Crowdsourcing Helps With Flag Fen Archeology
August 14, 2012

Crowdsourcing Brings Archeology Amateurs And Professionals Together At Flag Fen

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Crowd funding and crowdsourcing are two relatively recent phenomena being leveraged by an archeological group in the United Kingdom to uncover the mysteries of a slightly older phenomenon, Flag Fen.

The not-for-profit Digventures team not only raised over $42,000 from members of the public via online donations, they also recruited some of them to excavate parts of Bronze Age causeway located 90 miles north of London.

We will build a community with archaeology at its heart, and give people the chance to come and dig with us,” said Lisa Westcott Wilkins, Managing Director of DigVentures. “Our goal is to bring the public to the site in greater numbers than ever before as part of our archaeological field school, and also as visitors to the fascinating site itself.”

Amateur archeologists who came to the site, "Digventurers”, could come for a day, a week, or the entire three-week dig. Participants were trained by staff archeologists to carefully remove the soil that covers the causeway´s ancient timbers. They were also taught "trench etiquette", or how to avoid destroying artifacts while working closely together.

Many experts have recently raised concerns that the over 60,000 timbers at Flag Fen could disintegrate as a result of new drainage around Peterborough. The ancient causeway connects Whittlesey Island with Peterborough across a wet marsh and the site is held in high regard with many archeologists comparing it to Stonehenge. Like the massive stone structure, religious ceremonies were likely held there, on a small island located in the middle of the site.

Amateur excavator Hugh Fiske traveled 160 miles from West Sussex and initially intended to dig for two weeks. However, he stayed on for the whole dig, and enjoyed the close contact with professional archaeologists.

"The experts we have with us have a great knack of conveying their knowledge without being patronizing or talking down to you in any way," he told BBC News. "I just feel like I've been doing it for years."

The groundbreaking amateur-professional collaboration revealed at least one important fact–the site is degrading and the experts said that Flag Fen will be gone in 100 years.

While the crowd funding effort did raise a significant amount, it hardly comes close to funding the entire dig. Brendon Wilkins, project director for Digventures said the project indicated something even more valuable than funding–public interest, awareness, and concern.

"We're showing that not only is the archaeology degrading, but there's a community of people that want to see something done about it," Wilkins told the BBC.

Shortly after the site´s discovery in 1982 by Francis Pryor, excavations ceased because of lack of funds. Experts still don´t know why it was built.

"It's been a terrifically rewarding experience to come back to Flag Fen and see what's going on," said Pryor, an archeologist and television personality.

"When I was running full-time excavations here, we had a very dedicated bunch of students - we worked incredibly hard, we played incredibly hard, and we were wildly enthusiastic.

"Coming back on this entirely new internet-funded venture I've discovered exactly the same vibe. People are enjoying themselves, really stretching themselves, and discovering what archaeology has to offer them."