Mini journal logo  Home Issue Contents All Issues

Digital Public Archaeology at Must Farm: A Critical Assessment of Social Media Use for Archaeological Engagement

Christopher Wakefield

Cite this as: Wakefield, C. 2020 Digital Public Archaeology at Must Farm: A Critical Assessment of Social Media Use for Archaeological Engagement, Internet Archaeology 55.


Must Farm under excavation. Archaeologists excavate while balancing on scaffolding just above the waterlogged wooden remains
The excavation uncovers the 'wood mass' of well-preserved debris and contents from the pile-dwellings. Image: Cambridge Archaeological Unit

Digital public archaeology is increasingly exploring social networks as platforms for online outreach initiatives. Despite a growing body of literature concerning archaeological engagement on social media, there are few examinations of such applications in practice. This research critically assesses the current discussions surrounding archaeological social media use before exploring commercial digital outreach at Must Farm, Cambridgeshire. Quantitative examinations of the project's Facebook metrics and qualitative comment analyses are employed to assess whether audiences were meaningfully engaged by these online strategies. The research concludes there is substantial value in using social networks to communicate archaeology and provides recommendations for future applications.

  • Google Scholar
  • Keywords: Social media, digital public archaeology, public engagement, development-led archaeology, Must Farm, communication, prehistory
  • Accepted: 29 July 2020. Published: 5 October 2020
  • Funding: This work was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council [grant number AH/R012733/1] via the York Open Access Fund.
  • PDF download (main article text only)

Corresponding author: Christopher WakefieldORCID logo
University of York

Full text

Figure 1: The excavation uncovers the 'wood mass' of well-preserved debris and contents from the pile-dwellings. Image: Cambridge Archaeological Unit

Figure 2: The Must Farm Archaeology Facebook page

Figure 3: Examples of a daily progress post and Site Diary link

Figure 4: Facebook Metrics: 6 Oct 2015 to 8 Aug 2016 (Daily New Page Likes, Total Page Likes, Daily Page Reach and Daily Engaged Users)

Figure 5: Negative metrics: 6 Oct 2015 to 8 Aug 2016 (Feedback, Unlikes)

Figure 6: The percentage of Post Clicks that translate to Reactions, Comments and Shares left during the final months of the project: 13 Apr 2016 to 8 Aug 2016

Figure 7: Facebook Metrics: 6 Oct 2015 to 8 Aug 2016 (On-Page Post Likes, On-Page Post Shares and On-Page Post Comments)

Figure 8: One of several comments left on media coverage of the project (Kennedy 2016a) directing readers to the project's website or social media

Figure 9: Coding results of all on-Page Comments received on the daily updates: 6 Oct 2015 to 8 Aug 2016

Figure 10: A selection of users' content and general questions

Figure 11: A selection of user Interpretation Comments

Figure 12: User Interpretations identifying a wooden artefact soon after it was excavated

Figure 13: A selection of Comments displaying Excitement, Compliments and Humour

Figure 14: A selection of user comments responding to Must Farm's digital outreach

Figure 15: Comparison of Facebook's global demographics and those of Must Farm Archaeology (after Facebook 2018c)

Table 1: Glossary of Facebook terminology

Table 2: Outlines of the coding categories into which User Comments were sorted

Table 3: Must Farm's ten most successful posts. Total Reactions, Comments and Shares incorporate off-page metrics including Comments and Likes on shared posts

Table 4: Averages of key metrics. Multiple averages are presented including/excluding particularly high or low periods of traffic

Table 5: Interactions received on 121 Posts from 13 Apr 2016 to 8 Aug 2016. Figures include interactions received on off-Page shares

Table 6: Stats from 119 Posts from 13 Apr 2016 to 8 Aug 2016. A total of 121 Posts were made, although two were Reshares and do not include Share data

Table 7: The stark contrast in Must Farm Archaeology's Facebook metrics between the last active month and the Page a year later

Aitchison, K. and Rocks-Macqueen, D. 2013 Archaeology Labour Market Intelligence: Profiling the Profession 2012-13. [Last accessed: 28 May 2018].

