Most people know about the Scouts and the Guides organisations, but did you know there’s another organisation that provides activities for youths up to seventeen years old, and is available nationally? Ok, it may not be quite as local as the two aforementioned, but the Young Archaeologists Club (YAC) has some 70 branches around the country which provide hands-on weekend activities for children and young adults who are interested in all facets of archaeology.

The club is run by the Council for British Archaeology. YAC’s vision is for all young people to have opportunities to be inspired and excited by archaeology, and to empower them to help shape its future. YAC was started in 1972 by Dr Kate Pretty, and celebrates its’ 40th anniversary this coming August. Its’ name back then was Young Rescue and it was the junior branch of RESCUE, the British Archaeological Trust. Initially it was based only in Cambridge but after publicity in The Times it was launched as a national club. That Times article, dated 4 September 1972 and headed “Uncovering an interest in Archaeology” makes interesting reading nearly 40 years on:

The first newsletter, also provisionally entitled Young Rescue, came but last week, and its attitude to the romantic approach is severe: “Archaeology is mud and water, deep trenches dug in rubble of a thousand years of buildings which threaten to collapse, snow falling on diggers in a Welsh hill fort, freezing winds in March and blazing sun in July in the middle of a gravel-pit desert, the roar and clank of a bulldozer bearing down behind you, and always the race against the threat of time and weather.” The notion that archaeology is all exciting excavation is similarly quashed: “Excavation is the last thing that an archaeologist does, because excavation is destruction: by digging a threatened site the archaeologist has destroyed the site first by taking it to pieces and looking at the bits before the spade, the bulldozer and the plough can reach it and knock it into smithereens.” The point is that a skillful excavation will reveal a great deal about a site; when it existed, and why, what sort of things went on there – farming, metal-working, stone-chipping, religious activities – and how and perhaps why the site was eventually destroyed and buried until the present day. Untrained diggers can do as much harm as the builder’s bulldozer, and the same applies to weekend treasurehunters with metal-detectors: “If you dig little holes to find coins you threaten and destroy a site just as much as if you were a huge bulldozer digging a trench. Imagine a Roman mosaic pavement with a complicated design which you can never decipher because of all the small holes which have been dug into it so that it looks like a jig-saw puzzle with a lot of pieces missing”, says Young Rescue.

So, no punches pulled there then! And the organisation is still going strong, with events the length and breadth of the country, all run by volunteers. However, the CBA, like many organisations and charities, is facing a challenging financial future. The withdrawal of its main source of public funding has had a major impact on the organisation’s finances. The CBA has previously subsidised YAC for both the YAC UK membership package and the YAC Branch network but this is no longer possible in light of the withdrawal of this public funding.

Young Archaeologists' Magazine

A plan has been put into place to ensure that YAC can become self-supporting, and additional (though reducing) funding has been obtained from English Heritage to safeguard the immediate future. But in order to survive, YAC needs ongoing funds, and so the Dig Deep for YAC Campaign was created. Sponsored events so far have included a walk around the Roman walls of York, and a walk along sections of Hadrian’s Wall.

YAC Supporters walking the walls of York

So if you have a youngster who has shown an interest in Archaeology, why not take a look and see if there’s a YAC branch near you? And if there isn’t, join up anyway and take advantage of the other benefits of membership, such as the magazine and free pass to many heritage sites around the country. If you’d just like to donate to help safeguard the club’s future, there are several ways of doing this, and they’re outlined on the club’s campaign web page. Just say Heritage Action sent you!