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Museums Journal Conversation

Kenneth Aitchison was 'in conversation' with Mike Heyworth of the Council for British Archaeology in issue 115/07 of the Museums Journal (published on 4th February 2015) discussing the launch of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists.

http://www.museumsassociation.org/museums-journal/comment/04032015-the-conversation

  

The conversation

 
Mike Heyworth; Kenneth Aitchison , Issue 115/17, 04.02.2015
 
How will the launch of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists affect community projects?
 
Kenneth Aitchison is the executive director of Landward Research; Mike Heyworth is the director of the Council for British Archaeology

Dear Mike:

It was a pleasure to see you at the launch of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (Cifa). It’s been a long time coming – at least 15 years, as it was an ambition in the (pre-chartered) Institute for Archaeologists’ 2000-10 strategic plan.

I’m pleased, as chartership shows that the government appreciates the benefit of having quality checks on who can be called a professional archaeologist, as it recognises that archaeological remains are environmental resources that should be managed and investigated professionally.

How do you see this change affecting community archaeology fieldwork?

Best wishes, Kenneth

Dear Kenneth:

I agree that the launch of the chartered institute was an important moment in the development of the archaeological discipline. Cifa should play a leading role in raising standards. A recent survey by the Council for British Archaeology showed that there are more than 2,000 voluntary groups in the UK that interact with our archaeological heritage.

I hope they feel that Cifa has a place for them and that it isn’t trying to restrict fieldwork opportunities to “professionals”, which most people think means paid staff. I assume you support the continuation of the vibrant voluntary sector.

Best wishes, Mike

Dear Mike:

I agree that the voluntary sector brings value to archaeology – these people are the discipline’s public supporters and no one should see “professional” and “voluntary” as opposites.

Being professional is about demonstrating high standards of competence and ethical behaviour, and anyone can apply to join Cifa, regardless of how they earn a living. However, for those paid to be archaeologists, chartership will be a boon.

One of archaeology’s enduring problems has been the ease with which inexperienced individuals can provide commercial archaeological services, which has contributed to low fees and salaries. If chartership means there is a higher threshold for entry it could make life more rewarding for professional archaeologists.

Best wishes, Kenneth

Dear Kenneth:

The voluntary sector is made up of not just “supporters” but also of engaged participants in the archaeological process. I agree that we want to improve archaeological practice, and chartership is likely to be a valuable tool to achieve this in the commercial sector. But we need to be careful with language and processes so that we do not appear to be creating barriers for work in a non-commercial context.

Best wishes, Mike

Dear Mike:

I don’t think barriers are being put in place, but chartership has raised the bar. Anyone who wants to be recognised as a professional archaeologist should be supported to get over that bar. But they have to carry their own weight and we can’t devalue their achievements by lowering the bar.

Best wishes, Kenneth

Dear Kenneth:

Everyone should aspire to the highest standard of work, and support should be available to improve the quality of their work. There are perception issues around the term “professional archaeologist” when applied to the voluntary sector as many independent researchers would not wish to apply that label to themselves.

Others see it as a move towards a requirement for only “specially authorised” individuals to be able to undertake excavation. There are ways around this, but we need to take care not to damage the thriving voluntary sector and the public engagement that goes with it, in a push – which we all support – to raise standards in commercial archaeology.

Best wishes, Mike

Mike Heyworth will be speaking about community archaeology at Dig It: Museums and Archaeology – a one-day Museum Practice seminar at the British Museum on 6 March