2022 August: A Sustainable Revolution for Open-Air Museums, ICOM Prague - Abstracts


TIME: 14:00h-15:30h (CET)

Paper 1: Sustainability in Open-Air Museums - EXARC's Quadripartite Approach
Peter Inker, Colonial Williamsburg (US)

This presentation discusses EXARC's role in developing sustainability in four key areas: ancient technology, experimental archaeology, interpretation and education, and museum practice. The EXARC approach provides a fascinating insight into the real-world experiences reconstructing the past and presenting its relevance to modern people's lives. Through understanding the past, we can develop more sustainable attitudes towards production, consumption, and the renewability of resources into the future.


Paper 2: Sustainability in Museums
Sofia A. Daenen, (NL)

Culture is deeply embedded in social, economic and environmental aspecs of society. By treating cultural heritage and sustainability as an interconnected issue museums can play a big role in the future of sustainable-development. EXARC works largely with archaeology thus addressing and acting on environmental sustainability is of utmost importance to the organization. At the same time, we are equally concerned with addressing the social aspects of sustainability such as equal opportunities, gender equality, representativity, amongst others. Our goal for the ICOM presentation is to promote a basic understanding of sustainability and our role as museums and cultural institutions in sustainable developement. Additionally, we aim to create a safe space for learning and sharing between organizations so we can support one another in our journey towards sustainability. EXARC has developed an approach called the Ten Simple Actions, we encourage our peers to do the same in order to reflect on their current sustainable actions and how we can be better. Our fields have a long way to go in learning about promoting sustainability. Our main idea for this conference is to ensure we can support each other in our development rather than tear each other down for our different approaches.


Paper 3: Crafting a Sustainable Future – How (Archaeological) Open-Air Museums are predestined to lead the way to a green revolution
Julia Heeb, Stadtmuseum Berlin (DE)

Open-air museums always show past ways of life. So how can they lead the way to a sustainable future? The pre-industrialised economies most museums portray are used as stepping stones for an engagement with today’s problems and point to solutions for the future. The core themes in this context are natural biodiversity, variety in crops and farm animals, natural building materials and crafts and resources. The presentation will discuss these themes looking at examples from different open-air museums furthering the majority of the UN sustainable developments goals.


PAPERS - open access

TIME: 16:00h-22:30h (CET)

Paper 1: Crafting the Past: Extending the Visitor Experience & Transforming Museum Retail
Sarah Mané & Jenny Skillen, (AU)

Museums are a core asset of European and UK tourism, playing a significant role in attracting international visitors, and connecting domestic visitors to their natural and cultural heritage. With increasing pressure to be self-funded through their retail operations, museums are also at the forefront of education on sustainability and climate change. But how sustainable are museum shops? This presentation provides an international visitor perspective and cross disciplinary evaluation of museum retail, sharing ideas to help museums establish alternative ways of engaging and become leaders in radical sustainable solutions for a rapid transition. Our analysis of museum shops across Europe and UK reveals that offerings are not yet best practice helping to solve the ecological crisis or meeting different visitor group needs for authenticity and inspiration.
Open-Air Museums can leverage their unique position as experiential educators about the past to inspire social change and transform museum gift buying. Drawing on design, retail, sustainability, archaeology, and museum practice, we will discuss how collaborative partnerships, sustainable procurement, and design thinking used in museum retail can add to the educational role of museums and heritage sites, extend the visitor experience, support creative nature-based economies, and help meet the financial requirements of museums.
We will show how creative reimagining of museum retail can provide meaningful connections to the museum experience, be relevant to the past and changing our future, and meet the organisation’s environmental, economic, and social sustainability goals.


