How can culture contribute to the development of European identity?

Polina Khomenko

European Commission Representation in France

The following is a presentation given at the European Archaeology Days Forum (Forum des Journées européennes de l'archéologie) at UNESCO House, Paris on 20 January, 2023 by Polina Komenko (Political reporter at the European Commission Representation in France) on behalf of Catherine Magnant (Deputy to the Director and Head of the cultural policies department in the European Commission Directorate General for Education and Culture). As the Forum was bi-lingual, the opening and closing addresses are recorded here in French (as they were presented), while the rest is in English.

Monsieur le Président de l’INRAP Dominique Garcia, chers représentants du Ministère de la Culture et de l’UNESCO, chers collègues, mesdames et messieurs. C’est mon grand plaisir d’être ici à Paris avec vous pour ce Forum des Journées européennes de l'archéologie. Je suis surtout enthousiasmée par la variété des participants que ce forum rassemble et par l’occasion de pouvoir vous parler de la contribution de la culture au développement d’une identité européenne, un thème qui m’est particulièrement cher. Puisque notre langue de travail aujourd’hui est l’anglais, permettez-moi de continuer mon discours en anglais.

Like little else in our recent history, these past three years have put enormous challenges in front of us – a global pandemic, war and climate crisis are just some of the events that have been on our minds. As many others, culture, its sectors and professionals, have suffered greatly, but have also comforted and been signals of hope in the most difficult times.

When we think about European identity, I am sure that what first comes to mind is indeed culture – our amazing cultural diversity, our joint cultural heritage, our roots, our culture of shared values, our creative minds that have formed our world, in Europe and beyond. Culture brings us together in so many ways, and has time and again proven to be a healer, a solution, a mediator towards peace. However, it can also become an instrument to encourage divisions, instead of being used to find a common language when it is needed the most. This is one dimension of our identity that culture can help restore – our humanity and our sense of common ground.

The EU’s intention to bring a sense of belonging to its citizens is reflected in the freshly adopted Work Plan for Culture. This Work Plan defines the priorities on which the European Commission and its 27 countries will conduct joint work at European level in the four years to come. From 2023 until 2026, the priority areas of action will revolve around empowering the cultural and creative sectors – artists and cultural professionals, enhancing cultural professionals and the role of culture in society, unleashing the power of culture when it comes to fighting climate change, illicit trafficking of cultural goods, and fostering innovation and sustainability; and finally, strengthening the cultural dimension of EU external relations. We will also tackle the issue of mental health and how it can be improved through culture. All these, and many more actions will help us re-establish culture as a crucial ally in rehabilitating our societies.

When it comes to cultural heritage, we have been paying great attention to its safeguarding and recognized that it requires particular care and collaboration of many different actors. This is one of the legacies of the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018 in which yielded so many great results and encouraged conversation around the subject. Let me highlight some of our recent achievements at the European level: we have organised expert groups and reports on topics such as the promotion of Baukultur and high-quality living environment, how to boost the resilience of cultural heritage to climate change, and on the cultural dimensions of sustainable development.

The Commission launched the New European Bauhaus, a wide-ranging initiative that aims to connect culture and the European Green Deal, fostering inclusivity and sustainability for our living environment. We launched Culture Moves Europe, a scheme that supports the mobility of artists, creators and cultural professionals, including heritage experts. Just a month ago, in December 2022, the Commission adopted the EU Action Plan against trafficking in cultural goods that provides a clear, comprehensive and effective framework for fight against illicit trafficking. This, I am sure will be dear to you as many of a large proportion of the trafficked goods are archaeological objects.

Our longstanding collaborations with UNESCO and other international organisations help us in getting the message across – that culture and cultural heritage in all its forms (archaeological, built, movable, underwater or intangible) are reflections and symbols of us and our history. Such projects demonstrate the potential and power of culture, and contribute to building the European identity as a leader in answering the most pressing societal issues of today.

