Posted by: Johan Normark | March 14, 2011

Why Heritage Studies need you

One of Sweden’s newest universities, Linnaeus University, has released a Youtube clip to attract students to their Heritage Studies Program (remember that archaeology is a brand!). This year’s Nordic TAG is also held at this university which is named after the famous botanist Carl von Linné (better known as Carl Linnaeus for the English speakers).



  1. Ok, why is a movie, which is a combination of Tomb Raider/Indiana Jones (Raiders of the Lost Ark to be precise) being used to attract potential heritage or archaeology students?

    While this film is clearly well produced and exquisitely designed, (I bet it cost a pretty penny), I’d argue that it leads to false impressions, indeed false expectations. It could be argued, if this was at all possible, that this film contravenes trade descriptions about what happens when an archaeological site is excavated. Let’s be serious here…it’s really very rare that an archaeological site has such rich data, such incredible monumental evidence today. This video is ridiculous, since archaeologists hardly ever find the quantity of evidence it suggests in such pristine condition! I wrack my brain trying to find sites analogous to ones presented in the film. Frankly, this film builds up false expectations amongst the viewers, prospective students, who will imagine archaeology is straight out of – dare I say it – “Lara Croft”. Archaeology and heritage studies already have a bad name amongst the general public. As do many existing, responsible and well trained archaeologists. Why are we hearing about more graduates and more archaeologists with PhDs without jobs or poorly paid jobs? So, why create a film to recruit more people to a profession that pays little, has no job guarantees, and creates a ‘warm and fuzzy’ view of the past? There are some moral issues here…since students should be taught skills that can be redeployed into other professions. The film is evidently being used to attract students. But if so, why aren’t they being told that they’ll learn a bunch of really useful skills, which is really what they need given the current global recession. The professionals using this film to recruit students have to start being responsible, or they risk looking like they want to remain employed themselves while creating more unemployed and over qualified construction workers. This film, while well designed and well-thought through, could be construed to be a make-work project.

  2. Most of my fellow archaeologists on facebook also reacted like you (we are usually sceptical of being associated with Lara Croft, Indiana Jones, etc.). Maybe they should have used clips from “Time Team” instead. The comments on facebook also pointed out that the texts were idealized. Some archaeologists also thought it was fun, playing along with some of the stereotypes concerning archaeology. As for myself, I am fairly neutral since I do agree with Holtorf’s idea that archaeology is a brand and it appears that this is what they make use of here. However, as I indicated above, Time Team would have been a much better choice for advertising this brand since it better shows the way archaeology works.

  3. Archaeology as a brand? The idea that archaeology is a brand is wrong. It is a discipline or nothing. You are using the wrong discourse. I also don’t think that clips from “Time Team” are a good idea either since their work is done for a television show and their academic conclusions are weakly substantiated.

  4. To me it is a discipline and to most archaeologists. However, archaeology is also part of tourism and popular media and there it is not always its role as a discpline that matters (for the tourist). People want to hear an interesting story, not 14C dating methods.

    I suggested Time Team as an alternative to the images used in the Youtube clip, not as the best images they could have used. Still, it is from these TV programs that most people know archaeology and I see no major problem in using them to attract interested people.

  5. Ok, I see your point regarding Time Team, but it bothers me that this group of archaeologists usually starts excavating a site with a premise that they want to substantiate …and sadly selectively uses data particularly if its supports their original premise. Its archaeology made for a TV audience.

    My main point, what really worries me, is that it is well known worldwide that undertaking an archaeological excavation is an expensive proposition, there are far too many underemployed archaeologists who are highly trained, often with PhDs and it really strikes me as quite unethical to swell the ranks with even more archaeologists…albeit very junior ones at that.

  6. Indeed, we have way too many archaeologists (including the ones with PhDs). One of the persons on facebook responded to one of the texts in the Youtube clip that said “archaeology is more than a job” by stating that “it is to be unemployed”. We’ll have to wait and see what the archaeological community as a whole thinks about this advertisement. Perhaps thy should include shots that also show the dull part of archaeology (washing ceramic sherds, backfilling, etc.)? That may scare people away though.

  7. Interesting video, Interesting discussion.

    Anthea, first, why do you write “Raiders of the lost ark to be precise” when you are obvisously unfamiliar with modern pop culture? What footage was used is shown at the end of the video. Another point, cutting together material like this is the cheapest method to produce such a video.

    And about the unemployed archeologists, dont know how true that is, but I dont think it is related to the content of the video. First question was “do we need more archeologists”, which was obviously answered “yes” (for whatever reasons), second question was how to attract them.

    I dont think the approach is wrong. Come on, students in the age to study archeology are not stupid, they know their pop-culture but they sure know Tomb Raider, Uncharted or Indiana Jones is not real archeology. But interest in archeology is often awakened by optical stimuli – yes, my interest in Maya history began with a game called “The mask of the sun” some 25 years ago. And the textures/models used in these games are often well research (not always of course).

    And do we only need to attract the “bookworm” type with dry facts? Look at history there have always been the bookworm and the pop star types of archeologists. Conserving the historical heritage is a noble aim, but what is it good for if you dont get the people interested in it? Archeologists turning TV stars are probably scorned by some “real” archeologists for their often unscientific or just popular approach, but if they get the kids interested in history, can that be wrong?

  8. Archaeology has a fairly favorable position in popular media. I’ll bet there are far more TV series on archaeology and history than many other humanistic disciplines. Hence, it would be impossible to have a similar advertisement for a course in literature history, gender theory, etc. Some archaeologists sees archaeology as entertainment and in one way they are right: archaeology does not put food on the table. The texts that are included in the clip exaggerates the importance of the archaeologists though.

  9. […] this is inspired by an earlier post on Johan Normark’s blog Why Heritage Studies needs you. He posted this […]


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