Why are heritage interpreters voiceless at the trowel’s edge?

This article calls for a rethinking of the traditional archaeological workflow, with a view to integrating the heritage interpretation tool kit and heritage interpreters themselves into our basic field methodologies.

Screen Shot 2018-08-03 at 10.15.49A quick note to say that, after years of working through some of the ideas that I first presented on this topic at the CAA conference in Siena, my article on heritage interpretation & the archaeological workflow has been published in Advances in Archaeological Practice. I am preparing a more extensive blog post about the argument for Cambridge University Press, which I’ll repost here in due course. In the meanwhile, you can download the full piece at the link below & your *constructive* critique is very much welcome. Thank you for your support, & thanks to the many people who provided input on the draft version of this article & on my teams’ efforts over the years!

Download the complete and open access full-text here: Perry_2018

Access the closed-access version on the journal’s webpages here.

The full bibliographic reference is: Perry, Sara (2018) Why Are Heritage Interpreters Voiceless at the Trowel’s Edge? A Plea for Rewriting the Archaeological Workflow. Advances in Archaeological Practice 6(3): 212-227.

Six Fieldwork Expectations: Code of conduct for teams on field projects

My living document for guiding my own and my teams’ experiences on fieldwork.

Team members Jess and Emmeline work together to install signage in Çatalhöyük’s replica houses in summer 2017 – part of a very collaborative & fun recent field season! (Photo courtesy of Ashley Fisher)

UPDATE – 6 JULY 2018

After receiving much significant feedback from practitioners around the world, I’ve updated this code of conduct.


>> I’ve made changes to the wording of points #4 and #6 to clarify my intent, to acknowledge more clearly where responsibility lies, and to reiterate the professionalism that should underlie all aspects of field practice.

>> I’ve changed the name of this blog post – and the code overall – to reflect the fact that it is seemingly relevant to all field projects, not merely to archaeology and heritage. (Thanks to the many of you from different disciplines who’ve encouraged me to do this.)

>> I’ve added links to several additional resources authored by others that have been recommended to me. These relate to specific matters that have affected my teams or colleagues, but for which I’ve previously lacked meaningful guidance. I hope to be able to integrate these directly into the code after I’ve had an opportunity to apply their recommendations in the field. If you have further links to share, please send them to me & I’ll add them!

>> I’ve created a Google Doc with the revised code of conduct in full, which you can access here and use in your own practice if it seems appropriate. If you implement it or modify it, I’d be really appreciative if you could let me know what worked and what didn’t. I’d like to keep track of this and ideally build a repository of best practice. NOTE: the Elizabeth Castle Project has done just this, modifying the code in a way that helpfully specifies the responsibilities of different groups of participants, and adding a couple more important points.

I’m very grateful to everyone who has circulated this code and provided truly constructive critique. I would like to explicitly thank Claire BoardmanCat Cooper, Sue Ann McCarty, Sarah May, Gabe MoshenskaLucy Shipley, and Dav Smith for taking the time to guide me towards relevant materials or otherwise help me rethink the phrasing I’ve used. I hope I’ve done justice to their generous feedback. 


Like many archaeologists, I am readying for a summer of fieldwork abroad in multiple places with various teams. The issue of how to prepare one’s team members for these fieldwork opportunities is something that’s often on my mind, and I’ve been prompted to think critically about my approach lately, as a result of three productive influencing forces.

Firstly, I’m enrolled on a leadership training programme at York (Leadership in Action), which I’ve found very meaningful so far, and which has forced me to revisit (and be coached through) some of my most challenging supervisory experiences. These are experiences that are now past, but I still ruminate on them, continuously questioning my actions and wishing I could turn back time to negotiate them in a more skilled fashion. My leadership training has encouraged me to think about the expectations that I set for myself and others (then, now and for the future), and how I communicate these to everyone who’s implicated, and how to enforce them when things go off track.

Secondly, I was very affected by reading Lisa Westcott Wilkins’ recent post ‘Notes from the Unemployable’ where, amongst other important matters, she discusses the Learning Agreement that DigVentures (DV) has drawn up for their students. As Lisa writes, “The ‘Dignity on Site’ part of this agreement is also signed by every staff member, subcontractor, and dig participant that comes into our orbit,” effectively turning the document into a set of expectations – a code of conduct – to which everyone is bound. I’ve been really inspired by the language and scope that DV have adopted here, and it prompted me to pull out the Fieldwork Expectations (copied below) that I drafted last year for use with my own teams. I prepared this after a challenging fieldwork season in Egypt when I realised I had few guidelines and had been naively operating primarily on trust. After reading DV’s agreement, I’ve now tweaked my own document to broaden its focus, adding points around witnessing (alongside being subjected to – or perpetrating) threatening behaviours, and extending the agreement to include online and mobile phone-based engagements in the field too. I’d encourage you to read DV’s agreement, because I’d previously struggled to find any models that I felt were useable or adaptable for me (indeed my university had no guidance at all at the time).

