The world of archaeology and its many acronyms

In the first of three blogs CIfA’s placement student, Natalie, talks about her first weeks investigating how we communicate with members and the outside world - and one of the main barriers she’s encountered as a non-archaeologist.

Let me introduce myself if I haven’t already. I'm Natalie a first-year Philosophy and Politics student at the University of Manchester and over the summer I will be on a Work Placement with the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA) working on two projects which are detailed in a recent news item that can be found on the CIfA website, in conjunction with getting an understanding of how a professional body such as CIfA runs - so I better get comfortable.

One of the things that attracted me to this placement was the opportunity to see firsthand how a professional body works; the way it interacts with its members to ensure that the message about what it does is understood and how it ensures the work it does and its members do is recognised in the public sphere.

For CIfA, this is about promoting professionalism within the archaeological sector through the adoption and compliance with its code of conduct and the continual professional development that carries on once you become a member. Alongside this, you also have the advocacy work that CIfA undertakes which aims to promote the value and role that archaeology and archaeologists have within society and business. Being able to see this firsthand not only gives me as a student a clearer idea of how specialist organisations within the heritage sector run but also allows me a greater appreciation for the hard work that goes into ensuring the smooth running of a professional body.

As someone who does not have a background in archaeology or heritage, it has been a very intriguing and fascinating world to step into. Not only did I learn the history of archaeology in under two hours, but I was also thrown into the deep end when it came to the jargon and acronyms that the archaeology sector uses. I have NEVER heard so many acronyms used in such a short space of time. As a philosophy student, we like things spelt out clearly and explained in as much detail as we possibly can. There is no room for acronyms or unexplained specialist jargon. So, stepping into such an environment I genuinely felt that everyone was speaking a completely different language from me. During certain conversations and meetings, I have struggled to keep up with the acronyms and jargon being used; it even got to the point that I started missing the tedious world of Philosophy. Luckily, I have an amazing support system of staff around me here at CIfA who are more than willing to help and explain what certain things mean because it can be very easy to be sucked up and lost in the wealth of information that comes at you.

Whilst I am lucky that I have a team around me that is ready and willing to help explain the specifics of what everything means, not everyone has that especially people such as myself who do not have any background in archaeology. It can be very daunting when you do not understand everything that is being said. In my time here at CIfA I already appreciate how niche and specialised archaeology can be compared to other sectors. For example, if anyone wanted to specialise in 9th-century Anglo-Saxon pottery, they can which is amazing as it means that there is something for everyone. I’ve also come to appreciate that it’s a highly skilled profession and I may be blaspheming now but in my mind, I would put Law and archaeology on a similar level, in terms of the knowledge and skills people have.

However, I strongly believe that opportunity to attract new people or help people understand what archaeology is about may be missed because of something as simple as the way the message and importance of archaeology is being communicated. As a sector who wants to be seen to add value to everyone in society you need make sure that various audiences can easily receive and understand the message. Taking a simple step such as making the way you communicate with others more accessible can improve the face of archaeology drastically.

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