5. Twitter

The use of the microblog Twitter by archaeologists has recently come under scrutiny by Richardson (2014) and Walker (2014) who identify its limitations and challenges in giving the impression of openness rather than engagement. Yet Atkin's use of Twitter during fieldwork at Poulton, Cheshire, in the summer of 2014 provides a mortuary case study of its potential. This was conducted using a personal Twitter account (@alisonatkin), but using a dedicated hashtag (#PoultonProject) for all tweets relating to the field season. The decision to utilise Twitter was a deliberate attempt to open up access to mortuary archaeology. For Poulton, the digital interaction allowed staff and students to engage with a larger audience, without limiting it to those able to travel to site in a rural location. Tweets not only detailed the processes involved in excavating archaeological human remains, but also gave a snap-shot of 'life' on site. Tweets enabled short and extremely regular reports on activities, occurring multiple times a day, often including photographs, and were accompanied by weekly summary blog posts via the project website, which included more detail. These blog entries were then posted to the site's Facebook page and reblogged on Atkin's personal Deathsplanation blog in order to expand the potential audience for the site to include individuals not already interested in DPMA.

The only assessment of the effectiveness of this approach is anecdotal, but discussions with individuals both on-site and online suggest it achieved some of the goals to increase access. Volunteers appreciated staying up-to-date with the excavations while they were away from site. Students stated that it was useful in terms of knowing what to expect when arriving to participate in the field school. Members of the public and fellow archaeologists have mentioned that the tweets and blog posts provoked interest in either archaeological excavations in general or the site more specifically. However, it is difficult to say whether there was an increase in interaction between archaeologists and the public or whether the engagement was unidirectional, with archaeologists 'informing' the public.

Poulton illustrates the potential of Twitter to report images and textual updates rapidly on actions and discoveries on site, but a case study on the issues regarding the ethics and sensitivities relating to sharing photographs of archaeological human remains via social media might be tackled. Before tweeting the first photo that included human remains, Atkin first consulted with osteo/archaeologist colleagues on their opinions over the 'appropriateness' of this action. None expressed any concerns and it was ultimately decided that photos which showed human remains being actively interacted with by the students (e.g. being excavated or recorded) would be suitable, as it was demonstrating mortuary archaeology in practice and not making a feature (or spectacle) of the human remains.