12 August 2016

Archaeology and archaeologists in a new Europe

Another month has passed since the EU referendum, and whilst things are still unsettled it is now possible to see consequences for archaeology other than the immediate negative impacts which I described in my previous post - namely a loss of public and private funding from all parts of the sector.

Offa's Dyke, near Oswestry, Shropshire. Once a fiercely contested border on the edge of Europe; 
now just a dotted line on a map and a place for nature, relaxation and togetherness.

That will of course still happen. Many of the economic consequences were detailed by Doug Rocks-Macqueen in his excellent pre-Brexit blog post (which has had a number of post-Brexit addenda). I think Doug's analysis was basically correct - economically it will be at best bad, or it could be very bad, or worse.

Additionally there is the Brexit dream of cutting 'red tape' - specifically 'streamlining' the planning system to enable development. Since most UK archaeology is undertaken as part of the planning process, this represents a very real potential threat. 

In the longer term the greatest danger is a diminution in European archaeological co-operation, particularly when the frameworks for much of that co-operation are multi-partner projects with European public funding. Any restriction on freedom of movement will massively hamper the ability of archaeologists in all countries to continue meaningful research, and to share best practice.

However, positivity is essential, and we need to proactively and enthusiastically fight our corner. In this context I was delighted that the CIfA met with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport last week, and argued that:
  • the UK needs to retain is heritage legislation
  • new funding streams must be established to mitigate for the loss of EU ones
  • free movement of accredited archaeologists is essential

We need to think positively about how to develop new and potentially more interesting and flexible frameworks in the future. After all there are also active and very constructive collaborations going on all the time with our colleagues in non-EU European countries, as well as with those in the US, Africa, Asia and elsewhere.

It is also the case that the Brexit vote is likely to have an impact on the EU too. There will be reconsideration of processes, policies and funding streams; and in particular much soul-searching about the relationship of EU structures to national and regional populations.

It is perhaps ironic that UK archaeologists are among the most enthusiastic and numerous participants in the annual European Association of Archaeologists meetings, and have consistently strongly influenced the direction of travel for professional archaeology across most of north-west Europe and elsewhere. We are all well aware that modern national boundaries are essentially meaningless in the longer durée of archaeological time.

So I am very much looking forward to this years' EAA meeting, which is coming up in a few weeks. Indeed there is a special session on Brexit and its implications for European archaeology, which will be fascinating. This is a critical time for engagement with European and global colleagues, to refresh existing networks and create new ones.

What is done is done. This is not a time for regrets, it is a moment to create and enjoy new opportunities. When nothing is certain, anything is possible.

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