In this context, I would like to single out our efforts in supporting Ukraine – both its cultural and creative sectors and cultural heritage. We have been in regular dialogue with other Commission services, EU bodies and external organisations since the war broke out. A number of actions dedicated to Ukraine will be a part of Creative Europe’s work for 2023, including the training of cultural heritage professionals. In addition, the Commission will set up an expert group which will reflect on how best to preserve cultural heritage and empower local cultural and creative sectors in Ukraine. We will continue to listen to the needs of our Ukrainian colleagues and provide necessary assistance, but also work on shaping the strategy for reconstruction of Ukrainian monuments after the war.

Finally, let me highlight the vital role of our youth in shaping the European identity through culture. These motivated, skilled and enthusiastic young people are willing to be included in formulating our cultural policies and raise awareness on the importance of culture for our society and identity. This year of 2023 is the European year of skills and what better way to celebrate it than giving the young the space to learn, create and develop our future with us.

Je suis convaincue que nous partageons tous le même regard vers la culture – elle est notre outil précieux pour la régénération et résilience, un véhicule qui nous permet de nous retrouver et de nous reconstruire en dépit de tout obstacle devant nous. Je me réjouis de continuer notre dialogue et collaboration en faveur de la culture. Merci.


EU Work Plan for Culture: Council of Ministers agrees on new EU Work Plan for Culture 2023-2026 | Culture and Creativity (
New European Bauhaus: New European Bauhaus: beautiful, sustainable, together. (
Culture Moves Europe: Culture Moves Europe | Culture and Creativity (
EU Action Plan against trafficking in cultural goods: Combatting trafficking in cultural goods | Culture and Creativity (

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Whither archaeology in a digital age? Lessons from the European Archaeology Days Forum

Samantha S. Reiter

TEA Editor

Some people orient their place in the world by studying a distant horizon or the constellations that wheel above it. Personally, I have grounded myself in archaeology and the museums that curate it. This has enabled me to expand my own thinking and to understand the world as the setting for a great, complex and interconnected flow of events that reach both backwards and forwards through time. In short, archaeology and museums provide perspective. They make us aware that we are but small parts of things so much greater.

Those of you who have been following closely with TEA’s evolution these past years will have noted this belief in the pondus and import of cultural heritage reflected in the newsletters’ contents pages. One of the best and most innovative public-facing outreach programmes for archaeology continues to have strong support by the EAA (which is an official sponsor): the European Archaeology Days (henceforth EADs). In the following, I present some of the lessons learned from a recent EADs Forum organized by INRAP for national coordinators and local organizers of the European Archaeology Days held at UNESCO House in Paris, France from 20-21 January, 2023.

A brief overview of the European Archaeology Days

The European Archaeology Days (EAD) are currently being held throughout the European Council. At last count, more than 700 organisers running over 1,500 events in 30 European countries. Since their inception, attendance at the EADs has almost quadrupled and the number of local organizers has grown sevenfold. This makes the EADs one of the fastest-growing public outreach faces for archaeology in Europe to date. The success of the venture (which began in 2010 as “les Journées national de l’archéologie” [archaeology days] only within the borders of metropolitan France) is due not only to the inventiveness of local organizers as well as to the tireless dedication of Pascal Ratier (official coordinator of the EADs). It is also a result of the unique parameters by which the events associated are defined. These include (Ratier, 2022):

  1. Reaching people in their everyday environment (rather than in traditional cultural historical environments, such as museums or heritage sites);
  2. Representing the entire chain of archaeological practice—from excavation through restoration, research, curation and exhibition;
  3. Producing new programming (e.g., events which go beyond guided tours and offer new perspectives and means of ingress to the world of culture;
  4. Drawing a new audience to archaeology (e.g., one which does not habitually attend exhibitions or engage in cultural heritage tourism);
  5. Gearing programming to be particularly accessible to young persons (e.g., holding events for school groups on Fridays);
  6. Events should be both freely-accessible and organisers are encouraged to make them free of charge.

