“DON’T MENTION THE WAR” A Week of Fawlty Comms from CIfA, CBA & FAME


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A street in downtown Kharkiv, destroyed by Russian bombardment.
[ mvs.gov.ua. Creative Commons 4.0]


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There is no question that the announcement of an effort to support archaeologists and their families who might want to come to the UK from war ravaged Ukraine, announced by the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists on 25 March, is unalloyed good news.  However, it comes at the end of a month when the collective communications strategy of the leading bodies in UK archaeology became horribly reminiscent of the famous episode of Fawlty Towers “The Germans” when, adopting his cringeworthy little Englander persona, Basil Fawlty gratuitously insults his German guests while telling his hapless staff “Don’t mention the war.”  Now thePipeLine can reveal the background to a sometimes  acrimonious week as UK archaeology debated its response to the war in Ukraine, and how apparent denial turned, coincidentally or not, into constructive engagement with Ukraine’s humanitarian crisis, at least on the part of CIfA.   

On 10 March thePipeLine published an article about the response of the UK Heritage sector to the worsening crisis in Ukraine following the unprovoked aggression ordered by President Putin.  In the course of the article we asked why leading archaeological organisations in the UK appeared to be out of step with the international heritage community, and other more specialised and smaller bodies in the UK, by remaining largely silent on the war?

We expected that this silence was only temporary and that, as these organisations so often say, conversations were taking place behind the scenes regarding how the CBA, CIfA and FAME could best support Ukraine’s heritage community by utilising the UK archaeological community’s  pools of expertise and connections to Government and international archaeological bodies.

In the past week, [commencing 21 March 2022], with the crisis in Ukraine one month old and appearing to worsen, with estimates that some eighteen million people would be affected by the conflict, with four million people displaced as refugees, along with thePipeLine’s YouTube partner, Archeosoup, we returned to the story.

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We did so, not just in response to our own observations. 

We had picked up murmurs of disquiet in the archaeological sector that, while many other established heritage organisations as diverse as the European Archaeological Association and the Society of Antiquaries, had already responded to the crisis with, at the very least, statements of solidarity with the people of Ukraine, and often with much more practical support, the most important leadership bodies in UK Archaeology had apparently done next to nothing to even acknowledge the crisis, let alone initiate, or broker, more practical aid and support in a timely way.  

Even a brief examination of their public facing Social Media accounts and websites showed that with one or two isolated exceptions such as retweets from sub-accounts, the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists which among other roles, oversees professional standards;  the Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers [FAME] which represents commercial archaeology; and the Council for British Archaeology, an educational charity which has acted as the meeting point for all archaeologists, professional and vocational, of all ages, for more than seventy five years, were seemingly inhabiting a parallel universe where their regular business was being conducted, with no hint of the gratuitous humanitarian and cultural disaster unfolding in Europe, a few hours flying time from London.  

This apparently deliberate silence on the part of the senior organisations in UK Archaeology seemed especially inexplicable because, while the war in Ukraine is being described by political, military and humanitarian experts as the worst crisis to hit Europe since 1945, an assessment which might be seen as reason enough to issue a public comment, it is also perhaps the greatest test of the1954 Hague convention on the protection of cultural property in armed conflict.   

The UK was late to ratify the Hague convention, only doing so in September 2017, and the archaeological bodies who have been silent on Ukraine, along with many of their individual members, were vociferous in lobbying for the convention to be adopted by the UK Government.

Our response to this situation was initiated in a video by Marc Barkman-Astles of Archaeosoup,

We also produced a Call to Action card, laying out the six simple steps we suggested UK archaeology could take to support the heritage community in Ukraine, and asking the CBA, CIfA and FAME, to use their position to offer leadership on the issue that was hitherto lacking.

All of this was under the hashtag, #ArchUK4Ukraine.

The early response to the initiative was positive, with the Call to Action card being shared, including to CIfA’s main Twitter feed, and with the hashtag being adopted in Tweets and on Twitter handles.

However, by the evening of the first day, Tuesday,  we were receiving reports of push back in the Blogsphere and on Social Media, including at least two allegations of racism in promoting an initiative for “white” people while allegedly ignoring other equally egregious humanitarian and cultural crimes in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Tigray among other places.

