DigVentures: A New, Social, and Digital Way to Dig

Over the past year, archaeologists have begun to tap into a new type of fundraising for their projects: micro or crowdfunding. A phenomenon that was popularized here in the states by the Obama campaign in 2008 and then brought to our cell phones by the Haiti disaster and Red Cross, it has been brought to anyone who has an idea by a host of different websites such as Kickstarter, GoFundMe, RocketHub, and Sponsume, to name a few. The idea is simple: people with ideas make a pitch, set a goal, and then ask for your support. As with most pledge drives, certain amounts of funds come with certain rewards. For products, that usually means a pre-order of the actual object. For others it might mean a coffee mug or something like that.

DigVentures, however, is an organization that appears to be not only leveraging microfunding as a means for raising capital to fund an archaeological project: they are also using it as a means to build a community surrounding the project. The use of digital tools for public engagement has been heavy on my mind lately, and the more I look through the DigVentures website, the more impressed I am with the potential for this project to work as a way to gain literal investment by the public in archaeology and cultural heritage. Here’s what they’re up to:

If you donate £10, you receive “backstage” access to their website, where they will post daily content throughout the excavation. As you move up the payscale, your involvement can increase: £125 gets you one day digging on site, £225 a weekend, and so on, up to £1,300, which gets makes you a full-time field schooler. I’m particularly intrigued by the use of the web, however. There site states that,

Starting at the £10 level, you will have a ‘backstage’ pass to the Site Hut, a password-protected area on our website offering daily updates on the project, and loads of original content including apps, blogs, on site streaming, interviews, lectures from archaeological superstars, photos, finds news and more.

This means that your investment is rewarded with a number of unique ways to interact with the archaeologists, see what they are doing on site, and be a part of the discovery and excavation. This type of engagement could lead to all sorts of new relationships, new information for the public, and, ideally, a deeper understanding of why archaeology is important and how cultural heritage can be protected. This is the type of engagement that I think digital tools have the potential to foster, and I’m excited to see the outcome. And to take part, myself.

DigVentures also has made a commitment to working on projects that are under immediate threat, helping them raise capital through this medium as a way to bypass other lengthy, and low-percentage, funding structures. This summer’s site is a Bronze Age site called Flag Fen, which is under threat from drainage and climate change. You can read more about the site itself at their webpage and at their fundraising site. I will admit some ignorance about the site, as it is well outside my area of expertise. However, I am fascinated by the means that DigVentures is taking to both raise money and build a literally invested community in their project. I think this type of project could have major ramifications for how archaeology can be done.