The Distant Past: Ten Weeks of Archaeology During Covid

Here we are. The term is over. The holiday is beginning. Many dozens of fellow first years have completed their first ten weeks of Archaeology. It has been a first term like (fingers crossed) no other. We can all sew on the metaphorical ‘Started Through Covid’ badge to mark the achievement.

Friends, relatives and surveys might ask around this time whether the term went as expected. I think I will not be alone, however, in not having fixed expectations in advance given the circumstances. We perhaps expected (and accepted) that things would be different to the standard experience, and that undoubtedly is true. We could probably predict that there would be novel challenges and hurdles along the way, and everyone has scaled their fair share. Nonetheless, an open and adaptable spirit was surely present when deciding to begin, aware of the realities of these times, and is something we can take forward into whatever comes next.

We have certainly encountered some positives in these extraordinary weeks. People will have different perspectives and what works for one may not for another, so what follows is not meant as universal generalisations. I believe there is a growing fanbase for the online lecture format. It might be: the flexibility of watching whenever you wish; the ability to pause, rewind, fast forward and skip to the relevant sections on review; watching in the peacefulness of your own room, without the distractions of a busy theatre; the option to read subtitles to help follow what is being said etc. Still, one might miss the engagement, communal experience or opportunities for interaction of in-person lectures. Online seminars have also offered some innovations: multi-media approaches incorporating, for example, demonstration videos and opinion polls; breakout groups for group activities; two lines of communication in the spoken discussion and the written chat and so forth. Again, though, viewpoints vary. More than deserving of mention too is the determination to keep going, whether or not the situation is personally preferable. There may have been difficult moments, but we can look back and say we got through.

Another question any archaeologist might consider is ‘given what has happened, what does the future hold?’ It goes without saying that we hope the pandemic will soon go by (between writing the last paragraph and this, the news has announced that the UK has approved its first vaccine, which bolsters hopes). For those who find aspects of the present approach difficult, it is to be hoped that things will get easier. One other notable line of thought, in particular, is the potential for more informal group work. Integration was always going to be a key challenge of the circumstances, so if I had to predict anything specific, I think there will be new ideas for cooperative learning emerging in the Spring. In the longer term, it also seems reasonable to predict that some of the measures we have seen during Covid might continue into a post-Covid world. The pandemic has presented the situation in which to trial some new formats (like the online lectures and seminars discussed above), and some of their components, elements and qualities might stick and become incorporated in the future.

And, in the shorter term, it’s Christmas! A few days ago, I might have surmised that, in a worthy case study for optimised exchange and communication, Santa and his cervids will distribute material culture around the world across a single night whilst leaving only ephemeral traces of their own activity in the form of eaten carrots and crumbs of mince pies (use-wear on chimney pots demands further analysis). But there is time for a break for now. We can look forward to a new year which hopefully brings a post-Covid world, a new phase in our timeline. A few thousand years ago, someone watching the horizon on the nearing solstice might observe that better days are ahead. Whether or not you are celebrating at this time of year, stay safe and have a great holiday.

Author information

Andrew Hill
University of York |