Chair on Heritage Futures

An Archaeology of Growth and Regeneration


What can it mean to excavate remains of the past when one is interested in the future?

One part of the excavation report for Gamla Skogsby 2021 describes the main outcomes of the intellectual and empirical work on growth and regeneration, led by Cornelius Holtorf and in collaboration with the other members of the excavation team.

The associated fieldwork was an attempt to find ways of creatively applying futures thinking to an archaeological field project. 

Read the report of this experimental excavation project here:

Holtorf, Cornelius (2022) An Archaeology of Growth and Regeneration. In: L. Papmehl-Dufay (ed.) Under storkökets golv. Arkeologisk undersökning i Gamla Skogsby september och oktober 2022, pp. 85-123 (Appendix 1). Kalmar Studies in Archaeology XIV. Kalmar/Växjö: Linnaeus University.

See also the full report here to which my text is an appendix.

Workshop on futures thinking


In a join effort of developing our picture book WOW! further, Pernilla Frid and Cornelius Holtorf held today an experimental workshop on futures thinking with the staff of the Dept of External Relations at Linnaeus University.

The 20 participants got engaged in various discussions, both in plenary and in groups, on how they relate to the future and what action towards (any aspect of) the future they would propose to take…

Kan vara en bild av 7 personer, personer som står och inomhus

Socratic Dialogue on Heritage Futures


The team of the UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures assembled on the same screen today to run a Socratic Dialogue with Bill Wei (14 February 2023). The topic of our dialogue was the question “Which personal history have I used (or will use) to help future generations solve which important challenges?”

A Socratic dialogue is a structured form of dialogue in which all participants actively contribute. The Socratic method provides a safe, open environment for participants to reflect on what it means to preserve cultural heritage for future generations, and to investigate what the essence is behind their own points of view as well as those of others.

Bill is a Senior Conservation Scientist, formerly of the Rijkserfgoedlaboratorium, Amsterdam. He has a lot of experience in practicing Socratic Dialogues in many different professional settings around the world, including Sweden.


Alternative futures in the past


Attila Dézsi published one of the most challenging and insightful articles coming out of German archaeology in recent years.

His archaeological excavation and study of the 1980 Gorleben Peace Camp, which is also the topic of his PhD research at the University of Hamburg, offers a critique of the current interest in Dark Heritage and the popular denouncement of the destructive character of contemporary capitalism. Dézsi calls instead for a much stronger appreciation of the “common heritage of hope and the power of collective action,” for “[i]t is not only destruction to which archaeologists should draw attention, but also to the past efforts of many peoples who opposed this destruction and violation.”

The Gorleben antinuclear protest village, also known as Republic of Free Wendland, was an iconic site for the German environmental movement during the 1980s. It was directed not only against the building of the nuclear waste depository nearby but also against the nuclear society and the entire capitalist system behind it. Dézsi’s research documents that the camp was partly about outspoken protest but primarily it was a collective “cry for an alternative future based on human dignity.”

The archaeological site of the village created by its inhabitants reveals an approach to the future that may be described as prefigurative: in the Republic of Free Wendland, a better future was lived already (see image below, taken from the paper, click for source and credit).

figure 2

The archaeological excavation Dézsi directed showed in all lines of inquiry that “the creation of a community, socializing, and enjoyment was much more prevalent than specific manifestations of protest or resistance.”

Sites like the Republic of Free Wendland, Dézsi argues, “provide inspiration and give us the ability to grasp that alternative actions and solutions are neither impossible, nor require specialist equipment and materials – everything we need is there.”

His work also shows how the future can be addressed by an archaeology studying the past. It is not only the heritage we preserve that may provide tangible benefits of future generations, but also our very understanding of human lives in the past, including the recent past which some of us will remember. Dézsi’s research paper, which is available in open access at the link below, shows that alternative futures have always been possible.

Dézsi, Attila (2023). You May Destroy This Village, But You Cannot Destroy the Power Which Created It. International Journal of Historical Archaeology (pre-print online publication). 

Digging Politics


Our Post-doc Emily Hanscam has co-edited (with James Koranyi) a book on Digging Politics. The Ancient Past and Contested Present in East-Central Europe, published in 2023 by De Gruyter.

In her own chapter in the volume, entitled Archaeology and the Challenge of Continuity: East-Central Europe during the Age of Migrations, Emily writes: 

“The ancient past is political, as made apparent by the contributors to this volume. The political nature of the past is especially visible in contested space like East-Central Europe where ideas about the continuity of peoples continue to impact identity formation processes today, supported in some cases by the materiality of the past. This sort of relationship between the modern nation-state and the ancient past is endemic globally, deserving of our continued attention. As discussed in the introduction to this volume, archaeology and nationalism have a long and well-studied relationship (…) Despite his body of work, the presence of methodological nationalism, or the assumption that the nation is ‘natural’, remains pervasive in narratives about the past. This is not an easy problem to solve, given that archaeology as an academic discipline was founded in the late nineteenth century to provide material evidence for national narratives; it is therefore unsurprising that in many ways archaeology continues to create and sustain the nation today.”

— a major problem for archaeology to address in the future!