Those critics were clearly not regular viewers of Watching Brief where those conflicts have featured regularly, nor of the track records in opposing racism and colonialism in archaeology going back years of other supporters of the #ArchUK4Ukraine initiative. 

It is also the case that in any kind of campaigning clarity of aim is key, especially when trying to engage a wide audience who you want to turn into activists.  It is simply not possible to fight every battle simultaneously, and with commitment and astute handling, the experience, resources and momentum gained in a campaign such as one to support Ukraine, can be developed to encompass other campaigns in other countries. 

Meanwhile, as those conversations were taking place, CIfA itself had also moved to close down discussion of the #ArchUK4Ukraine initiative on its Twitter feed.

In the course of two linked Tweets on its official Twitter account CIfA stated for the first time publicly that its board had actually met to discuss Ukraine, and that board members had taken the decision to limit CIfA’s comments to archaeology and not to comment on world events in general.

CIfA did not say when the meeting referred to had taken place.

Neither did the organisation explain why it had not made an announcement earlier explaining this significant corporate stance to its members, let alone to the public.  

The organisation also stated that it was liaising with expert bodies in cultural heritage protection such as Blue Shield International and that it was also in discussion with the European Association of Archaeologists [EAA] about the possibility of bringing some archaeologists from Ukraine and their families, to the UK, but that it was not yet ready to take the fruits of those discussions to CIfA members.

However, although the Government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme, had been in existence for almost two weeks, CIfA offered no timeline for these discussions, and no suggestion as to when any advice would be offered. 

Neither did the organisation take the simple step of suggesting members who were concerned to help support individual refugees and their families come to the UK, could engage with the UK Government’s “Homes for Ukraine” scheme in the meantime.

Then on 25 March, barely three days after the launch of the #ArchUK4Ukraine initiative came the announcement, circulated to members and placed on the CIfA website, that CIfA had created a contact form, pointing members towards the EAA’s dedicated support page for refugees from Ukraine.

However, while any effort to support the people of Ukraine is to be welcomed warmly, it is noticeable that the published statement promoting the sponsorship initiative for refugees still makes no mention of the war itself, nor of the ongoing threat of damage to heritage and cultural war crimes in Ukraine. 

In that regard it can be suggested also that CIfA has chosen to adopt a particularly narrow definition of what is “archaeology”, given that, to most objective observers, the kind of cultural war crimes and illegal excavations reported by UNESCO as having taken place already in occupied Crimea, and which might now be threatened in parts of Ukraine occupied by the Russian Federation, have everything to do with “archaeology”.

For example a report to UNESCO issued in September 2021 contains this allegation,

“The Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences is a direct contractor of illegal archaeological works in the territory of the World Heritage property “Ancient City of Tauric Chersonese and its Chora”. 

In that regard the failure of CIfA to comment on the wider issues arising from the war’s impact on Ukraine’s heritage may well remain to many inexplicable.

But, while it did not acknowledge any connection, at least CIfA responded to situation highlighted by the #ArchUK4Ukraine initiative promptly and ultimately  positively, as, to all intents and purposes, it has put into effect steps 2 and 3 of the Call to Action Card. 

The timing of the announcement may or may not be a coincidence, coming three days after the #ArchUK4Ukraine initiative was launched, but it is a win for support for Ukraine’s threatened heritage community and that is all that counts.

The rest of the responses we received were a demonstration of the Law of Diminishing Returns, certainly in terms of detail and word count.

In order to try and elicit a more detailed dialogue, and hopefully action, from CIfA, the CBA and FAME, on Thursday 24 March thePipeLine emailed a series of questions to all three bodies.

The questions we asked included,

Why had the organisations not issued any public statements explaining their stance on the crisis in Ukraine?

Were the three organisations concerned that their members might find their public silence inadequate given the gravity of the current crisis and its direct impact on the people, archaeology and cultural heritage of Ukraine?

And whether the three organisations were concerned they might be seen as hypocritical after the archaeological sector, including the membership bodies, had campaigned for the UK to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention on cultural heritage in conflict zones, only for those same leading bodies to remain silent when colleagues in Ukraine, and the international body UNESCO, are claiming, with evidence, that the cultural heritage of Ukraine has been damaged in Crimea and is undoubtedly at risk in the current war, if only from the sheer amount of high explosives being used?

