(Amt für Kultur – Archäologischer Dienst, Bern, Switzerland)
According to a survey conducted in 2008, the visit of monuments and historical or archaeological sites is one of the most popular cultural activities of the Swiss, taking second place closely behind attending concerts but before visiting museums, theater performances or festivals. Unthinkable? Not at all! Archaeology is part of a nation’s culture and therefore more present in the minds of the public than the cultural establishment, politics and the administration – or even we archaeologists – believe.
We ourselves know of course that archaeology has enormous appeal, we become aware of this fact in our daily work by observing the remarkably high number of people interested in our activities. But archaeology sells itself below its value. It permits that large parts of the political establishment and the administration, dominated by interests of the construction industry, retain the image of archaeology inhibiting development and of being a costly profession without sex appeal where ministers only get their shoes dirty.
Targeted and comprehensive public relations efforts are therefore vital. The purpose of public relations is, on the one hand, to reach people interested in history but not knowing that archaeology is also taking place outside Egypt and Greece; on the other hand, public relations needs to get the main message – the public is interested in archaeology! – across to politicians and the administration. The overall objective has to be the establishment of archaeology in the public’s mind as part of the national cultural heritage, deserving equal attention and appreciation as museums, concert halls and opera houses but actually at a lower expense.
Public relations have to be conducted with enthusiasm and authenticity; the goal must not be PR itself but to convey the delight of making historical knowledge accessible to the general public. Not all archaeological excavations unearth something sensational. Therefore, PR needs to become a continuous, long term process and should become a priority in the archeologist’s daily work. Of course, this development can have consequences for the work we academically trained archaeologists do.