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Durham University

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Identifying and communicating the ‘wows’ of archaeology outdoors

A research project of the Department of Archaeology.


This work forms the first phase of a major collaborative research project between the National Trust (NT) and Durham University’s Department of Archaeology into what archaeological experiences outdoors make people say ‘wow!’ and into how such exceptional experiences can be delivered most effectively by the NT to different audiences.

This research builds upon innovative archaeological heritage studies in the North East of England recently undertaken by staff in Durham University’s Department of Archaeology, at Wearmouth and Jarrow (by Sarah Semple) and at Hadrian’s Wall (by Richard Hingley and Rob Witcher). It is also informed by global-scale developments in public archaeology written about by Robin Skeates.

It aligns very closely with the needs of the NT, but is also of relevance to related major cultural organisations such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, English Heritage, the National Parks and the National Trails. The NT is dedicated to ‘growing the nation’s love of special places’ – of which archaeological sites comprise a significant proportion. More specifically, this research is embedded within the NT’s 9-year Getting Outdoors and Closer to Nature Programme (GOACN - which began in 2010).

Long-term goals

This research will ultimately bring about beneficial and cumulative change on three levels:

1) NT policy – on the conservation and public presentation of archaeological sites in the landscape;

2) NT practice across England, Wales and Northern Ireland – informing and training NT staff and volunteers about what dimensions of archaeological sites in the landscape can reach and engage a range of audiences and about what communication approaches can be developed to connect more people with these sites;

3) visitor experiences of NT archaeological sites in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – connecting a range of people with the historic environment by enabling emotional and inspiring experiences of archaeological sites.

The pilot study (July 2014)

A pilot-study is being undertaken in July 2014 at two contrasting, archaeologically-rich, NT properties in Yorkshire and the North East – Hardcastle Crags on the urban-fringe of Halifax, and the iconic Hadrian’s Wall in Northumbria’s rural uplands. Here, Skeates and two Durham University students are obtaining qualitative data using a range of research methods: 1) structured interviews, 2) grounded observations, 3) visual analysis, and 4) textual and e-research.

Phase 2 of the project

This pilot-study will provide a basis for more extensive research and experimentation at NT archaeological sites in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is envisaged that work on this second stage of the project will begin in December 2014


From the Department of Archaeology