Ribchester Revisited 2019: What is Outreach?

Once you have overcome the perception of the archaeologist as a bushy moustached Victorian explorer, equipped with monocle and tomb exploring buddies, as well as the all too exciting portrayal in Spielberg’s Indiana Jones, it can be hard to see archaeology as anything more than an academic pursuit. Though the discoveries made during excavation will no doubt rewrite or support historical narratives, it would be inaccurate to see archaeology as simply support for the writings of Historians. If the purpose of archaeology was solely to provide footnotes for academic sources, this would only benefit a small portion of the community, but by giving tours and getting the locals involved, archaeology can help strengthen interest as well as pride in local heritage, and history in general.

Aside from excavating at Ribchester, there are three activities us students can participate in – finds, environmental, and outreach. Of the three, outreach is the most overlooked in our blog post recaps, and as we, the authors, are currently on outreach, we thought we’d tell you all about it.

Cleo, one of the authors, planning this blog post

While on outreach, we have three major jobs. The first of these is giving tours of the site to the public – both locals, who come in to check up on the progress of the excavation, and those from further afield. We also give tours to visiting school groups, and visitors to our neighbour, the Ribchester Roman Museum. In addition, we contribute to the digital and social media presence of the dig, in the form of blog posts like this one, and video diaries to document the dig and it’s progress.

Our guestbook includes visitors from New York, Washington state, and Hong Kong!

Tours give us the opportunity to interact with both the local community and other visitors on a personal level, and to pass on what we’ve uncovered and learned about the site to people the information might not otherwise reach. We’ve got a table full of artefacts for visitors to interact with, along with site maps and historical pictures, and there is always a tour guide ready to answer questions and show visitors around.

Outreach projects – which also include lectures, presentations, and volunteer programs, both for adults and children – can also serve to get people more interested in archaeology and local history. From an excavation standpoint, developing a good relationship with the local community is important for our dig, and can help with the long-term preservation of both this site and the other Roman archaeology around Ribchester.

A Ribchester local volunteering to help us excavate.

Tours, blog posts, and videos can encourage people to interact with archaeology, both locally and on and international scale – and it can help to demystify what it is that we archaeologists do in a trench. And hopefully, we can inspire some of our visiting school children to be the next generation of archaeologists like us!