WHEN the country went into lockdown last March a group of archaeologists found new ways of sharing their work – and have just landed a prestigious award for how they did it.

With field activities almost impossible, Barnard Castle-based DigVentures remodelled itself and took its work online where it reached thousands of people across the world.

Today, its Archaeology at Home initiative was recognised with one of Europe’s top honours for contributions to the field of cultural heritage – The Europa Nostra/ European Heritage Awards.More than 11,000 people from 90 countries took part in the project by the not-for-profit social business.

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Its annual DigNation Festival, held as an online conference, brought the latest discoveries from more than 20 countries – including Albania, Bulgaria, India, Jordan, Mali, and the UK – directly into people’s homes.

Meanwhile, thousands of people connected through Virtual Fieldschool, helping each other to research their local history, carry out test excavations in their own gardens, and make their own heritage discoveries.

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Thousands more also attended interactive workshops, and virtual tours throughout the year.

In addition, nearly 2,000 families with children from 11 different countries took part in a Virtual Fieldschool for children, introducing young people to the practical role of the archaeologist and sparking excitement for archaeology.

Lisa Westcott Wilkins, co-founder of DigVentures, said: “When we looked back over the work we had done online, and the phenomenal response we got from audiences around the world, we realised something quite profound had happened: our online efforts had united citizens and archaeologists on an entirely new scale, bringing thousands of new people to archaeology who had never previously engaged with it directly.

“This award is the result of thousands of people coming together during the darkest times of last year, placing their energy in our hands, and letting us put archaeology in theirs."

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DigVentures was one of eight award winners in the category of awareness-raising, training, and education. In total, 24 award winners from 18 countries have been selected by independent juries composed of heritage experts from across Europe.

Founded in 2012, DigVentures champions public engagement in archaeology, organising top-quality, research-driven archaeological work in collaboration with citizens, communities, and councils to help places to thrive, prosper and sustain distinct local identities.

Judges said: “Archaeology at Home did not just increase the accessibility of archaeology and act as a much-needed social network during the pandemic, it also had a direct positive impact on cultural heritage.

“Offering connection during the lockdowns, the diverse audience extended far beyond the traditional demographics normally associated with public archaeology activities.

“This kind of community archaeology ultimately contributes to the social embeddedness of cultural heritage.”