Paper 2: Towards a sustainable R-Evolution. Citizen Science, Experimental Archaeology and AOAMs
Lara Comis, PhD candidate, School of Archaeology, UCD Dublin (IE)

After the launching of the SDGs (2015), the rise of "Fridays for Future" movement and finally the crisis which the covid 19 pandemic has caused globally, the current situation is forcing us all to face levels of volatility and civil unrest as we rarely have seen in our lives before. Together with the dramatic consequences of the environmental crisis and the ever-increasing climate threats, how can AOAMs contribute to the necessary creation of fairer community-led practices to plant a seed of hope for the future, drawing from the “past”? Past cultures have many lessons for us today, both in a negative and positive sense. Since not all can be taken for granted from the past, as most of its "truth" is forever gone, how can we, as representatives of our contemporary society learn ethically from the past to inform a better future?
One possible way which is already being used to address the SDGs while providing a trans-cultural platform for knowledge exchange and knowledge co-creation, is Citizen Science or participatory research practice. “Research in citizen science takes a diverse approach where the balance between scientific, educational, societal and policy goals vary across projects”. Very often aimed at creating the optimum substratum to better inform policy change for society, Citizen Science protocols would be useful to be set in an AOAM context through the attractor of Experimental Archaeology and, especially, applied Experimental Archaeology. In particular, the 4th goal “equitable quality education”, and the 12th goal “Responsible consumption and production” could benefit, interlaced with all the others, of this transformative tool for co-creation.
In this presentation examples of Citizen Science ongoing projects will be illustrated and a proposal for developing the protocol within AOAMs will be shared.


Paper 3: The Stone Age becomes sustainable - Experiences from being an educational partner for sustainable development for more than 15 years
Dr. Rüdiger Kelm, Archaeological-Ecological Centre Albersdorf / AÖZA (DE)

Since 2006 the AÖZA has worked as an officially recognized partner for sustainable development on an institutional basis for the SDGs of the UNO on a regional level. In this presentation the thematic background of the educational work in archaeology and ethnography will be connected with the practice of communication with our visitors in our open-air museum. Information will be also given about the procedure of the application and the criteria to become - as an Archaeological Open-Air Museum - an officially recognized educational partner for sustainable development by the Environmental und Educational Ministries of the Federal State of Schleswig-Holstein – also about the annual evaluation and re-certification-processes since then.
Of great importance are here the partnerships with the Environmental and Educational Ministries of Schleswig-Holstein (since 2006) as well as the memberships of our museum as partner of the the National Park Wadden Sea (since 2014) and as partner of the association „Alliance One World“ (since 2015). In the framework of this cooperation we could conduct seminars and training on the topic, as well as external expert for stakeholders and other interest groups and also internally for our staff members and our volunteers.
Some examples will be presented about our practical experiences of working f. e. with the topics „water resources in prehistoric times“, „food and use of natural materials in Stone Age“ and „Living and surviving in winter season in prehistoric times“, which gives the participating students different key competencies, which they can transfer to their daily life of today.


Paper 4: Creating Scotland’s most sustainable museum: Developing a new Scottish Crannog Centre for the future
Frances Houston, the Scottish Crannog Centre (UK)

The Scottish Crannog Centre tells the story of an Iron Age crannog. Our ambition is to improve our sustainability but to do this we must expand our operation and outputs at a larger site. In 2020 we purchased a new site for £1 through Community Asset Transfer. A five-year project was envisaged but in June 2021 our crannog reconstruction was destroyed by fire.
We must now fast-track our plans. Our vision has been strengthened and the project team has been tasked with creating Scotland’s most sustainable museum. The new centre will be largely self-sufficient in construction materials. A green woodworking yard will also provide accredited traditional skills training. We have agreed a management plan for Scotland’s oldest woodland, located behind our new site. In exchange for timber we will provide historic, geological and environmental interpretation. Hazel coppice will be planted and we will create a forest garden based on permaculture principles.
Micro-hubs for local start-ups will play a central role in implementing a circular economy model. We will provide accommodation for apprentices, students and interns. Our car park will have electric charging but ultimately be replaced by community transport to the nearby village. All buildings at the new centre will be ultra-low carbon and modular.
This paper will examine the challenge we face in creating Scotland’s most sustainable museum; a challenge we are confident of delivering.


