Michael S. D’Aprix (University College London)
The 2022 EAA Annual Meeting in Budapest, Hungary proceeded with only minor issues in its attempts to straddle the hybrid physical and digital setting that is set to become a standard occurrence for accessibility and openness in coming years. Those minor hiccups with technology (primarily the lack of wireless microphones for audience discussion and the occasional dropped internet connection from a digital speaker) were overcome by the hard work of student volunteers, volunteer IT staff, and the many session organizers who should be commended on their ability to manage problems quickly and creatively!
I found that the location itself (centered on the Faculty of Humanities buildings and the unique Gólyavár conference centre) was one that was easily navigated, well-marked and concentrated enough that it made jumping between sessions simple and fluid. The setting of the opening ceremony at the Castle Bazaar was one that was fitting of the pomp and circumstance of the awards handed out with one speaker describing it as being as close to the Oscars as archaeologists are likely to get. See Figures 13-14. It was relatively easy navigating to the event but, as a first-time attendee attending without any close ties to any other attendees, I decided to introduce myself to one of the many yellow-bagged, blue-badged groups that were making their way across the city to the event. It was exciting to meet some Swedish archaeologists and get to know more about some of the work they were conducting in their day-to-day jobs.
Figure 13: The world heritage site Budavári Castle from the Erzsébet Bridge where the Opening Ceremony occurred.
Figure 14: The interior of the castle, the Várkert Bazár where EAA President Eszter Bánffy opened the conference with a choir and awards ceremony.
Figure 15: The Hungarian National Museum, where the Welcome Reception was held on the steps and the garden with live music and folk dancing.
Two small notes on location to be mentioned before moving onto the conference itself was the Welcome Reception held at the Hungarian National Museum. See Figure 15. This event provided ample food and drink that, for me, then provided the social lubricant sometimes necessary for casual networking, dancing, and general fun. These types of events, and the next night’s Annual Party, held at a rather swanky club with a live band, provide archaeology with some of the most important driving forces of the discipline.
The official theme of this year’s Annual Meeting was [Re]Integration, bringing archaeologists out of a difficult period of lockdowns and isolation and giving us a chance finally to share our knowledge and experiences in-person again. However, a more pertinent and informal theme developed over the course of the conference: the importance of communication, including communication between archaeologists, between archaeologists and archaeological specialists, between archaeologists and non-archaeological disciplines, and between archaeologists and the public.
This might have been a trend that appeared only in the sessions of which I attended, as there were 195 sessions provided over the course of three days. These themed sessions seem to represent the overarching, informal theme of communication that was present throughout the conference. There were many fruitful and important discussions that occurred, but many of these conversations seem to me to have taken place without meaningful interaction with various groups across our discipline. One of the first sessions to appear in the program was #337: Archaeology Matters. The need to Re-define the Relevance of Archaeology. This session sought to discuss a number of discipline-wide issues, for example how the EAA can promote the value of archaeology, how we can enhance the cooperation between archaeologists, scientists and heritage managers, and several additional goals centring on STEM, restructuring things like degree courses, and including the public in archaeology… all of which are subjects near and dear to my heart.
Unfortunately, because of time constraints, session #337 was unable to have any discussion whatsoever on any of the aforementioned topics. Rather, the session ran through a number of PowerPoint slides about the importance of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (Stafford-Smith, 2014), particularly focusing on climate change, and included two online presentations that were almost impossible to hear because of technical difficulties. One of those presentations on archaeology in Ukraine was given by a Ukrainian colleague who was unfortunately unable to attend in-person because of the war. The session concluded with what seemed to have been designed as quick introductions to topics but resulted in additional slides and longer talks that inevitably took up the remaining time in the session. There was at least one archaeologist who threw up their arms in frustration at the lack of discussion for the session.
