It can’t have been the Spring Publicity campaign that Cadbury planned. On the face of it, the idea: to encourage families into exploring the outdoors and engaging with heritage, was such a good one. How could it all go so horribly wrong?
Not only have they been encouraging illegal behaviour (the ransacking of archaeological sites is covered by legislation in each of the countries of the United Kingdom), it is also irresponsible. I doubt that they would suggest that kids go out and collect birds’ eggs from nests. So why was it deemed acceptable to suggest that the fragile remains of the past were, and I quote, ‘fair game’.
It smacks of lazy research. Perhaps the ubiquity of archaeology in community projects and heritage activities around the country has led to a downgrading of general understanding of the specialist skills that are involved.
Those who read my blog will know that I love a good community project. There are plenty of examples of high-quality work being undertaken by local groups from Lands’ End to John O’Groats. Archaeology could not survive without them. But maybe I have got complacent. Maybe I mix too much with the enthusiastic people who make up the backbone of such projects. They have taken time to develop skills and understanding, often over years of hard slog, and they know the importance of working with a professional who can offer the odd nugget of advice and make sure that high standards are adhered to.
But there are, of course, many people for whom the intricacies of archaeology are less enticing. Perhaps they see so much of it on television and in the media that they assume it is easy. Among them, one has to presume, are those who dreamed up this misplaced scheme. Though I am still surprised that it passed the legal boffins. I assume Cadbury check the legality of their campaigns.
It is such a shame. With a modicum of consultation and cooperation Cadbury could have had a really imaginative project that drew kids and their families to some of the wonderful sites and monuments we have around the country. Not only do we have the ‘national’ sites, there are plenty of local sites, and often even less well-known monuments that could be visited. Archaeologists love talking about the past: reaction to the campaign as it stands indicates that there would have been no shortage of people willing to help draw up fieldnotes and advice to encourage people to get out and about. It is also worth noting that there are already many opportunities for kids to get involved in the process of archaeology. From Young Archaeologists’ Club meetings to working as part of an excavation or fieldwalking team, there is so much that can be done, and so many ways in which Cadbury and archaeologists could have worked together.
It is a horrible wake-up call for archaeologists. Perhaps we are not quite as embedded into twenty-first century culture as we would have liked to think. Perhaps we still have some way to go before everyone shares our love of the past and understands the technical and ethical niceties of unearthing and looking after it.
Meantime, I look forward to seeing how the story develops. As I write, the Cadbury’s website ‘Treasure Island’ pages are down, apparently for modification. Freddo Treasures are not, currently, available at my local supermarket. There is some hard work necessary to repair the damage, but plenty of opportunity exists. Sponsorship of the Young Archaeologists Club across the United Kingdom for a year would be a good start. Don’t let it put you off archaeology, or chocolate. But, as with everything nowadays, you obviously need to think carefully before you indulge.