Archaeological communities on Facebook

Ingrida Kelpšienė, Vilnius University and Costis Dallas, University of Toronto/IMSI Athena Research Centre

Keywords: Facebook; Social networking sites; Focus groups; Systematic literature review; Digital communication

Problem statement

The increasing recognition of the need for openness in archaeological research, communication and resource management (Moser et al., 2002; Beale, 2012; Morgan & Eve, 2012; Atalay, 2012), as well as the broader availability and uptake of Web 2.0 technologies and approaches across the whole spectrum of archaeological work (Kansa, et al, 2011; Dallas, 2015) contributed to a rising use of online social media platforms by academic archaeologists, archaeological heritage management and communication professionals, amateurs and members of descendant and indigenous communities engaged with archaeology. These social network sites  differ significantly with regard to their users, their motivations and objectives, and in how they constitute collective practices of memory and material engagement, give rise to communities of interest and practice, enact professional and cultural identities, and shape the production of archaeological knowledge as well as the interpretation, appropriation and governance of archaeological heritage. However, while many studies have been published on archaeological uses of Twitter (Richardson 2014; Walker, 2014; Hardy, 2015; Richardson 2015) and archaeological blogging (Rocks-Macqueen & Webster, 2014; Caraher& Reinhard, 2015), especially in the context of archaeological publication and professional communication, there is still limited understanding of how Facebook – perhaps the predominant social  media platform today – is used as a field of interaction about archaeology, both by archaeologists and non-archaeologists. More particularly, a systematic evidence-based account of the scholarly literature and the practices related to archaeology on Facebook based on the qualitative data analysis is still lacking.

Our study sought to investigate both these dimensions. With regard to scholarly literature, we asked who are the authors of published research on archaeology and Facebook, what kinds of publications have been produced on the subject and when, which approaches, and which research methods, do they use, whom and what are these publications about, and which disciplines, theories and concepts do they draw from. With regard to practices, we asked about the background and profile of Facebook group and page moderators, conditions, obstacles and drivers informing the creation and effective moderation of archaeology-related Facebook sites, the roles and responsibilities of Facebook site administrators, their motivations and goals, as well as expectations from site members and their contributed content and interactions.


In this paper, we introduce results of a systematic literature review, and of focus group research and qualitative interviewing on archaeological communities on Facebook, conducted as part of a research study within the ARKWORK COST action, and especially its WG3 which aims to explore the relationship between archaeological knowledge production and global communities.

Firstly, drawing from a preliminary literature analysis on archaeology and social network sites by Dallas &  Kelpšienė (2017), we conducted a systematic literature review of research  topics, questions and approaches in studies of archaeology-related communities on Facebook in comparison to other social network platforms, based on merging the results of faceted structured query search of works in English from Scopus, Web of Knowledge, and Google Scholar, followed by a three-stage process of appraisal validated by intercoder agreement. Secondly, we conducted a focus group study involving administrators of archaeology-related Facebook groups across Europe. Our research consisted of scoping interviews with ten administrators of such Facebook sites, followed by a focus group conversation with five of these administrators from Croatia, Greece, Italy and Lithuania who shared views and experiences about archaeology on Facebook. Conversations were recorded online using the Zoom video-conference service, and fully transcribed.

Following data collection, we deployed the MaxQDA computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software to review the literature, and to interpret text transcriptions from the scoping interviews and focus group (Kuckartz, 2014). On the basis of our research questions, sensitising concepts from the literature review and conceptual modeling of archaeological activity related to Facebook, we constructed a theory-laden provisional code system (for use in qualitative data coding. Descriptive coding thus use of combined predefined codes and open coding, aimed to capture dimensions of archaeology-related Facebook communities and practices not already included in the provisional code system.  Descriptive coding, followed by theoretical coding, allowed us to analyze both the results of prior scholarly work and data from focus groups and interviews in a systematic manner . We used a conceptual modeling approach to represent both our ontological view of the domain of archaeological communities on Facebook, and the associations between manifestations of motivation, cognition and action further identified by our analysis.


Our analysis of a systematic survey of English language publications on archaeology and social network sites shows the emergence of a fledgling epistemic community, of archaeologists but also museologists, anthropologists, historians, information researchers and others, many from the UK, USA and Australia. Many of these studies focus on both Facebook and Twitter. and cover professional communication examining the experiences of archaeologists using the platform and the impact that social networks have on various communities (Whitcher Kansa and Deblauwe, 2011; Morris, 2011; Laracuente, 2012; Colley, 2014; Richardson, 2014; Walker, 2014; Perry, et al, 2015; Richardson, 2015; Rocks-Macqueen, 2016). Others seek to  illustrate the variety of strategies by which social networks can promote archaeological heritage and to engage the public (Richardson, 2012; Huvila, 2014; Morgan and Pallascio, 2015; William and Atkin, 2015). Some also aimto better understand social media audiences, contributing to the development of an informed social media strategy for communicating archaeological information (Rodriguez Temiño and González Acuña 2014; Matthews and Wallis, 2015); this appears particularly relevant to museums, where platforms such as Facebook are both used for marketing purposes, and for digital communication sometimes employing a participatory multi-vocal dialogue (Pett, 2012; Marakos, 2014; De Man and Oliveira, 2016). Thus many publications focus on improving archaeological digital communication and community engagement, but the majority are evidence-based empirical studies, relying as often on quantitative (mostly online survey) as on qualitative (case study, ethnographic, interviewing) methods. While these studies draw from theories and concepts in a wide range of disciplines (especially sociology, critical heritage studies, marketing, communication and media studies), they sometimes remain untheorized, or disconnected from current literatures and debates.

The scoping interviews and focus group discussion explored a variety of questions concerning the sharing of archaeological content on a social network, e. g. the norms and beliefs shaping Facebook interactions with archaeological heritage, the most important aspects of content curation, the ways of how community engages and participates in Facebook activities, as well as the main issues concerning social network practices. They helped unfold standard activities, refine actors and their roles, as well as reveal how different motivations and platform affordances shape Facebook interactions and define ways of how archaeological content is used on social networks. Notions such as Goffman’s presentation of self (Hogan, 2010) and frame analysis (Kidd, 2011), virtual communities (Parks, 2011), sharing, attention, popularity and gatekeeping (van Dijck, 2013), participatory heritage (Giaccardi, 2012), and Suchman’s affiliative power of objects (cf. Dallas. 2018) are confirmed by our study as relevant tools to understand the motivations, norms, constraints and processes of initiating and managing the life of archaeology-related Facebook sites, and their potential as sites for identity and memory work, participation and archaeological agency.


Our study helps elucidate the underlying trends relevant to the practice of archaeology-related social network communities, and to consider more broadly the meaning of social network communication and knowledge practices for archaeology.


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