2016

I continue to follow the progress of the Intrasis dedicated archaeological GIS, but this time in the nation that developed the system….I am sure all my colleagues back at Historic England would love to see the latest version of Intrasis being used on a really intensive excavation…and to see demonstrated the facilities where onsite inputting of GIS data linked to an external remote database is possible.

We finish this phase of the project at the end of August….but there is another part of the cemetery and town to be excavated in 2017….


Three members of the team

But enough of the good news… there are bad times a coming and coming up fast. Anyone who has read any of my previous Day of Archaeology posts, will note that over the years, I have taken full advantage of my rights as an EU citizen to travel and work in quite a few different EU and EEA countries. Unfortunately, future opportunities of this type are likely to limited for us Brits. I don’t intend to say anything about the motives or mind set of the 52% of British voters who decided the UK should quit the EU. Those folk will one day have to justify their decision to someone mightier than any of us and may indeed feel real regret as they descend into the ninth circle of Hell, sweating through the flames of the Inferno and overcome by the stench of the raw sewage within which they hopefully will stew for all Eternity….

No, what I would like to say is something about how the decision of the UK to leave the EU will affect archaeology and archaeologists across the whole continent.

we are stuffed

In the first instance those of us Brits that work in other EU countries will have our wings clipped by the Brexit vote. Hopefully some arrangement will be reached where we can still work within the EU/EEA area, but I imagine that extra layers of bureaucracy will be placed upon us. As someone who worked in Europe before freedom of movement, I can recall the hours spent waiting at various airports, police stations and the like getting documents and permissions verified; on occasions having to attend medicals to ensure that I wasn’t bringing the Black Death back to one of its source nations and often having to take out separate (and often expensive) private health and liability insurances. Let alone the difficulties of opening bank accounts, transferring funds from work nation back to the UK etc etc.

Secondly, the situation will become equally difficult for the large number of EU nationals currently working in UK archaeology. EU citizens do not at present require visas to work in the UK, but that is likely to change following Brexit. Archaeology is not a ‘protected profession’ when it comes to granting work visas and non-Brit archaeologists wanting to work in the UK will find they are subject to the most restrictive forms of visa. The worst of this is the requirement for the post to provide a minimum salary level, currently £35,000 pa, before a work visa is granted. Only a very few UK archaeologists currently earn that amount and it seems unlikely that a massive wage increase will be instigated to retain non-UK workers

Thirdly, there is the question of research funding, collaboration projects and the status EU archaeology students in the UK and UK students in other EU countries. I anticipate a minefield of funding options, none of which will be less expensive than current levels and surely will result in less choice, less research and less collaborations. My personal grief will be compounded if employment with European research institutes and/or universities becomes difficult if not impossible as a result of Brexit…..It is already being predicted that the Erasmus student exchange programme will be severely curtailed for UK students travelling abroad and UK universities hosting EU students.

So here’s the rub. I think that the opportunities for British archaeologists to work in many different European corners and for EU nationals to come and do the same in the UK has contributed to a wider and more comprehensive understanding of our discipline. Archaeology across the EU benefits from the UK being an active participant. We equally learn from out interaction with colleagues from across the continent. I believe that there are cultural and social advantages in exploring the commonality of our continents history/prehistory.

Postscript: If anyone knows of a nation out there willing to offer asylum to the large number of UK archaeologists who are proud to rise above petty nationalism and declare ourselves ‘European’, please get in touch….

Medieval Tuscany to conquer the EU

On the Day of Archaeology2015 I shall be designing a new project. Quite unexpectedly, Siena University in a partnership with The American University of Rome has been awarded a prestigious ERC Advanced grant by the European Union (under the Horizon 2020 scheme). Giovanna Bianchi (who lectures at Siena University) and I thought up the concept and gave it a very academic title:

‘The creation of economic and monetary union (7th to 12th centuries): mining, landscapes and political strategies in a Mediterranean region’.

This mouth-full is not exactly what comes to mind when you think of the Maremma, with its glorious miniature Sienas at Massa Marittima and Campiglia Marittima. Our ponderous title, though, is rich with romantic promise. The Tuscan coastal strip runs from the Etruscan promontory sanctuary and port at Populonia past Piombino, the industrial gateway to the island of Elba, and as far as Grosseto.

The motive for the project lies in the hills that discretely rise up from the coastal plain and disappear under a thick covering of chestnuts and firs. These are the Colline Metallifere. The Etruscans first procured copper and iron here, transporting it down to Populonia to ship to the Celts and the Greeks. The Romans seemingly acquired better mines and let the hills be. But a Lombard family with strong Frankish connections, the Aldobrandeschi – whose scions still live in these parts – returned to the Etruscan adits. On and off a thousand years of metal prospecting followed.  In recent decades mining has given way to acquiring sulphur and gas, providing continued employment for the tight villages connected by snaking woodland lanes. Here, believe it not, are the riches that helped to shape Tuscany, becoming as it did by the 12th century the cornerstone of medieval Europe.

Cugnano: the location of one of the excavations of the project

Cugnano: the location of one of the excavations of the project

Our project is explicitly a scientific one. Our objective is to understand how this region that was reduced to prehistoric circumstances in the later 6th century (after the Gothic wars), by steps was transformed to boast splendid townscapes like Massa Marittima by the later 12th century. After decades of research by my old friend, Riccardo Francovich, and his energetic pupil, Giovanna Bianchi, the Siena University hypothesis is that mining in the hills started in the later 9th century at lost villages like Cugnano. The ore was then passed down a river corridor to a lost port on the coast at Carlappiano. Close by is the earliest castle excavated in Italy at Ventricella.

So, working with many collaborators, we aim not only to excavate at these three points in the procurement chain, but also to use a battery of new techniques to analyze the mining and the coins minted from the local silver, while new research takes place on the plentiful 8th-to 10th century charters here.

With this squad of scientists there is a wealth of material to add a vital new chapter in Mediterranean history. Added to this, there is the prospect to make the Maremma the centerpiece of a new medieval story, part of Charlemagne’s legacy and the stage upon which the Renaissance was constructed.