Thirdly, I’ve been speaking with a great friend and colleague at York who is preparing for her own fieldwork this summer with a large and diverse team. We discussed the options for codes of conduct, and it’s encouraged me to publish my own Six Fieldwork Expectations below for your thoughts and *constructive* feedback. I’m interested to make this agreement more robust – I consider it a living document in the sense that I aim to renew it each year and with each new team of collaborators. Please don’t hesitate to share your respectful ideas about what’s worked for you and what you’ve seen applied successfully elsewhere…


Six fieldwork expectations.

First published 4 May 2018. Revised 1 June 2018.

(1) We are committed to working as a team. All aspects of our professional contributions to the project are discussed and agreed upon together, and all tasks – although they might be led by individual team members – are developed through collaborative practice. Devotion to supporting the team, working as a team player, providing constructive critique to your team members, and respecting the interests of the team as a successful working group (without compromising their safety or security, as described below), are paramount.

(2) We are committed to prioritising and championing the people and communities that host us. Our work is driven by local needs, and decision-making is grounded in evidence and robust data gathered in local contexts. We are critically aware of the existing evidence. We attend events and participate in activities that are organised by our host communities. We respect, care for and create long-lasting friendships with our hosts. We aim to abide by local expectations around dress and custom, and if working in communities where the primary language is not our own, we are committed to learning the language. We maintain links with our hosts after the project ends and we support their future professional endeavours.

(3) We are committed to the working hours, professional expectations and responsibilities defined by the overall project directors. We typically work as part of a larger project team guided by wider goals than ours alone. We are aware of their responsibilities, we have read the necessary guidance documents, we have understood and signed the necessary insurance and risk assessment documentation, and in all cases, we respect and abide by the instructions given by the directors. This includes zero tolerance in relation to behaviour that compromises the wellbeing, equality, security or dignity of other human beings, as described below.

(4) We are representatives and extensions of the University of York and its staff, and of the professional bodies to which we and our project leaders are subscribed. We recognise our duty of care to, and our responsibility for professionalism in, not only the communities where we work and reside, but the university and host of surrounding organisations to which we and our project leaders are accountable. Our behaviours reflect on these institutions and we acknowledge that our direct supervisor is (and therefore we too are) bound by the ethical and professional codes of both York and her other institutional affiliations (the Society for American Archaeology, the American Anthropological Association, the European Association of Archaeologists, the CAA: Computer Applications & Quantitative Methods in Archaeology). Considering these obligations, you agree with the following:

I will come to my direct supervisor the moment that I experience problems, challenges or trouble of any kind. I will keep her informed of any issues that I feel may manifest themselves in relation to myself, my teammates or affiliates while in the field. If I feel I need support beyond my direct supervisor, I will turn to the 2nd lead for their advice. I have already disclosed to my direct supervisor any potential matters of concern (which may include matters relating to health, psychological and physical wellbeing, security, equality, confidence, interpersonal relations, previous travel or fieldwork experiences, etc.) so that she is aware of them and can mitigate them prior to departing for – and during – fieldwork. If I have not yet disclosed such matters, I agree to do so as soon as possible. I have shared this information in confidence, with an expectation of complete privacy unless urgent medical, safety/security or other legal intervention is required.

(5) We recognise that fieldwork can be intense, emotional and tiring. We understand that things can go wrong, that we may need to compromise, and that in exceptional circumstances, we made need to shorten or modify your work on site to help manage these circumstances. In such cases, we will have a series of conversations about how to deal with difficulties, led by your direct supervisor and/or the 2nd identified lead. If the difficulties are not resolved within 7 days of identification, we will consult with the university for their guidance. If it is agreed with the university that the difficulties are unresolvable in the field, we will help you to organise your safe return home.

(6) We have the right to a safe, secure and non-threatening working and living environment. We do not tolerate any form of discriminatory, abusive, aggressive, harassing, threatening, sexually- or physically-intimidating, or related problematic behaviours that compromise the wellbeing, equality, security or dignity of other human beings (whether those humans are our peers, colleagues, supervisors, collaborators, local community members or any persons at all). Our supervisors are trained in supporting those who have experienced or are experiencing harassment. They are obliged to investigate and respond to observed, implied or directly reported harassment. Considering this zero-tolerance policy, you agree to the following:

I will not engage in behaviour that compromises the wellbeing, equality, security or dignity of other human beings. I recognise that if I am implicated in such behaviour I will be required to leave the project at my own expense and may be subject to criminal investigation.