Alberge, D. 2011 'Bronze age man's lunch: a spoonful of nettle stew', The Observer. [Last accessed: 11 June 2018].

Austin, M. 2014 'Archaeological blogging and engagement' in D. Rocks-Macqueen and C. Webster (eds) Blogging Archaeology, E-book: Landward Research. 9-19. [Last accessed: 22 April 2018].

BBC News 2016a Bronze Age houses uncovered in Cambridgeshire are Britain's 'Pompeii'. [Last accessed 26 June 2018].

BBC News 2016b New finds at Bronze Age 'Pompeii' Must Farm quarry. [Last accessed: 28 June 2018].

Bonacchi, C. (ed) 2012 Archaeology and Digital Communication: Towards Strategies of Public Engagement, London: Archetype Publications.

Bonacchi, C. 2017 'Digital media in public archaeology' in G. Moshenska (ed) Key Concepts in Public Archaeology, London: UCL Press. 60-72.

Bonacchi, C. and Moshenska, G. 2015 'Critical reflections on digital public archaeology', Internet Archaeology 40.

Castle, S. 2016 'Archaeologists in England tackle mystery of prehistoric village's rapid demise', New York Times. [Last accessed: 26 June 2018].

Chew, C. and Eysenbach, G. 2010 'Pandemics in the age of Twitter: content analysis of Tweets during the 2009 H1N1 outbreak', PLoS ONE 5(11): e14118.

DigVentures 2018 Site Diary: Updates from our Excavations. [Last accessed: 23 July 2018].

Ellenberger, K. and Richardson, L-J. 2018 'Reflecting on evaluation in public archaeology', AP: Online Journal in Public Archaeology 8, 65-94.

Everill, P. 2009 The Invisible Diggers: A Study of British Commercial Archaeology, Heritage Research Series No. 1, Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Facebook 2018a Using Page Insights. [Last accessed: 5 June 2018].

Facebook 2018b Liking and Reacting. [Last accessed: 29 June 2018].

Facebook 2018c Audience Insights. [Last accessed: 29 June 2018].

Facebook 2018d Facebook Live. [Last accessed: 23 July 2018].

Facebook 2018e How News Feed Works. [Last accessed: 31 July 2018].

Facebook 2018f Reactions. [Last accessed: 31 July 2018].

Fernandes, A.B. 2018 '"But will there be visitors?" Public outreach efforts using social media and online presence at the Côa Valley Museum and Archaeological Park (Portugal)', Internet Archaeology 47.

Goskar, T. 2012 'Wessex Archaeology and the web: Amesbury Archer to Archaeocast' in C. Bonacchi (ed ) Archaeology and Digital Communication: Towards Strategies of Public Engagement, London: Archetype Publications. 25-37.

Gould, P.G. 2016 'On the case: method in public and community archaeology', Public Archaeology 15(1), 5-22. https://10.1080/14655187.2016.1199942

Gruber, G. 2017 'Contract archaeology, social media and the unintended collaboration with the public – experiences from Motala, Sweden', Internet Archaeology 46.

Henson, D. 2013 'Digital media and public engagement in archaeology: an opinion piece', Archäologische Informationen 36, 13-20.

Hicks, M. 2010 Facebook Tips: What's the Difference between a Facebook Page and Group?. [Accessed 31 July 2018].

Historic England 2015 Must Farm Communications Plan, Unpublished Document.

Historic England 2016 Bronze Age Homes Unearthed in East Anglia. [Last accessed: 26 June 2018].

Holtorf, C. 2007 Archaeology is a Brand! The meaning of archaeology in contemporary popular culture, Oxford: Archaeopress.

Hunt, G., Morse, C. and Richardson, L. 2008 'Watching the past unfold before your eyes', London Archaeologist 12(2), 41–5.

Huvila, I. 2013 'Engagement has its consequences: the emergence of representations of archaeology in social media', Archäologische Informationen 36, 21-30.

