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Academic and Time Team archaeologist inspires new generation of landscape detectives

Young people are being helped to investigate and discover the heritage of everyday places on their own doorstep thanks to a pioneering archaeological project - which does not use trowels and trenches - but instead involves exploring places with the tools of the new digital age.

With guidance from a University of Chester academic, the My Place in Time project is opening up landscape archaeology to the next generation, aiming to inspire new passion and appreciation of familiar places and their history.

Stewart Ainsworth, Honorary Visiting Professor in Landscape Archaeology at the University of Chester who is also well known as the landscape archaeologist with Channel Four’s Time Team, explained that the project is aimed at showing young people how they can explore the history and archaeology of a local place or space without needing to dig. While it has a flexible element of outdoor investigation, the project’s budding ‘landscape detectives’ do not even have to leave the house if getting outside is not possible due to COVID-19 - or for any other reason - offering an opportunity to explore the past even during the fluctuating circumstances caused by the recent pandemic.

The project focuses on introducing non-invasive archaeology techniques, highlighting how to find out information and identify changes over time in and around a chosen place, using a range of online resources, including historic maps, aerial photography, lidar (light detection and ranging), 3D models of the landscape and archaeological records.

My Place in Time is a collaboration between SharedPast, a group of heritage specialists and volunteers led by Professor Ainsworth, the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) and the Young Archaeologists’ Club (YAC), with Dr Joanne Kirton, Youth Engagement Manager for the CBA - who gained her PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) in Archaeology at the University of Chester - also playing an integral role.

The project will be delivered initially to YAC group leaders, who will liaise with the SharedPast team to tailor training sessions and activities to meet the requirements of their own club - of which there are more than 70 throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The project will be launched to YAC members on Saturday July 24 with an online event taking place as part of this summer’s CBA Festival of Archaeology. From 10.30am, Prof Ainsworth will present a new short film introducing the project before a live Q and A with the SharedPast team.

Prof Ainsworth, a former senior investigator with English Heritage, said: “COVID-19 has presented a barrier to people getting out and about. More than ever people have found themselves confined to their local areas, unable to visit new places, explore popular heritage sites or participate in archaeological events. As a result, we have had to seek out places that offer us something more confined to the here and now - usually with a healthy dose of social distancing.

“The SharedPast team has identified that those very restrictions themselves can be used as an opportunity to engage young people in the history and archaeology of their local environment. What we want to do is to show young people that sometimes a walk across the local park or common can be just as interesting and exciting as a trip to Stonehenge - especially if you have done your own detective work to find clues.

“The approach will illustrate that archaeology is not all about finding things below the ground; it is possible to make your own discoveries without needing to dig. As well as looking outside for clues to the past, discoveries can be made by exploring new digital resources in a fun and exciting way. All that is required is access to a computer and a lot of curiosity.”

The Time Team and University of Chester History and Archaeology Department member continued: “As well as introducing young people to new resources and skills, it is hoped that My Place in Time will help them to build a personal relationship with a landscape of their choosing, while at the same time raising their awareness of the heritage environment in general.”

For more information about the project, and finding the closest YAC group for anyone interested in joining, please visit: https://www.yac-uk.org/my-place-in-time-project-page.

Further details about the free launch event on July 24 and how to book a place are available at: https://festival.archaeologyuk.org/events/my-place-time-live-film-premiere-q-and-1626098455.

An independent charity, the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) brings together members, supporters and partners to give archaeology a voice and safeguard it for future generations.

The Young Archaeologists’ Club (YAC) is the only UK-wide club where eight to 16 year olds can participate in real archaeology and discover why it matters. Its 70 clubs throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, are run by more than 500 dedicated volunteers. The CBA supports the volunteers to deliver over 10,000 archaeology and heritage-based activity places each year.

SharedPast is a small, newly-established group of heritage specialists and volunteers who have got together to share their expertise with other volunteers, community archaeology groups and charitable trusts.

Pictured - Professor Stewart Ainsworth, Honorary Visiting Professor in Landscape Archaeology at the University of Chester who is also well known as the landscape archaeologist with Channel Four’s Time Team.

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