Apart from the lack of discussion, there were a number of concerning issues that became apparent in this session and, for me, set the stage for the remainder of the conference. There was a rather clear demographic bias for the archaeologists in the room, which presents a troubling picture for discussions that are meant to guide the entirety of the discipline. I attempted to jump in with comment on this situation after an interesting comment from one of the online presenters who argued the need for more morally- and ethically- focused degrees. This might be of concern to late-stage and retired archaeologists who have time and stability to worry about more philosophical issues, but it is not the priority now for younger archaeologists who often need to decide between taking a job in archaeology or a job that pays a liveable wage in today’s economic and political climate, even if that means leaving the discipline altogether. Most importantly, while those philosophical, ethical, and moral issues are important to all archaeology, the demographic biases of these discipline-guiding sessions mean the important practical discussions that determine the accessibility and viability of archaeology as a career are not occurring and not occurring with necessary representation.
This situation in itself poses a number of questions that should be addressed in these types of sessions. Sadly, these kinds of questions are often ignored. There is a generation of archaeologists who became archaeologists in ways that are impossible for current archaeologists. This is something that needs to be discussed, as those pathways may need to be reopened or revisited in discussions of [re]defining archaeology. The same continued for a lengthy presentation on the Sustainable Development Goals and the focus of the session that I attended on Climate Change. Although this is a noble goal and one that may arguably provide archaeology with more relevance to other disciplines and current scientific trends, we are moving away too quickly from many of the important discussions that need to occur. Effectively, archaeology is trying to run before it can walk.
Returning to the core issue of communication, session #337 lacked the voices of students, be they undergraduate, post-graduate, or research students. With a high level of confidence, I can say that of the 33 members in attendance, there was only one PhD student and one early career archaeologist. This is another problematic issue. A recent study from the EAA EC Community has found that from a survey of 419 researchers across Europe, 84.2% of early career researchers are stressed due to the lack of job and career prospects while only 38.9% received funding for even attending conferences (Brami et al., 2022). Not only are many younger archaeologists concerned about their careers and their futures – which is not discussed often enough – but we are not given the means to voice our concerns in the most important settings or to colleagues that may be able to actually make a difference.
The trend of communication continued through all of the sessions I attended over the course of the conference. The next session I attended was #257: Big Project, Big Data: Creating a Web of Knowledge. The session was interesting but dominated by presentations from the UK’s High Speed 2 project and some unique approaches to what archaeologists call ‘Big Data’. I was rather disappointed in not being able to see the first few talks (they overlapped with session #337) and those first few sessions seemed to be the talks that presented the most debatable and exciting topics. Again, there was a notable lack of specific demographics. In this case, there was a dearth of specialists that deal with big data from non-archaeological perspectives.
Big Data has been a staple in other fields like BIM, Epidemiology, and generally in data science for decades now and those individuals with deep experience with technology and databases that allow fluid big data research were not present (or at least not abundant) at our Annual Meeting. This might sound like an odd point to make; after all, why would non-archaeological computer scientists come to an archaeological conference, particularly when we have separate conferences like the Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology Conference (CAA)? I get it. But there should be stronger interchange with other disciplines if archaeology is to truly operate as an interdisciplinary field. We should be seeking to open doors to other disciplines to present at relevant sessions and be asking them to attend and exchange knowledge with archaeologists.
This running theme of communication and integration was also lacking in session #211: Right Here. Let’s Get It Right Now, Collaborative Creation of Standards and Guidance to Define Good Archaeology in Different Jurisdictions. This session was unfortunately one of the more frustrating of those I attended over the course of the conference. It was yet another example of attempting to address major issues that impact all archaeologists with little to no representation of many archaeological demographics. I should point out before I continue that this was not the fault of the session organizers or even the inability of young archaeologists or those from varied backgrounds to attend the conference! Rather, this was because few archaeologists chose to attend. In a lecture hall that could fit almost 100 people, there were only 15 in attendance! More troubling still was the fact that at least a third of those individuals were either presenters or staff supporting the session. Only 10 archaeologists saw this session as being important enough to make time for. Such a lack of attendance makes me wonder why archaeologists did not deem this session necessary. Was there a more important session at the same time? Was it poorly placed in terms of timing on the schedule? Or, is there a deeper issue in which archaeologists have little to no interest in standards toward creating a better archaeology?