Paper 5: Plow on - contribution of Agricultural Museums and Living History Farms for (re)connecting the public to agriculture, food systems and the environment
Claus Kropp, Lauresham Laboratory for Experimental Archaeology (DE)
Debra Reid, The Henry Ford (USA)

Agricultural Museums and Living History Farms worldwide play an important role in “reading” and interpreting material culture of the past and linking it to the environment as well as current challenges in agriculture and food systems. By (re)constructing past agricultural farm practices, they open windows to former circular and local economies, alternative concepts of energy-use (e.g. animal traction) as well as changing values of hard manual labour. The proposed digital paper therefore seeks to put attention to the widely underestimated potential of these museal sites, especially when it comes to engaging with the public in the course of events, workshops as well as other educational programs. The authors presentation will build on both applied research at an experimental site (Lauresham Open-Air Laboratory) as well as long accumulated experience in “living history farm” development in the United States. One of the case studies to be presented, for example, deals with the research of early medieval ridge and furrows. Research results generated in the Open-Air Laboratory Lauresham on the topic of risk minimization, diversification (both in the common land and regarding the field crops used) as well as on minimally invasive soil cultivation can thus be understood by visitors as relevant strategies of sustainable agriculture in the 21st century. This and other examples will demonstrate that in the context of archaeological open-air museums as well as Living History Farms the slogan "learning from the past for a more sustainable future" can actually be put into practice. Furthermore, keeping up with public enthusiasm for regenerative work including global climate action is another aspect the authors will address.


Paper 6: ‘Mud huts’ or ‘eco-houses’? When archaeology meets sustainable architecture
Caroline Nicolay, Pario Gallico (UK)

In this presentation we will explore the connections and crossovers to be made between 21st century sustainable architecture and traditional or experimental building techniques used in open-air museums to reconstruct historic houses based on archaeological finds. The first is very novel and developing quickly to find answers to the climate crisis within the construction industry, working with professionals specialising in the use of natural materials to create comfortable, healthier, more sustainable, beautiful homes. The second, that Exarc members will be well acquainted with already (especially at Butser Ancient Farm), is based on traditional building crafts, ethnographic comparisons, archaeological research and experiments to re-create buildings and homes that existed hundreds or thousands of years ago, using nothing but the same natural materials and an empiric knowledge of their properties acquired over millennia of experience. We firmly believe that these two worlds that are not used to coming together would immensely benefit from each other's knowledge and approaches on many levels, possibly opening the way to very interesting collaborations. We will introduce some key points about sustainability in the built environment; examples of sites, people and projects in Europe who married successfully archaeology and ecology within construction work; and ideas about what could modern natural builders bring to the understanding of ancient buildings and how would open-air museums support this emerging sector by becoming spaces where co-experiments can take place, making these concepts accessible to a wider audience and bringing new (or forgotten?) answers to very current questions about the use of renewable and natural materials in modern architecture.


Paper 7: Sustainable experimental heritage experience - building a bridge to the Vikings 
Ulla Cordtz, Christiansborg Palace /National Museum (DK)

Museums are part of the cultural industry, providing heritage experiences by relaying interpretations and exhibiting material culture through artefacts as well as reconstructions. Being part of an identity-creating process, they need to define their place in the 21st century. Thus, embarking on projects such as reconstructing parts of a Viking bridge is not just for educational purposes. It is considered a sustainable business approach. An attempt to stay relevant to its local community, ensuring paying visitors and gain financial support from stakeholders. Environmental sustainability is considered in terms of material, tools and transportation uses along with the area's vegetation in general. Open-air museums, experimental centres, and educational workshops repeatedly apply experience dissemination methods, giving chosen narratives more influence and providing excellent opportunities to explore the past.
Two Danish museums established a partnership (2016-2019), entailing a project which should create more local awareness for the area’s heritage opportunities. It had a school-oriented program, where children helped with reconstructing a Viking bridge, while also being experimental archaeological. 
Previous examples are for example when the Hunter and Forestry Museum in Hørsholm collaborated with the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde to create an educational program engaging experimental archaeology (1984-85). The Ancient Technology Centre was established using this form of practical educational programs (1984-86) in the backyard of a local school. Most children “were more than eager to be involved in the hard-physical work involved”. The opportunity to be part of creating something, combined with being physical and learning, is not part of conventional education. 
Collaborations between heritage institutions can apply community heritage experience and experimental archaeological, in participatory museum education, generate authentic experimental heritage experiences, community impact while providing sustainability to projects and their heritage experiences.


