Welcome from President E. Bánffy

Dear EAA members,

This is your new president calling in, fully honoured, and ready to begin my service to the EAA. How can I start other than by expressing my thanks that you voted for me, which ultimately makes it possible for me to write these few words introducing the autumn 2021 edition of TEA. In addition to thanking you as members, I also wish to express my particular gratitude to the Prague staff and the Executive Board who supplied me with a plethora of details regarding logistics and content, thereby making my incoming year a period of useful learning. Worthy of particular mention is our secretary, Sally, whose precise and profound knowledge guided me (and the whole Board) through countless discussions on, e.g., changes to the Statutes, and, perhaps even more importantly, elaborating the EAA’s new Strategic Plan. Finally, I owe very special thanks to Felipe, who expended a great deal of time and effort to introduce me into EAA matters. He expressed his own thoughts and intentions, but always politely left me possibilities to decide otherwise in the future. I could not possibly have imagined a more brilliant kick-off!

I would like to provide just a few words of introduction for myself for those who might not know me. I was born in Hungary and have been working with Central and Southeast European prehistory for decades. I now live and work in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. I have had the honour of representing the Romano-Germanic Commission in many places around the world, which has helped me to perceive that the EAA way is to harmonize the different pasts and divergences in the understanding of archaeology between Eastern and Western Europe. I served on the Board and was Secretary until 2011, at which point (as happens with many of us deeply committed members), I was ‘recycled’ in the Nomination Committee and also served on the Editorial Board for the Themes and as a Trustee of the Oscar Montelius Foundation (OMF). All in all, one could say that I have come to know the organisation fairly deeply.

However, it is important to note that the EAA I met last September was a far cry from the one I left a decade ago, or even the EAA as described by Adrian Oliver’s meticulous examination at the beginning of the 2010s. First of all, our membership has almost doubled. Secondly, this increase in membership has resulted in our current configuration of well-suited professional backgrounds and full synergy among the Prague staff members, each of whom have their own field of expertise. Combined with a corresponding professional leadership by EAA officers, these changes have profoundly contributed to the EAA’s current solid position in disciplinary, organisational and financial terms. I take over the responsibility in a happy moment and I shall do my best to maintain and further improve that state of affairs.

Having said that, it is also important to underscore the unprecedented difficulties and challenges of the past few years. First among these is the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union. As almost one in three members of the EAA are British, this has severely impacted a large portion of our members. Add to this the pandemic which has been ongoing for these last 18 months, and which still seems to have not reached an end, and it is clear that complications abound.

But how can we continue to meet these difficulties as an institution? As a primary reaction to Brexit, we shall further intensify our cooperation and ties with UK colleagues and friends in all fields of research, teaching and archaeological heritage protection. After all, the EAA is larger than the EU. It encompasses all European countries and, increasingly, also reaches well beyond.

Some of the organizational responses to the COVID 19 pandemic have been bright spots. Here, I think particularly of the great success of the almost entirely virtual Kiel annual meeting. This success – as well as the first hybrid event introduced in the EAA’s history – is food for further thought. How could we maintain and develop the advantages of online attendance even after returning to face-to face conferences?

The dramatic impacts of the pandemic to all sectors are clearly visible in professional archaeology as well: in higher education, museums and, perhaps the most vulnerable of all, to those who work in commercial archaeology. Part of the EAA’s new Strategic Plan is to find ways to liaise with and support local archaeological organisations and to offer disparate and thus vulnerable individuals to join the EAA and its communities, in order to benefit from the protection offered by the group as well as its added louder voice with which to express our needs and wishes. Even with our current total of 3000 members, the EAA represents no more than 10% of the archaeologists currently working in Europe. In addition, shared knowledge and experience with sister associations across the globe may spark remarkable synergies.

A further cause for concern lies in the growing trend for populism in some parts of Europe, which often misuses archaeological results. The spreading of non-facts and fake news through social media and other online outlets is a challenge. In the post-truth era, it seems too often that educated and experienced professional statements are classed as ‘opinions’, and reduced to the level of non-facts. False interpretations of the past, however, seem to be a favoured ploy by those who wish to justify the modern emotions that often go hand in hand with privileges and/or territorial claims. A specially devastating form of the misuse of archaeological data (nowadays quite often bio-archaeological data, like aDNA) is being appropriated for political purposes. The EAA has a difficult path to walk insofar as we must find the right ways to act, the correct responses to make and the best pre-emptive strategies to prepare. It seems, however, that the beginning and the end of this challenge will be a question of ethics.: Thus, we must promote and embrace equality, freedom of research and education, and, above all, optimise our means of intensive communication with various and diverse audiences.

To tackle these issues and, furthermore to proactively think ahead in order to find good solutions lies within the essence of EAA’s capacities and its ever-increasing positive energy. Among our most urgent steps will be a combined and unified academic and heritage management branch, and a proactive involvement of archaeology into various fields of public life. Our goal is to learn about both present and future through learning about the past for the benefit of all; it is also to enhance the wellbeing and often even the healing of the mind. The EAA can help show society at large that archaeology is not a nuisance to developers, but rather a part of the solution for a more responsible daily life moving forward.

Looking back over the last year, our work has resulted in important new plans. Since the EAA’s membership is constantly growing, reaching the 3000-member threshold has triggered some structural adjustments. One important decision related to this is to augment active participation. By delegating some tasks, more members apart from the Board can be involved in the information and decision-making processes. This is the background for our “CCC” strategy. This strategy takes both bottom-up (involving Communities in important EAA issues) and top-down (by appointing members as Commissioners for representing EAA and to Committees including new Advisory Committees to be established) approaches in order to gain optimal collective intelligence, thereby engendering the best and most well-informed decisions. While the details of these processes are still under development, we have set these frameworks as an important part of our strategy between 2021 and 2024. It is good that we query the nature of these decisions. Certainly, there are formal, mandatory and logistical facets of decision-making that are pivotal to maintaining the EAA and to keep it thriving. Nonetheless, I speak now of what may be the most important issue of all: the EAA has had and, continues to have an increasingly strong vision. This vision encompasses not only European archaeologists and European archaeology, but it also moves further afield: the EAA strives to tackle the general question of what archaeology might – or should - matter for modern communities today. In this ambition, the EAA sees a wider horizon than that of Europe. We invite and happily include our global colleagues in both joint thinking and action. Just to mention three facts to underpin this: the Kiel Annual Meeting had participants from 66 countries, from almost all corners of the world. The nascent and increasingly regular dialogue with the presidents of leading associations and societies of archaeology, anthropology and heritage all over the globe through virtual meetings is leading to the forging of grand plans. Last but not least, one good example of this dialogue is the successful Social Archaeology of Climate Change (SACC) meeting at the advent of the Kiel Annual Meeting on 6th September. All these things point in a single direction: to the EAA’s role as a society which is rooted in European archaeology but which reaches and communicates with communities around the world. In building and expanding these contacts, we are led by open minds, curiosity and solidarity. The essence of this very role was already present when the EAA was founded. As your new President, I cordially invite you all: let us follow this path together!

To return to the recent TEA issue, I wish first to thank Katharina and Rod for their long-lasting and devoted work as editors. Now, we focus on a new phase along with new look, some new structural changes and novel insights under the leadership of a freshly baked duo: welcome on board, Sam and Matt! Herewith I invite all members to read and enjoy the autumn news and interesting insights from the colourful and lively times of European archaeology.

E. Bánffy


Image: Three EAA presidents at Stonehenge unaware of what the future would hold. Photo by J. Chapman taken during the 1999 EAA AM in Bournemouth, UK. (Source: E. Bánffy, private photo)