3. Multi-Vocality and Opening the Field of Discourse

As Kojan (2008) has argued, diverse understandings of the past exist, even with archaeological 'truths' widely disseminated within societies. Whatever archaeologists feel about these alternative viewpoints, they will continue to exist and be shared, regardless of archaeological understandings of the past. As an example, debate on the existence of smugglers tunnels throughout the UK on the Britarch Forum clearly demonstrates the invisibility among professional archaeologists and archaeological data of a strong trope in British folklore and local history of the archaeological 'uncanny' (Moshenska 2006).

Acknowledging the existence of these many alternative narratives while exploring approaches to multi-vocality should be a "key component of the practice of all archaeology rather than a methodology to be adopted or rejected according to the predilections of individual archaeologists" (Kojan 2008, 70). An understanding and appreciation of the many possibilities and significance of encounters with archaeological material or landscapes, allows archaeologists to maintain their "scientific study of the past and an axiology of place and past, examining the broader values of distinct cultural and social groups" (Colwell-Chanthaphonh and Ferguson 2006, 150). Hodder has argued that archaeologists interested in democratising archaeological enquiry should pay attention to the beliefs and concerns of those most at risk from dispossession by dominant archaeological narratives and enquiries (Hodder 2008, 210), and has also written on the moral and ethical responsibility of archaeologists to facilitate the participation of non-professionals in archaeological interpretations (Hodder 1999).

The appearance of post-processual theory in archaeology during the 1980s was heavily influenced by the growing influence of post-modernism within academia. The practice of archaeology has been, and continues to be shaped and negotiated within historical, political, cultural and socio-economic contexts and cannot realistically be extracted from these (Habu and Fawcett 2008, 91). That is not to say that multi-vocality presents competing narratives, and the importance of archaeological work disappears in epistemological relativist pluralism where no single narrative has authority over another (Wylie 2008, 202). As Kojan (2008, 70) and Silberman (2008, 138) have noted, the compromises within community archaeology projects and heritage tourism that elicit community and visitor participation, with the semblance of community involvement, often serve the archaeologist's expertise and local economic activity rather than supporting and empowering the non-professional participant, which subtly undermines any oppositional practice of multi-vocality. However, within a UK context, where the public appreciation of the archaeological expertise of the professional is fundamentally embedded in public consciousness, and there are relatively few alternative perspectives to embrace, the concept of multi-vocality is perhaps difficult to locate within archaeological practice, unless it is seen as the need to understand the social phenomena situated around archaeological place, both in the present and in the past (Colwell-Chanthaphonh and Ferguson 2006; Hodder 2003).

Archaeology as a professional discipline seeks to maintain a professional, expert status. The Institute for Archaeologists was awarded Royal Chartership in February 2014, which emphasises further its professional status and recognition of the technical skills and knowledge of its members. Bodies such as the IfA, English Heritage, or The Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, seek to protect knowledge and standards through policy and management guidelines, which includes for example, English Heritage's Management of Research Projects in the Historic Environment or Caring for Historic Graveyard and Cemetery Monuments. Yet, the shifting nature of the participatory Internet could bring with it an innate threat to the representation of archaeological knowledge in the public realm and the use of the Internet for alternative archaeology. As McDavid noted in 1997, during the earliest days of the use of websites in archaeology, Internet technology could open the field of discourse that defines archaeological truths to those outside archaeology — those who make claims that are not supported by professionally-produced archaeological data, and to those who may wish to appropriate this data for their own purposes (1997). It is perhaps then unsurprising that many archaeological projects actively using social media choose not to engage in dialogue and discussion with the public. However, in the realms of 'community' archaeology, archaeological outreach and other forms of public engagement with archaeological practice and process, we might reasonably expect to find evidence of shared appreciation or discussion, through an online presence, on a par with the aspirations of such projects in the non-digital sphere, for inclusivity, openness and participation. This resonates with Hodder's insistence that multi-vocality is "an oppositional practice, capable of critically transforming archaeology" and encourages belief that the use of participatory technology can democratise enquiry (2008, 210). Understanding the impact of these possibilities must lead to an exploration of the issues of information retrieval and digital literacy — how is archaeological information found in the first place and how can Internet users ascertain its veracity?


Internet Archaeology is an open access journal. Except where otherwise noted, content from this work may be used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY) Unported licence, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided that attribution to the author(s), the title of the work, the Internet Archaeology journal and the relevant URL/DOI are given.

University of York legal statements

File last updated: Tue Nov 25 2014