Paper 8: Seeds of Change: Open Air Museums and the 'Open Access Seeds' Revolution
Anita Radini, Department of Archaeology, University of York (UK)

This paper aims to bring the debate regarding the public 'ownership' of seeds of food, fibres and many other plants into the Sustainable Revolution of Open-Air Museums, arguing that such a revolution needs to start from the very seeds they potentially grow. The paper builds the case for better collaboration between Open-Air Museums and Heritage Seeds Libraries/Seed Savers Groups using a case study: Ryedale Living Textile Laboratories and the dramatic 'hunt' for seeds of fibre flax that were needed for the project. Not sufficient people realised the ownership of 'fertile seeds' for vital food and fibre crops, used to fulfil the needs of our economy worldwise, are in the hands of very few companies. This has meant a huge decrease in open pollinated seeds available in the market and a dramatic decrease in their varieties, generating a very vulnerable 'seed production system'. A bad season in 2021 and the pandemic, for example, recently brought a shortage of seeds of fibre flax, leaving a number of British Projects growing flax for fibres unable to obtain sufficient seeds for their fields. This paper aims to provide a clear overview of the situation regarding the so called 'open access seeds' debate, heritage seeds libraries and seeds saving groups, and their importance to our world. The paper argues that Open-Air Museums with space for growing food, medicinal and fibre plants are exceptionally placed to contribute to the protection and re-population of heritage varieties of seeds. They are also exceptionally placed to bring this important topic into the public eye. A sustainable revolution indeed needs to include seeds.


Paper 9: Plowing New Ground: Digital Preservation of Historic Farming Skills
Edward Schultz, Historic Farmer, Colonial Williamsburg (US)

Watching the soil roll over behind a plow pulled by a horse is a visceral experience that echoes from the past. How far this skill is from our modern world. It is a task not easy to master and takes much practice. Without this hands-on application, it teeters on the edge of extinction. What could help preserve this skill if the practice of it suddenly stopped?
Ironically, part of the answer could be hidden in the pocket of the person holding the plow handles. it is an instrument of modern wonder - the cell phone. This easy to use, but complex device has the potential to save the skills of the past by filming them. I was a reluctant convert to this technology, stuck in my preference for the gritty reality of working with my hands in the soil. Through working on the Skills Training and Preservation (STP) Committee of the Association for Living History, Farming and Agricultural Museums (ALHFAM), I realized the potential of this modern gadget.
This presentation will examine the concept and beginnings of a digital preservation project of historic farming skills. It will share videos filmed by Colonial Williamsburg's Digital Content department, the ALHFAM 'skillclips' project; as well as the Year on the Field project headed by Claus Kropp of Lauresham Open Air Laboratory for Experimental Archaeology in Germany. It is the hope that others will draw inspiration from this presentation and start filming for preservation so that in the words of EXARC's 2022 call for papers announcement: "the digital world can add to real-life world."


Paper 10: A Voice for Archaeology in Engaging Museum Audiences with the Climate Crisis
Jess Collins (UK)

Museums are increasingly aware of the need to address contemporary challenges such as the climate crisis.
To date, much of the discourse around museums and climate change has focussed on the role of science centres and natural history collections. This presentation argues that museum archaeology, with its wealth of stories from the past, brings an important human element to 'difficult' science, enabling audiences to connect more readily with today's climate emergency.
Both traditional and open-air museums, as trusted public institutions, have the resources to engage audiences with the climate crisis and issues of sustainability in ways that can be positive and affirming.
Drawing on examples of climate-related engagement, this presentation offers reflections on communicating climate change using archaeological objects. Museum archaeology in its broadest sense is taken to include ethnography, contemporary and experimental archaeology. Three unifying themes of resilience, imagination and timescales are identified, and suggestions offered on how these might be incorporated into climate change interpretation.
A case study of how climate change was explored by visiting school groups to a historic site in Exeter, where storytelling and artefacts were used to introduce the young audience to climate change long ago and the unique nature of the modern-day climate emergency, is presented in more detail.
The presentation concludes that by crossing the divide between nature and culture, archaeology provides a way in for engaging visitors of all ages with climate change past, present and to come. An archaeological voice connects people to the current crisis and inspires action for a more optimistic future.


