Overview

Archaeology has been engaged in a constant dialogue with the public right from its beginnings as a scientific discipline. Spectacular discoveries have stirred large-scale interest and have become positive icons associated with our field. Narratives of treasure hunt and discovery often are romanticising archaeology as adventure and bravado. On a darker side, the 20th century has seen archaeology being misused (partly by archaeologists themselves) to support political ideologies. Archaeology enjoys a wide popularity and still offers the possibility to be used in both ways quite effectively. Active science communication by archaeologists is essential to avoid misuse of our subject.

Traditional outreach, like museums and popular books or articles, have been complemented by new digital tools in past decades. But whatever approach is chosen, one element remains of critical importance: credible experts and communities, who can convey the essence of archaeological research to the public. This is the point where science in general and archaeology in particular have become vulnerable recently. We live in a time, in which facts seem to have become negotiable, and ‘alternative facts’ can be proposed. The past now is discussed on new platforms, far removed from academia. How can archaeologists keep their role as interpreters and communicators of the past (and should we?)? In which ways can we credibly counter attempts to misuse archaeological data and cultural heritage? What are the best ways to reach out to and engage with the public? How can approaches be assessed so that past unethical communication practices may be discontinued?

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