Interpretation of in situ archaeological remains is commonly framed by archaeologists and other heritage professionals as an educational endeavour. It is based on an understanding that the primary purpose of archaeology is the production of knowledge about the past and an associated sense of responsibility to communicate this knowledge to the public. But is this long-received notion based on an accurate understanding of the ways that archaeological places actually work in communities in the present?
Recent research suggests that archaeological remains do far more than provide knowledge about the past. This talk draws on interviews undertaken with hundreds of members of the public at archaeological places that have been conserved and presented in situ in new developments in Australia, along with international research on place attachment, belonging, wellbeing and resilience. It explores the social, emotional and imaginative experiences that people have with archaeological remains and the ways these direct relationships work to create outcomes far beyond the transmission of archaeological knowledge to the public: outcomes such as individual and community resilience and wellbeing, identity building, belonging and social cohesion.
This research offers a challenge to interpreters to step beyond a focus on the past and to embrace the creative possibilities that archaeological remains offer in the present and for the future. It also highlights the importance of developing evidence-based and benefit-based heritage management frameworks that understand and respond to the way heritage works in communities and aims to support direct and meaningful relationships between people and heritage places.
Dr Caitlin Allen is a Sydney-based archaeologist and heritage specialist. She worked for the NSW State Government for nearly two decades as a heritage administrator and hands-on practitioner. In recent years she has been working as a sessional lecturer in heritage and museum studies at The University of Sydney. Her current research interests focus on social values and place attachment, including the ways archaeological remains contribute to the creation of liveable cities and community wellbeing. Caitlin is a Member of the NSW Heritage Council’s Approvals Committee, an Expert Member of ICAHM and a former Vice President of Australia ICOMOS.