Paper 11: A Broader Understanding of Sustainability for Museums
Kate Shear (UK)

When we think about sustainability, we often think about reducing our environmental footprint. While this is an important step to take, sustainability must be seen as much broader work. Environmental degradation and social injustice are both products of the same exploitive human systems (Solomonian, L. and Di Ruggiero, E. The Critical Intersection of Environmental and Social Justice: a Commentary. Global Health 17, 30, 2021). These issues cannot be tackled in isolation but must be seen as two sides of the same problem. Moving towards sustainability therefore requires a two-pronged approach, combining environmentalism and social justice to reconstruct human systems in a way that protects the environment as well as people.
Museums - particularly open-air museums - are uniquely positioned to work effectively towards both sides of sustainability because they are situated at the confluence of people and the natural environment. This paper will look at some case studies of museums already undertaking social justice and environmental projects and will encourage museums to think more holistically about their work. This will also allow museums to engage more fully with the United Nations' Sustainability Development Goals and to recognise their contributions in all areas of development. A broader understanding of sustainability will allow museums to think more broadly about their sustainability plans and become key players in a grassroots movement towards a more stable future for all.


Paper 12: Breathing Life Sustainably - An Abandoned Settlement to an Open-Air Museum
Naphibahun Lyngdoh (IN)

Twah Longwar is an abandoned settlement located in the State of Meghalaya in North-East India. It is perched above a ridge, located enroute to one of the world's rainiest places on earth - Mawsynram.
According to the region's social history, the site of Twah Longwar was the region's first settlement. It was a thriving cosmopolitan centre connecting the indigenous Khasi community in the Highlands and the people of Sylhet in Bangladesh. The settlement was infected by a plague and therefore the residents abandoned the settlement and scattered to different places.
The site consists of the remnants of megalithic burials which differs from those found in all of Maghalaya, the unique architectural styles resembling an upturned boat with a hearth in the centre. Also, located around the site are troughs that were once used for quenching iron.
In a place where rainfall is a concern/also a major tourist attraction and where lost architectural styles are only documented in photographs and oral traditions, an archaeological open-air museum raised through the traditional 'earth friendly' materials will contribute immensely in showcasing the region's life-sized cultural history. This presentation will explain how a drone, LiDAR, GIS-based technologies and archaeological methodology are used to create a digital reproduction of the settlement which is made available to everyone. This will allow those who are unable to travel to learn about the Twah Longwar's long-lost tradition.
The procedure for physically reconstructing the settlement will also be demonstrated.
The focus is also to take the museum outside the four walls of a building where the generations to come will physically envision the legacy of indigenous architecture and social life, at the same time in safeguarding the environment in and around the site.


Paper 13: Using And Managing Historical Resources In Achieving Sustainable Community Development: Case Study Of Al Mudhif Project In Philadelphia
Yaroub Al Obaidi (US)

I suppose it's very important to provide a distinct educational, cultural, and social space and make it welcoming to the community; it is a unique goal for any artistic project. Sustainable educational and cultural development is more important than I imagine, especially when this place has a deep historical root with a link to the present to build a better future, which makes it distinctive and interesting to many.
The role of Al Mudhif project in the city of Philadelphia - Pennsylvania had an important impact that contributed to the process of transforming the project participants from mere recipients to be stakeholders, ambassadors for the project through the sense of belonging that was achieved from the first day until the end of the construction phase and the start of educational, social, and cultural programs.
Al Mudhif Project in Philadelphia, which was implemented in 2021-2022, included the construction of Al Mudhif, which historically extends back to Sumerian civilization in southern Iraq, from the historical reed material, which represents the first interaction between human and the available material at the time. Benefiting at present, and after the completion of the construction process, artistic, cultural, and educational activities for different ages and races were launched. It was an important process to build bridges between societies through the inspiration and management of historical resources and the achievement of the sustainability aspect of the project.