As archaeologists, we must recognize the importance and value of sessions like this and the importance of being involved in the kinds of discussions such sessions raise. Standards are becoming an increasingly pertinent issue for archaeologists and are not going away any time soon. It is likely that in the coming years standards will become more rigorous and more important for younger generations as well as those who are underrepresented in archaeology. More importantly, the discussion of standards and international collaboration underlies many of the data-driven discussions that occurred at the meeting this year, which emphasizes the importance of better integration and communication between these various groups.
[Re]Integrating Two Worlds
The value of communication between different groups and the best attempt at integrating different groups, in my opinion, came in Session #17: Becoming a Published Archaeologist. This session was organized by the Early Career Archaeologist Community. Becoming a published archaeologist is often a daunting task for those in an early stage of their careers. Mentoring, research opportunities, and publishing outlets vary greatly from archaeologist to archaeologist, and, without good guidance and support, the publishing process can quickly turn into a negative and difficult experience. This is certainly not made easy by the opacity of the publishing process itself; from the outside it is difficult to understand some of the choices that are made and how the process of publication actually works.
Sessions like #17 serve to break down the barrier between archaeologists and one of the most important mechanisms in the discipline. The publication route, how peer reviews work, and the intricacies of how journals internally function are some of the many transparent aspects of archaeology that could certainly benefit from more sessions and more opportunities to integrate and communicate between various groups within the discipline. It was intriguing to hear about the process from the side of the publishers and editors and to get some feedback and advice on the process. For example, as an early career archaeologist, I did not know that there is a need for more book and conference reviews nor did I realize that there is a general lack of reviewers, seemingly across the board.
The lack of reviewers for articles suggests a deeper issue in archaeology that needs to be better understood and better communicated. Why exactly is there a struggle to find reviewers? Is it because of an ever-increasing focus on niche specializations for which there are simply not enough qualified reviewers? Is it because there are too many journals and efforts are too broadly spread across the discipline? Or, is there a deeper and more pervasive issue throughout archaeology? The disciplines rely on volunteerism and unpaid work as a driver, but this comes at a cost to the work-life balance of archaeologists at all levels. The issue of communication and how we understand and integrate our knowledge extends beyond our many specialties in archaeology and should include engaging with and actively participating in the discipline itself, not just our own niche interests.
Understanding the relationship of certain groups within the discipline was the focus of the session in which I presented. This was session #218: Science or Humanities – Whither Archaeology? The session was a peculiar one as I expected it to be filled with far more polemics and debates than actually took place. That might have been because of the awkward need to run to the front and uncomfortably crouch near the microphone to ask a question, or it could be that there is a notable issue in archaeology on which many can agree. The general theme of this session was that archaeology is a unique discipline that must straddle two cultures (Snow, 1959). However, the general trend was that there needs to be better communication and integration of the scientific aspects of archaeology and, overall, a better approach to scientific methodology than what is currently seen across the discipline.
Communicating a Scientific Revolution
In addition to these trends, another underlying theme developed, focusing on Kristian Kristiansen’s Towards a New Paradigm: The Third Science Revolution and its Possible Consequences in Archaeology (Kristiansen, 2014). The term ‘so-called’ preceded the phrase ‘scientific revolution’ in almost every presentation or use of the phrase. It seems as if it is questionable whether a scientific revolution has occurred at all in archaeology or whether there has been a piecemeal adoption of certain tools and technologies in specific parts of the discipline (though not the discipline as a whole). Again, there is the need for better communication and better [re]integration of the various parts of archaeology. It could be that most of the people that attended session #218 were of the same mind and that the presentations were trapped in an echo chamber rather than the spur for developing further debate.