We also asked if, by not commenting, and by taking no action proactively, the CBA, CIfA and FAME were concerned their membership, and the wider archaeological community in the UK and internationally, would see them as out of step with the many equivalent organisations around the world which, as a minimum, have issued statements in solidarity with the people and colleagues in Ukraine, and which in many cases, are taking practical action such as promoting research posts and studentships for refugees, as well as offering other practical support to colleagues attempting to protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage?

Finally we asked if the CBA, CIfA and FAME would work together to adopt and action the requests made in the Call to Action card which we have published?

The director of the Council for British Archaeology, Neil Redfern, sent this in response to our questions,  

“The war in Ukraine is having a devastating impact on people’s lives. The CBA does not intend to comment on your email. The next edition of British Archaeology will contain features reflecting on this horrendous situation and its human cost.”

British Archaeology is the magazine of the CBA, appearing six times a year, with each edition advertised as having a print run of 13,000. 

thePipeLine pointed out that, according to Hall-McCartney Ltd, the company selling advertising space in the magazine, the copy date for the next edition of British  Archaeology to be published was 7 March. 

At that point the crisis in Ukraine was only just over a week old and the situation on the ground remained very confused, with little known in detail about either threats to Ukraine’s heritage, or the needs of heritage workers in Ukraine who were trying to deal with the impact of the war on Ukraine’s museums galleries and archaeological and historic monuments, including seven World Heritage Sites.

Of course, it is perfectly possible that the widely respected editor of the magazine, Mike Pitts, may have managed to anticipate at least some of the issues which have arisen with some astute commissions and thus provide a comprehensive overview.  There may even be some “Stop Press” additions.

However, it has to be asked, if the Council for British Archaeology’s principal response to a fast moving and complex international situation is to opine retrospectively through the pages of a print journal, British Archaeology is that response adequate?  

Put crudely such a response might be seen as using a nineteenth century medium to comment on a twenty first century crisis.

Worse, if the May/June edition, with that March copy date, had already gone to the printers, the copy date for the next edition is not until 9 May for publication in June, meaning the CBA would not be seen to be engaging with the issue publicly until four months after the crisis began.  

And that is before we ask the question-  what is the readership of the print edition of British Archaeology in Ukraine and how many digital subscriptions exist enabling archaeologists from Ukraine to read the magazine online?

As other news outlets, such as the Financial Times, have done during the crisis, it would be a generous gesture acknowledging the importance of Ukraine as an issue in the heritage community that the Ukraine material in British Archaeology was made available freely, and not confined to print, or behind the magazine’s paywall.

In a follow up e-mail thePipeLine asked Neil Redfern to confirm the copy date for British Archaeology, and whether it was indeed the CBA’s policy to only comment on the situation in Ukraine retrospectively via the pages of British Archaeology.

To the time of publication we have not received a reply.

All that said, the Council for British Archaeology’s response did at least recognise the devastation facing people in Ukraine and was positively encyclopaedic in content, compared to that offered by the Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers.

In contacting FAME we directed our questions to FAME’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr Kenneth Aitchison of Landward Research, the company which produces the respected annual Profiling the Profession reports among other research. 

We also copied the questions to Dr Aitchison’s Deputy CEO Dr Doug Rocks-Macqueen, also of Landward Research who had already interacted with Archaeosoup’s Twitter thread on the #ArchUK4Ukraine initiative via his personal Twitter account to offer feedback.  Feedback which we actioned, amending the wording of the Call to Action card to remove a potential ambiguity, making it clear we were suggesting supporters of the initiative interact with the Homes for Ukraine scheme and not the Home Office’s controversial and in the view of many, deliberately restrictive and punitively expensive, scheme for work visas.

However, in spite of styling itself “The Voice of Commercial Archaeology” FAME responded to thePipeLine’s questions by  blocking our e-mail address, adding this terse automated message,

“This email has been blocked. Please stop trying to get “comment” from FAME.”