A forum for EAD organizers

In December, Pascal Ratier sent out an invitation to local organizers and national coordinators from the 30 countries currently involved in the EADs for a meeting of the minds to be held at UNESCO headquarters in Paris the following month. The objective for the EADs Forum was to go beyond a simple platform by which organizers and coordinators could meet and compare notes about what worked and what had been less successful with past EADs events, but to instead take a deep dive into strategy and forward planning.

The Forum was attended by 49 delegates hailing from 19 separate countries. It took place in a grand lecture hall at the very heart of UNESCO. See Figure 27. Dominique Garcia (president of INRAP) opened the forum by describing the beginnings of the EADs and emphasizing the importance of the groundwork to be laid that day. Next came Aude Crozet (French Ministry of Culture) with a short but powerful address highlighting the plethora of nationalities in the room, and the capacity to create a unity out of that diversity. Polina Komenkho (epresentative at the European Commission in Paris) followed with an intriguing assessment of the ways in which culture contributes to the development of European identity. Ann Degraeve (president of European Archaeological Council) next gave a highly evolved talk with concrete examples on the significance and public benefit of archaeology. Pascal Ratier (INRAP) drew together the threads of the morning before we broke into separate workshops with a review of the EADs and the current status quo. See Figure 28.

Figure 27. The EADs Forum was held at UNESCO’s reception area in the basement level of the building. Along the right side of the room can be seen the booths for the translators in attendance. Due to the multilingual nature of both discussions and presentations, the EAD Forum organized simultaneous English/French translation via headsets for all attendees. Photo by S. Reiter.

Figure 28. Pascal Ratier reviews over a decade’s worth of European Archaeology Days. © Hamid Azmoun, Inrap.

The subject of each of the workshops represented a particular focal point for the Forum: the mobilization of archaeological actors (moderated by myself as a representative of TEA), communication and media partnership (moderated by Agnieszka Oiszcczuk, National Heritage Board of Poland), public participation (moderated by Harutyun Vanyan, Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport of the Republic of Armenia) and the future and further Europeanization of the EADs (moderated by Helle Solsask, Estonian Heritage Society). See Figures 29-30.

Figure 29. As moderator of the ‘Mobilizing Actors’ workshop, S. Reiter tries to sum up delegates’ astute insights. © Hamid Azmoun, Inrap.

Figure 30. Discussions in the ‘Public Participation workshop’. © Hamid Azmoun, Inrap.

In the afternoon, Thierry Cherpital (Eclydre) walked attendees through the mechanics of constructing their own EADs website with an API. Next, moderators Reiter, Oiszcczuk, Vanyan and Solsask reported to the assembly on the conclusions drawn from the four workshops.

Interestingly, in spite of the distinct themes of each of the workshops, many of the issues raised touched upon the areas addressed by the others. One of the first and perhaps most fundamental observations made was a thematic one: that the identification of new and different kinds of activities for the EADs (those outside usual cultural heritage programming) is, counterintuitively, quite difficult for cultural heritage professionals to do. This is due to the fact that, as persons who have dedicated their lives to studying and protecting history, the things we find interesting will most likely appeal to other persons who are also already enthusiastic about culture and the past. Appealing to young people immersed in the digital age during a time of rapid changes is difficult for some in cultural heritage (who tend to be comparatively older and have longer educational trajectories).

A generation raised with on-demand, uninterrupted internet access to the internet may not have the patience for the slow accumulation of knowledge and appreciation that has long been the hallmark of many forms of what we consider ‘culture’. How can we make history exciting to a generation raised with a universe of information already at their fingertips?

