Chair on Heritage Futures



My Wednesday Pizza Talk at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology attracted an audience of cirka 40 undergraduate and graduate students, researchers and Faculty.

I discussed the connections between Archaeology, Heritage and the Future, using examples ranging from prehistoric futures to UNESCO World Heritage properties to contemporary long-term repositories for nuclear waste. I also discussed the concept of ‘heritage futures’ and how it matters in relation to sustainable development and to addressing challenges posed by climate change and violent human conflicts.

I concluded summarising what the Archaeology of the Future is all about and what it takes to become a Future Archaeologist oneself – with inspiration from Disneyland.

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.

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!