If I witness others being subjected to such behaviour, I will report it immediately to my direct supervisor. If I feel I cannot speak to my direct supervisor, I will report it to the 2nd identified lead. If I feel I cannot report it to either my direct supervisor or the 2nd lead, then I will contact the University of York Department of Archaeology’s Manager.

If I myself feel unsafe or uncomfortable, I will report it immediately to my direct supervisor. My supervisor will support me and will implement actions to keep me safe while working to stop the behaviour. If I feel I cannot speak to my direct supervisor, I will report it to the 2nd identified lead. If I feel I cannot report it to either my direct supervisor or the 2nd lead, then I will contact the University of York Department of Archaeology’s Manager.

My commitment to creating and maintaining safety and security for all extends to my online (web and social media) and mobile phone interactions, and I recognise that the process for reporting and acting on threatening online/mobile phone behaviours is the same as above.

Direct Supervisor (name and contact): ……………………………………………………………

2nd Lead (name and contact): …………………………………………………………………………

Department of Archaeology Manager (name and contact): …………………………………


Important University of York links.

Health and Safety: https://www.york.ac.uk/archaeology/intranet/dept-info/health-and-safety/

Code of Ethics: https://www.york.ac.uk/staff/research/governance/research-policies/ethics-code/

Code of Practice On Harassment: https://www.york.ac.uk/admin/eo/Harassment/code.htm

Personal Relationships Policy: https://www.york.ac.uk/admin/hr/policies/hr-procedures/personal-relationships/policy/

Drug and Alcohol Policy: https://www.york.ac.uk/admin/hr/policies/health-well-being/alcohol-drug-substance/policy/



Key resources for fieldwork directors. Please suggest others by contacting me.

Inclusive and representative field practices: 

Alcohol consumption and hosting dry digs:

The Elizabeth Castle Project’s adaptation of this code of conduct for their fieldwork and engagement programme in Jersey:

Introducing the world’s first English-language archaeology TV shows

My research on the first-ever English archaeology TV shows (aired in 1937) has been published!

I’m so pleased to announce that, more than seven years after discovering the records hidden deep inside the BBC’s archives, my research on the first-ever English-language archaeology TV shows (aired in 1937) has been published (free, pre-print version here)!

  • Did you know that these shows were effectively 100% produced and starred in by key female archaeologists and TV producers of the time?
  • Did you know that archaeology was one of the first subjects to air on television very shortly after the British TV service launched (November 1936)?
  • Did you know that, at the time, archaeology was considered an experimental science, presented alongside other emerging and, in some cases, now discredited  empirical research areas like palm-reading? (!)

No filmic records survive of these shows (because of the live-to-air nature of TV in the early days), and after weeks of searching through the BBC’s paper archives, I am fairly confident that no scripts survive either. What we do have access to are correspondences, the most fascinating of which include exchanges between producer Mary Adams and Mortimer Wheeler, and Wheeler and David Attenborough (then working behind the scenes in his early professional role for the BBC):

I don’t know whether you have seen a Television screen, but it is obvious that archaeological material has great possibilities for us. I would very much like to interest you in our work here, and to discuss with you what might be done (Adams to Wheeler, 13 May 1927, BBC WAC, TVART1, Wheeler Personal File).

I feel sure you will understand that having been lured into this business by the wiles of Mary Adams (bless her),* I was amused to have some small share in it during the formative stage. But going on with it indefinitely now that it seems to be more or less established is another matter (Wheeler to Attenborough, 8 Sep 1953, BBC WAC, TVART1, Wheeler Personal File).

*Note that, based on my familiarity with the subject matter & archives, feel this reference to Mary could be interpreted as condescendingly gendered. 

As well, we have access to records of anticipated camera angles and filmic sequences for some of the shows (see here to access imagery).

There is so much fascinating insight here into the early days of both archaeology and TV, including the fact that they each arguably depend on one another to varying degrees to emerge and establish themselves as (public) services.

I’ve copied the abstract from my article below:

Perry 2017

You can access a pre-print PDF copy of the article here:


Or don’t hesitate to email me and I’ll send you the final print version.

I’m indebted to many people for supporting me in this research, which was conducted as part of my PhD and generously funded by a Doctoral Fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (2007 2010) and an Overseas Research Student Award from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (2007 2010). Thanks especially to Jamie Larkin for his editorial wisdom and Pamela Jane Smith for being endlessly supportive and ever-inspiring.