Kansa, S.W. and Deblauwe, F. 2011 'User-generated content in zooarchaeology: exploring the "middle space" of scholarly communication' in E.C. Kansa, S.W. Kansa and E. Watrall (eds) Archaeology 2.0: New Approaches to Communication and Collaboration, Cotsen Digital Archaeology 1, Los Angeles: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press. 185-206.

Kelpšiene, I. 2019 'Exploring archaeological organizations' communication on Facebook: a review of MOLA's Facebook Page', Advances in Archaeological Practice 7(2), 203-14.

Kennedy, M. 2016a 'A bronze age Pompeii': archaeologists hail discovery of Peterborough site', The Guardian. [Last accessed: 18 July 2018].

Kennedy, M. 2016b 'Perfectly preserved bronze age wheel unearthed in Cambridgeshire', The Guardian. [Last accessed: 18 July 2018].

Knapton, S. 2016 'Bronze Age settlement dubbed "Peterborough Pompeii" due to amazing preservation', The Telegraph. [Last accessed: 26 June 2018].

Knight, M., Gibson, D., Ballantyne, R. and Robinson, I. 2015 A Project Design for the Archaeological Excavation of the Must Farm Timber Platform, Cambridge Archaeological Unit.

Knight, M., Gibson, D., Ballantyne, R., and Robinson-Zeki, I. 2017 An Interim Report for the Archaeological Excavation of the Must Farm Timber Platform, Cambridge Archaeological Unit.

Knight, M., Gibson, D., Ballantyne, R., and Robinson-Zeki, I. 2018 Post-excavation Assessment and Updated Project Design. Volumes 1–4, Cambridge Archaeological Unit.

Morrison, M. 2014 Social Media and Professional Archaeology in Retrospect. [Last accessed: 21 April 2018].

Mount, H. and Gray, R. 2016 '”Pompeii of the Fens” is the best-preserved Bronze age home in Britain: Experts astonished by dwelling's condition as they unearth treasures from 3,000-year-old rugs and jewellery to human remains', Mail Online. [Last accessed: 26 June 2018].

NCCPE 2020 'What is public engagement?'. [Last accessed: 24 April 2020].

Nixon, T. 2018 What about Southport? A report to CIfA on progress against the vision and recommendations of the Southport Report (2011), undertaken as part of the 21st-century Challenges for Archaeology project. [Last accessed: 15 October 2019].

Neuendorf, K.A. 2002 The Content Analysis Guidebook, Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Orange, H. and Perring, D. 2017 'Commercial archaeology in the UK: public interest, benefit and engagement' in G. Moshenska (ed) Key Concepts in Public Archaeology. London: UCL Press. 138-50.

Pantelidis, I.S. 2010 'Electronic meal experience: a content analysis of online restaurant comments', Cornell Hospitality Quarterly 51(4), 483-91.

Perez Maestro, L. 2016 'Bronze Age village yields ancestral secrets', CNN. [Last accessed: 26 June 2018].

Perring, D. 2015 'Involving the public in archaeological fieldwork: how heritage protection policies do not always serve public interests' in P.G. Stone and Z. Hui (eds) Sharing Archaeology: Academe, Practice and the Public, London: Routledge. 167-79.

Perry, S. 2014 'Digital media and everyday abuse', Anthropology Now 6(1), 81-85.

Perry, S. 2018 'Why are heritage interpreters voiceless at the trowel's edge? A plea for rewriting the archaeological workflow', Advances in Archaeological Practice 6, Special Issue 3 (Interpreting and Presenting Archaeology), 212-27.

Perry, S. and Beale, N. 2015 'The social web and archaeology's restructuring: impact, exploitation, disciplinary change', Open Archaeology 1, 153-65.

Perry, S., Shipley, L. and Osborne, J. 2015 'Digital media, power and (in)equality in archaeology and heritage', Internet Archaeology 38.

Richardson, L. 2007 'Dig goes digital in Prescot Street'. London Archaeologist 11(11), 287.