Forum attendees suggest that the answer to this is simple: we ask them. One possibility may be to contact social media ‘influencers’ as a means to break into the youth market. Engaging with younger generations and youth culture in the effort to cultivate a continuing interest in archaeology is an issue that reaches far beyond the EADs. One example cited during the discussion was the partnership between Ubisoft (the developer of the popular Assassin’s Creed videogame series) and various British heritage agencies as well as France’s Réunion des Musées Nationaux and the National Museum of Denmark (“Assassin’s Creed Discovery Tour: Viking Age Launches on October 19,” 2021).

Tangentially, it was also noted that the EADs — as well as much of archaeological academic infrastructure overall — is highly dependent on volunteerism. Public outreach events such as the EADs often rely on unpaid labour spent over weekends (as this is the moment in which families are available for extracurricular activities, such as engaging in cultural activities). Although the scale of the budgets required for paid overtime for all of the cultural heritage professionals involved in public outreach may be far outside the confines of cultural spending capacity, there may be another way forward. Rather than depending on volunteerism in and of itself, we may instead attempt to arrange for remuneration of public outreach efforts differently (e.g., through Awards and other competitions, such as for the title of ‘Best New Public Outreach Event of the Year’) which could help to build the CVs of those involved. Possibilities like this could also ultimately help fellow cultural heritage professionals remain in the field.

Although all of this may at first look seem daunting, attendees at the EADs Forum remained stalwart in insisting that it need not be. As archaeology and cultural heritage are becoming increasingly interdisciplinary, delegates suggested that this should also be reflected in how the discipline is portrayed to the public. Rather than segmenting archaeology as generally the purview of just museums and academia, we should consider expanding our scope to include other areas with which culture interfaces, such as art and science museums. At the end of the day, the goal of the EADs (as well as a crucial interest for cultural heritage across the board) should be to fight for maintaining space for archaeology to contribute to the modern world. In order to keep our place, we need to be amenable to adaptation and change. See Figure 31.

Figure 31. Michel Rouget (Cité de la Mer, Cherbourg) argues convincingly for taking a wider view of archaeology, and including art institutions and science museums as well as more traditional cultural heritage institutions. © Hamid Azmoun, Inrap.

Remaining open-minded was a challenge for many attendees in relation to the next point on the agenda: namely that a potential avenue for future rapprochement for EADs may be to explore the potential of metal detectorist networks. While the recent history of legislation regarding so-called ‘treasure hunters’ has been fraught with difficulties, with the possible exceptions of Britain’s Portable Antiquities Scheme and Denmark’s Danefæ. The fact remains that metal detectorists are members of the general public who are enthusiastic about the remains of our shared human past. Perhaps by seeking to bring them ‘into the fold’ of cultural heritage activities and outreach, we may help to build a shared system of better practice with a potential goal of approaching some form of citizen science.

One last subject that was raised repeatedly in different contexts by several different delegates was the need for organizational rallying points around which to structure outreach events. Annalisa Falcone (Italian Ministry of Culture) informed us that Italy’s EADs are always arranged around a different yearly theme; the theme for the 2022 edition was ‘Water, Fire and Flour: Breadmaking through ethnoarchaeology and cultural materials’. Two different delegates also proposed capitalizing on the ethos of a shared European identity by extending the tradition of twinned cities to also involve the twinning of archaeological sites. Although twinned sites may be separated by geography, it might be possible to capitalize on a common theme or chronological horizon shared between them.


All in all, the Forum concluded that the key to the continued success of outreach initiatives like the EADs may lie in respectfully, responsibly and sustainably harnessing archaeologists’ and cultural heritage professionals’ passion. In Danish, someone who has a passion for a subject is called an ildsjæle, meaning ‘a person whose soul literally burns for something’. Ultimately, the goal of events like the EADs is to fan the flames of interest in the past for new generations. I encourage you to help them make that flame catch.


  • Assassin’s Creed Discovery Tour: Viking Age Launches on October 19 [WWW Document], 2021. URL (accessed 2.3.23).
  • Ratier, P., 2022. Interview: Pascal Ratier on Sharing Archaeological Heritage: The European Archaeoloy Days. The European Archaeologist 74.

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