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The University of Southampton
ArchaeologyPart of Humanities

Archaeology, Creativity, and Craft

Uniting contemporary makers and artists with the deep history of their crafts has been a focus of Professor Jo Sofaer’s project, Craft Production in Middle and Late Bronze Age Europe. Through the exploration of prehistoric creativity and craft, Sofaer has encouraged modern artists and makers to think differently about their practice and has opened the public’s eyes to the prehistoric origins of crafts we take for granted today.

CinBA Maker Engagement Day at the Crafts Council
CinBA Maker Engagement Day at the Crafts Council

Context

Creativity is as old as humankind. It’s an integral part of our history, yet most studies focus on the modern era, leaving questions unanswered about the formative role that creativity has played in our more distant past.

Jo Sofaer, Professor of Archaeology, has answered some of these questions through her project Creativity and Craft Production in Middle and Late Bronze Age Europe (CinBA).

Research challenge

The CinBA project investigated the fundamental nature of creativity by exploring the material culture of Middle and Late Bronze Age Europe, including crafts such as pottery, textiles and metalwork. This period saw only modest technological developments but substantial changes in shapes, colours, and decorations. These changes were therefore due to development of technical skill and new ways of designing objects, exploiting the potentials of materials – in particular their surfaces and different plasticities. These developments, rather than technological innovation or typological changes per se, constituted the creativity and innovations that were investigated. Links between ancient and modern creativity were explored through contemporary engagements with Bronze Age objects by modern craftspeople and the public.

Working closely with the Crafts Council, the national development agency for contemporary crafts in the UK, Sofaer developed two sub-projects to explore links between ancient and modern creativity, and how Bronze Age objects can stimulate creativity today:

The CinBA Live Project engaged with more than 200 students to suggest new roles for the interpretation of the prehistoric past through creative work. Participants took part in activities including object handling sessions, museum and site visits, access to the CinBA image bank and contact with CinBA archaeologists.

The CinBA Maker Engagement Project worked closely with six established makers who participated in excavations and attended project meetings, museum visits and the CinBA conference. The project closely observed the makers’ work to trace the role of Bronze Age creativity in their contemporary creative practice.

Necklace, Miriam Jones
Necklace, Miriam Jones. Produced during the CinBA Live Project

Inspiring New Forms of Creative Practice, Developing Career Trajectories, and Business Opportunities

Participation in CinBA continued to inspire the creative practitioners beyond the initial interventions and positively impacted their career trajectories.

A survey of students who developed careers in the creative sector since participating in the Live Project suggested that the CinBA experience remained a creative and professional influence four years later. Half of those who had since started businesses stated that some part of their business activity originated in the project.

Several exhibitions arose from the Maker Engagement Project project, including Remaking the Past, in which five of the makers drew on archaeological and prehistoric themes to present interpretations of the use of the past through contemporary craft and develop new forms of creative practice.

Building formal and fruitful relationships between academia, heritage and the creative industries

The following creative and heritage organisations benefited from the findings or specialist skills that came out of CinBA:

The Crafts Council, the national development agency for contemporary crafts in the UK, participated in CinBA as a non-academic partner, which led to their work with subsequent residencies and collaborations.

The Heritage Alliance, England’s biggest coalition of heritage interests, invited Sofaer to share best practice from CinBA for their project, Inspiring Creativity, Heritage & The Creative Industries.

Sofaer was invited to join the Journey to the Beginnings project, funded by The European Commission’s Education, Audio-visual and Cultural Executive Agency, involving prehistoric cultural heritage sites, archaeological parks and museums in four countries along the River Danube, and contemporary arts practitioners. The project developed a tourist route linking the sites, parks and museums, using creative interventions to boost visitor numbers.

Additionally, the specialist skills developed by Sofaer during CinBA led to the establishment of the University of Southampton’s Archaeology for the Creative Industries, which provides expert Archaeological advice, consultancy, research services and CPD to the Creative Industries sector.

Influencing funders

CinBA was funded by HERA – Humanities in the European Research Area – a network of 26 European national research funding organisations “committed to promote and support European arts and humanities research through research funding, collaboration and advocacy”.

CinBA’s success led to Sofaer being appointed Knowledge Exchange and Impact Fellow for HERA. Since assuming the post, she contributed to the HERA Vision and generated frameworks for transnational public engagement, knowledge exchange and impact in a European context. She has been involved in setting agendas for the Humanities in Europe, and advised a range of European research funding organisations on knowledge exchange and impact.

List of all staff members in
Staff MemberPrimary Position
Joanna SofaerProfessor, PGT Co-ordinator
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