Richardson, L. 2013 'A digital public archaeology?', Papers from the Institute of Archaeology 23(1), p.Art. 10, 1-12.

Richardson, L. 2014 'Understanding archaeological authority in a digital context', Internet Archaeology 38.

Richardson, L-J., Hoggard, C. and Rocks-Macqueen, D. 2018 What do UK archaeologists think of public engagement?', Landward Research Occasional Paper 2, Landward Research Ltd. [Last accessed: 28 October 2019].

Ripanti, F. 2020 'Toward an intermediate level: making the most of evaluation in Italian community archaeology', Public Archaeology.

Rubin, H.J. and Rubin, I.S. 2005 Qualitative Interviewing: The Art of Hearing Data, Second Edition, Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Schreier, M. 2012 Qualitative Content Analysis in Practice, London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Schreier, M. 2013 'Qualitative content analysis' in U. Flick (ed) The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Data Analysis, London: SAGE Publications, Inc. 170-83.

Shen, B. and Bissell, K. 2013 'Social media, social me: a content analysis of beauty companies' use of Facebook in marketing and branding', Journal of Promotion Management 19(5), 629-51.

Sheridan, A. 2016 'Unearthing the secrets of East Anglia's Bronze Age settlers', Apollo: The International Art Magazine. [Last accessed: 26 June 2018].

Southport Group 2011 Realising the Benefits of Planning-Led Investigation in the Historic Environment: A Framework for Delivery. [Last accessed: 29 May 2018].

Spiliopoulou, A., Mahony, S., Routsis, V. and Kamposiori, C. 2014 'Cultural institutions in the digital age: British Museum's use of Facebook Insights', Participations: Journal of Audience and Reception Studies 11(1), 286-303.

The Daily Mash 2016a Bronze Age village was furious about Iron Age migrants. [Last accessed: 26 June 2018].

The Daily Mash 2016b Bronze Age families 'lived like middle class twats'. [Last accessed: 26 June 2018].

Thorbecke, C. 2016 Remarkable 3,000-Year-Old Community Dubbed the 'British Pompeii'. [Last accessed: 17 July 2018].

Tong, J., Evans, S., Williams, H., Edwards, N. and Robinson, G. 2015 'Vlog to death: Project Eliseg's video-blogging', Internet Archaeology 39.

Wakefield, C. forthcoming 'Engaging a wider audience' in M. Knight, D. Gibson, R. Ballantyne and I. Robinson Zeki (eds) The Must Farm Pile-Dwelling Settlement (Volume One - Interpretation), Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.

Walker, D. 2014a 'Decentering the discipline? Archaeology, museums and social media', Online Journal in Public Archaeology Special Volume 1, 77-102.

Walker, D. 2014b 'Antisocial media in archaeology?', Archaeological Dialogues 21(2), 217-35.

Waters, R.D. and Jamal, J.Y. 2011 'Tweet, tweet, tweet: a content analysis of nonprofit organizations' Twitter updates', Public Relations Review 37(3), 321-24.

Waugh, R. 2011 'Boats from the Bronze Age: 3,000 year-old site reveals how early Brits took to the water', The Daily Mail. [Last accessed: 11 June 2018].

Wilkins, B. 2019 'A theory of change and evaluative framework for measuring the social impact of public participation in archaeology', European Journal of Post-Classical Archaeologies 9, 77-100.

Zimmerman, L. 2018 'Changing archaeology's "brand" would be helpful', Antiquity 92(362), 523-24.

Zorzin, N. 2016 'New managerial strategies in British commercial archaeology' in P. Aparicio Resco (ed) Archaeology and Neoliberalism, Spain: JAS Arqueologia. 297-325.

Internet Archaeology is an open access journal based in the Department of Archaeology, University of York. 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.

Terms and Conditions | Legal Statements | Privacy Policy | Cookies Policy | Citing Internet Archaeology

Internet Archaeology content is preserved for the long term with the Archaeology Data Service. Help sustain and support open access publication by donating to our Open Access Archaeology Fund.