To me, it seemed that there were few archaeological scientists in the room. It did not help that many of the more scientific and specialized sessions were held at the same time on the same day. Many of the individuals that were present in the aforementioned sessions on redefining archaeology or creating new standards were not present at this session, something that was highlighted from a colleague who urged the session attendees to identify the ‘moose heads’ (figureheads) of archaeology, who are often not included in these important discussions. I will admit that there were several individuals from the big data session who attended this session on science and humanities and, fortunately, one of the presenters caught me frowning and shaking my head at the way they defined ‘big data’ (although I agreed wholeheartedly with the rest of the presentation!). This led to an incredible discussion later after the session and an opportunity to talk to and meet some of the other session attendees outside of the semi-formal nature of conference. This type of discussion is what I had been longing for all along. It was challenging. It was enlightening. And it felt like perhaps some of us were finally [re]integrating.
The [re]integration of archaeologists on a social level was absolutely a success. Conferences such as the 2022 Annual Meeting are an incredible opportunity to meet other archaeologists, network, and develop professional connections that can help further one’s career. I had the opportunity to finally meet many colleagues in person for the first time and meet many archaeologists whose work I had only read. These meetings resulted in opportunities for further discussions, subsequent and on-going communications, and have led to actual work. What we need to focus on now is better integrating those who are left out and those who could not attend. For example, it was a major financial burden for me to attend, but I did so because of how important this opportunity was despite not knowing how such a decision will impact my finances over the next few months. It is likely that there are many students, early career archaeologists, and commercial archaeologists who wish to attend but do not have the means to do so and were forced to make the decision to save the money and put that towards rent or rising energy bills instead.
Having said this, I recognize that there certainly are opportunities available in the form of grants like that from the Oscar Montelius Foundation (OMF) or the EAA Volunteer grants which cover housing, food, registration, and membership in order to assist individuals to make their participation possible. The EAA Executive Board conducted a survey to acquire meeting feedback and some basic metrics found that 36% of those surveyed paid for their trip through personal budget, while 21% were supported by grants including the OMF (EAA, 2022). This is a fantastic start in terms of data for improving accessibility and lessening the burden on attendees, but more information is necessary. While the survey showed that 67 attendees were funded through OMF and grants, this also represents 93% of the total 72 archaeologists who received OMF grants, meaning, that overall, the representation of grant receivers is much higher in the survey than in reality. This is not to be critical of the work and efforts of the OMF and the EAA in providing a greater accessibility and support to archaeologists, but rather to highlight the need to better understand all aspects of accessibility, particularly for those that couldn’t attend at all.
It is direly important for the discipline to start to recognize the value that comes from the informal settings surrounding a conference and the conference itself and how those benefits are still often only available to a select few. We also must start to [re]address the need to better integrate and communicate between the many groups of archaeologists, the many specialists, and the many non-archaeological specialists who should be involved in these conferences but who are too often excluded, not by any malice, but simply by a lack of attention given to building extramural bridges.
Brami, M., Emra, S., Muller, A., Preda-Balanica, B., Irvine, B., Milic, B., Malago, A., Meheux, K. & Fernandez-Gotz, M. 2022. A Precarious Future: Reflections from a Survey of Early Career Researchers in Archaeology. European Journal of Archaeology, Forthcoming.
- EAA 2022. Eaa 2022 Evaluation Survey. In: Archaeologists, E. A. o. (ed.) Report.
- Budapest: EAA.
Kristiansen, K. 2014. Towards a New Paradigm: The Third Science Revolution and Its Possible Consequences in Archaeology. Current Swedish Archaeology, 22, 11-71.
- Snow, C. P. 1959. The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution.(Repr.). Cambridge [Eng.]: University Press.
- Stafford-Smith, M. 2014. U.N. Sustainability Goals Need Quantified Targets. Nature, 513, 281-281.
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