NEWS Archaeology and the coronavirus crisis The existing situation with the Covid-19 pandemic will have serious implications for society as a whole. Even as the initial measures were introduced by the government, the Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland cancelled their annual conference in early April, and several other dates on the archaeological calendar, such as the annual Medieval Dublin seminar, have been postponed for the time being. The restrictions placed on movement have reduced the number of new monuments being reported to the National Monuments Service, which, along with the National Museum, maintains a skeleton staff to answer telephone enquiries.
compliance. The majority of recent excavations in the capital have been undertaken to facilitate the development of new hotels and accommodation for foreign students who can afford the rent; the economic viability of such projects in a post-pandemic future is now questionable.
The archaeological industry has obviously seen several significant projects around the country coming to a complete halt mid-excavation. The crisis has, however, served to highlight the conditions under which most excavating archaeologists work and, in the context of social distancing, poses serious questions regarding the viability of archaeological excavation as currently practised, especially on urban development sites. Where archaeologists are effectively subcontractors working cheek by jowl with other construction workers, social distancing is a practical impossibility at the best of times and, if taken to its fullest extent, will undoubtedly extend the time necessary to complete a project to the required standards.
On a more positive note, the lockdown has theoretically provided an opportunity to deal with report backlogs and publications, although most workers have been denied access to their offices and this type of work is difficult to undertake from home. The 2km zone—increased to 5km at the time of writing—has, however, given archaeologists the opportunity to see what’s there on their own doorsteps. Others, such as the CHAT group (Contemporary Historical Archaeology in Theory), have gone a step further and are considering the archaeological trace of the crisis from the perspective of the future. A ‘viral archive’ on their discussion list makes for interesting reading and supports the usefulness of the ‘archaeological eye’ when appreciating a troublesome present.
Archaeologists are more adept at interpreting the past than at predicting the future. Whatever the outcome, things are not going to be the same.
The Construction Federation of Ireland has taken steps to ensure that workers returning to site undertake an on-line course, and the successful completion of a questionnaire afterwards provides them with an electronic pass to gain access to their workplace. If enforced to their full extent, the new regulations will require archaeologists to use their own tools; with the exception of trowels, this practice, though not unknown, is regarded as somewhat eccentric. Archaeology has always been considered a ‘dirty’ job and it is difficult to see how the required hygiene regulations can possibly operate, given the specific nature of the work involved. It may indeed become necessary to ‘resolve’ the archaeology on a site prior to the arrival of the contractors, which for many will be a welcome development. In addition, there is much disquiet regarding the probable economic depression, which could potentially halt development and, indeed, close off post-excavation funding, where final reports are still required to obtain planning
Above: Excavations under way at Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, Dublin, in 2017 (photo: Alva MacGowan).
A new community archaeology publication
Over the past few years there has been an increasing desire among communities to engage directly with the archaeology, heritage and traditions of their local area. The term ‘community archaeology’ is generally understood as the communities of today engaging with the people of the past through a variety of means. The common thread is that of reconnecting people with their past and encouraging new communities to connect with their localities, thereby creating awareness and ensuring the protection of the archaeological resource.
A new publication (Partnership and participation: community archaeology in Ireland, edited by Christine Baker, the new Heritage Officer at Fingal County Council) aims to highlight the importance and quality of community archaeology being undertaken across the country. Dissemination of results is an important aspect of the archaeological process and, while many of the community groups have undertaken innovative and participative events locally, this national overview is to be welcomed. It is clear through the range of projects and the diversity of participants and audiences that there is widespread interest in sharing in community archaeology initiatives. This publication (with its all-island approach) encompasses geophysical surveys, 3D projects, landscape surveys, heritage-based tourism, public art and community excavations, and gives voice to a wide range of perspectives, from the community itself to institutional overviews.
The book is published in paperback by Wordwell Ltd at €35 (ISBN 9781916291218); it can, during these difficult times, be ordered directly from Wordwell (tel.: +353-1-2933568) or through their website (www.wordwellbooks.com).
Archaeology Ireland Summer 2020