Thursday, 15 March 2012

Flag Fen Lives! with DigVentures – a wet vehicle for microfunding?

DigVentures has launched a campaign to collect funding for a major excavation through a web-based mircofunding scheme. This may prove to be one of the ways in the future to collect funding, not only for sites as famous and important as Flag Fen, but also at the local level. The reason for their excavation permit is that extensive drainage and climate change threaten to destroy and dry the waterlogged remains. The same problem is evident at Star Carr where the recent developments did raise a fervent discussion.

Francis Pryor tells about finding the hidden archaeology and the main actors present the Flag Fen Lives!

Before I looked at the project any more carefully I was just left wondering – no matter how marvellous and world-class Flag Fen is – if a full-on wet excavation is the optimum vehicle for engaging non-professionals with a new venture and taking money for it... I would have personally started with something dry but similarly fabulous. A week’s participation at the excavations at the site will cost £450 with a half-board. At this level of engagement the Venturer is given a promise of an assessment of his/hers field skills at the end of the experience and a further promise of giving him/her the confidence to use archaeological skills in the future. A full field school will cost £1300 and the Venturer is promised DVIP master classes, evening lectures and training. The day diggers are not promised the same level of training even if every day includes an induction. DigVentures suggests that this excavation is one of the best field schools out there and that seasoned pros would trade their favourite trowel for this opportunity.

It turned out that DigVentures had ended up selecting a dry-land pit alignment excavation for the Venturers to start with. The waterlogged remains will be only testpitted in order to observe their current condition. The funding target for this initial phase is set at £25,000 and the project and its appeal has managed to raise over £8,000 so far. However, partly crowd-funded projects are archaeological reality and especially American archaeology students pay for their field schools. Public excavations world-wide cost money for the participants and volunteer excavations are fully funded by the volunteers. In addition, in the days of pre-commercial archaeology many people worked for free in order to gain experience. The microfunding strategies are already used in some archaeological projects (see e.g. ArchNews 2/2/2011 and The Meander Project). The combination of a famous site, social networking, the use of charity fund raising sites and archaeological training sounds in principal exciting. DigVentures is promoted as a social enterprise dedicated to funding sustainable archaeology projects but even if microfunding route should be explored properly one has to be careful that in the future archaeology will not priced out of the grasp of normal people. Microfunding will probably give professional archaeologists more opportunities for paid work in the coming years but one has to wish that not all public involvement in archaeology will be against payment.

The Flag Fen Trust ran the Flag Fen Centre but run out of funds a couple of years ago. As a charity they needed continuous donations in order to continue keeping its exhibition centre open and conserving wooden remains. The council stepped in and the centre is now run by a charity called Vivacity that runs all council facilities in Peterborough. The Trust also organised events and introduced volunteers and members of public to archaeology and fieldwork. Therefore, this new project is a natural continuation of that work. The talks, given by a series of famous archaeologists on the impressive DVIP lecturer list, are open to public against the entrance fee of £5. The ‘big society’, the emphasis on charitable donations as a funding source for art and heritage and the cuts in the public sector will make this type of ventures more common place in the future. This is a natural step for Flag Fen and if it will lead to the digitalisation of the remaining Flag Fen archive it will be a step for good.

Digging the Dirt, Brendon Wilkins’ blog
Flag Fen Bronze Age Centre

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