The most direct presentation of archaeological material to the public tends to be in heritage attractions. By visiting a number of these around Europe and analysing their presentations it should be possible to build an understanding of what may be transferable to the presentation of the Mesolithic in Britain.
The sorts of heritage attractions that present Mesolithic material can be broadly divided into three types: museums, archaeoparks and Excavation-based centres.
It is important to assess the presentation of the Mesolithic at each site (or in each country as a whole) within a balanced framework that is evenly applied but is sufficiently sensitive to pick up local reasons for differences.
- Categorisation: Is the site a museum, archaeopark or excavation-based centre, is it public/private, profit-making/non-profit
- Heritage role: Is the site a collecting museum with responsibility for archiving the material in its catchment area? Is it connected to government, heritage agencies or universities?
- Online presentation: the quality, usability and accessibility of the sites online presence for local and international audiences.
- Visitor data: Is the museum popular? Is there any visitor feedback on Mesolithic displays? Are there studies on ‘dwell time’ at the Mesolithic displays?
(such data will have to be gathered through contact with museum staff)
- Representation of the Mesolithic in the catchment area: Is the Mesolithic over- or under-represented in the displays when compared to its presence in the archaeological remains of that area?
- Representation of the Mesolithic as part of a narrative: Is the Mesolithic presented as a legitimate period between the Palaeolithic and Neolithic? Is it presented as filler, merely because there are Mesolithic artefacts in the collection?
- Gallery presentation: How much space is given to the Mesolithic as a proportion of the whole museum? Is the material/interpretation up-to-date? How is it displayed? Cases? Artefacts? Texts (multiple languages)? Images? Models? Dioramas? Audio-visual material? What is the use of space, lighting and other architectural factors like? Does the museum ‘flow’? Is the visitor encouraged to engage with the Mesolithic more or less than with other elements of the museum?
- Personal engagement: Is there direct engagement from archaeologists/museum staff? Experimental archaeology? Lectures? Workshops? Performances? Handling sessions? Who are these aimed at? Are they popular? How well trained are the presenters? Are they archaeologists? How up-to-date is the material?
Pro-forma will be designed to facilitate the assessment of each of these questions.
The initial phase of the desk-based assessment of the sites is designed to locate sites for visiting. An interactive map is being developed that summarises sites across Europe that present the Mesolithic. This can be publicised through colleagues and Mesolithic Miscellany in order to get comments and recommendations about which sites may be most fruitful for investigation.