In a follow up e-mail, using a different, un-blocked, e-mail address, thePipeLine again offered Dr Aitchison an opportunity to comment.

We added that FAME is an organisation which operates in the public domain as “the voice of commercial archaeology”, including holding meetings with Government about areas of Government policy impacting on archaeology and heritage.

This visibility, and the acknowledged attempts to influence Government policy, means that FAME is accountable, not just to its members and by extension to their staff and the wider archaeological sector.  FAME is also accountable to the members of the public who care about archaeology and heritage, or who are impacted by the activities of the archaeological sector.

Thus it is entirely legitimate for the heritage media, including thePipeLine, to ask FAME questions which we believe are in the public interest. 

Sometimes these questions will be seen as supportive, at other times probing, but thePipeLine and Archaeosoup’s Watching Brief, which we support and co-host, follow standard journalistic practice, reporting fairly based on evidence, separating fact from opinion, and always quoting contrary views where they are available to us.

Importantly in this context, except in exceptional circumstances we  offer an opportunity for the people and organisations we discuss to respond, before publication.  The very opportunity we extended through the questions we put to FAME.

We concluded by asking Dr Aitchison to reconsider the decision to block thePipeLine.  A decision which, we argue, is of no benefit to anyone trying to communicate UK Archaeology to those who care about it, or who are affected by issues arising from archaeological practice, including FAME’s own members and their staff teams.

Up to the time of publication Dr Aitchison has not replied.

Turning to the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists, on the positive side, CIfA have not blocked thePipeLine as FAME has.  But then they have not responded directly to our questions either.

thePipeLine’s view is that in the world of New Media, and with archaeology operating in the political and commercial sphere as never before, accountability cannot be something that happens to other people, and, needless to say, we will not stop reporting the activities of FAME, and CIfA and the CBA, and we will not stop putting to them questions which we believe are in the public interest.

They will of course be within their rights to refuse to answer those  questions, and we, and our readers and viewers, will be entitled to draw our own conclusions as to the significance, or otherwise of that refusal to answer.

However, there is a deeper question underlying this story even than whether the continued, self-imposed, silence on Ukraine, of the people who currently lead three most important leadership bodies in UK Archaeology, is either ethical, or sustainable.

That question is whether the members of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists, the Council for British Archaeology and the Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers; the people and organisations who invest their lives, skills and ethical commitment in archaeology, and who pay the membership fees which fund those organisations; find what is being done [and critically what is not being done] in their name over Ukraine is good enough.

And if those members decide that the response to the most significant political, humanitarian and cultural crisis in Europe since World War Two is not good enough, will they care enough to demand changes in policy, or, ultimately, even of personnel?

There is also one final irony in this story.

On 18 March a roll call of the leadership of the UK Heritage sector signed a joint letter to Olga Borisovna Lyubimova, the Culture Minister of the Government of the Russian Federation, citing the threat to Ukraine’s culture and cultural sites, such as the cities of Kyiv, Lviv and Odessa and asking Ms Lyubimova to plead the case in Government, for Russia to uphold its commitments under the 1954 Hague Convention on the protection of cultural sites in conflict zones. 

Russia is also a signatory to the Hague convention, becoming a States Party to the convention in 1957, sixty years before the United Kingdom.

Among the signatories of the letter is Lizzie Glithero-West FSA, Chief Executive of the Heritage Alliance, the umbrella organisation representing the UK heritage sector.

And among the membership of the Heritage Alliance are the CBA which declined to answer our questions, CIfA which only wants to talk about “archaeology”, and FAME which blocked us.

To the time of publication none of those organisations appear to have acknowledged the letter, signed by the chair of their wider industry’s representative body, let alone shared it with their members, even though the letter mentions the word “archaeology” in the very first paragraph.



If you wish to support the people of Ukraine directly thePipeLine and Archaeosoup are supporting the UK Disasters Emergency Committee Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal.

CIfA members can also engage with the “Homes for Ukraine” scheme and the support scheme of the European Archaeological Association via this contact sharing form on the CIfA website.

The Ukraine support page of the European Association of Archaeologists  is HERE.

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thePipeLine is an independent news publication that investigates the place that heritage, politics, and money meet.

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