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Robin Skeates

United Kingdom

Robin Skeates is a Professor in the Department of Archaeology at Durham University in the UK, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquities, and Deputy Editor of Antiquity. His research and publications explore a wide variety of themes within the overlapping inter-disciplinary fields of material, visual and sensual culture studies, and museum and heritage studies. He is an expert in Central Mediterranean prehistory. His involvement in public archaeology has involved work as an archaeological advisor to the National Trust, an AHRC Newton-Khalidi-funded museum modernization project in Jordan, and two edited volumes, the Oxford Handbook of Public Archaeology and Museums and Archaeology.


The senses restrained: a critical history of archaeological representation in Malta

This lecture presents a kind of literary and art criticism of historic and contemporary representations of prehistoric Malta, with particular reference to the senses, in order to chart, historicize, and contextualize the sensory experiences and perceptions that have surrounded the development of archaeology in Malta over the last four centuries. In other words, it considers how different generations of antiquarians and archaeologists have represented or denied the senses in the texts and images that describe their experiences and understandings of the landscape, inhabitants, and prehistoric antiquities of the Maltese Islands. I argue that, throughout this history, the sense of sight has been prioritised by diverse groups interested in protecting, managing, celebrating, and interpreting the appearance of the ancient architectural and artistic heritage of Malta, while the other senses have increasingly been kept under control.


Vella, N., & Gilkes, O. (2001) The lure of the antique: Nationalism, politics and archaeology in British Malta (1880–1964). Papers of the British School at Rome, 69, 353-384.

Rountree, K. (2001) The Past is a Foreigners’ Country: Goddess Feminists, Archaeologists, and the Appropriation of Prehistory, Journal of Contemporary Religion, 16:1, 5-27.

Skeates, R. (2008) Making Sense of the Maltese Temple Period: An Archaeology of Sensory Experience and Perception, Time and Mind, 1:2, 207-238.

Cassar, J., Cefai, S., Grima, R. and Stroud, K. (2018) Sheltering archaeological sites in Malta: lessons learnt. Heritage Science, 6.

Burkette, A. and Skeates, R. (2022) The Words that Archaeologists Choose: A Maltese Case Study in Artifact Terminology, Corpus Linguistics and Discourse Analysis. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 35.1 85-107.


Interpreting the archaeological past through museum displays

This workshop explores how the past is interpreted in museums through archaeological remains. This topic sits within the large field of museum communication. An extensive museological literature has been produced over the last two decades offering critical and political perspectives on museum representations of the archaeological past and of archaeology itself. This has led to changes in museum practice, not all of which have stood the test of time. Indeed, we may be returning to a more pragmatic era, in which curators are simply striving to present archaeological science in an accessible and meaningful manner. Archaeological sites present another opportunity for visitors to engage with the material remains of the past, but the challenges facing archaeological site museums should not be underestimated. New, site-specific, museum architecture can add spectacularly to the fabric of such sites, although architects and gallery designers have been accused of losing sight of the public and their educational needs. Teaching and learning about the past through archaeology is an essential dimension of the museum mission but requires careful thought. Certainly, public engagement in, and perceptions of, museum archaeology matter, and various initiatives are being undertaken by archaeological museums to make themselves more accessible to the public, whoever and wherever they are. This requires that museum archaeologists understand their audiences.

This workshop therefore invites you to explore, critically and politically, a series of questions about museum representations of the archaeological past and of archaeology. For example: How objective can, and should, museum displays about the past be? To what extent should reconstruction be used in public presentations of archaeological sites? What kinds of modern museum architecture work best with archaeological collections? How can museum archaeology display offer more enjoyable and engaging experiences for visitors? What, and how, should museum visitors learn through archaeology? How might traditionally alienated groups be persuaded to contribute to the work of museum archaeology?