Dr speaks out over closure threat of University of Sheffield’s world-renowned archaeology department

The University of Sheffield’s world-renowned Department of Archaeology is at threat of closure following a review that could see all of its staff made redundant.

Thursday, 20th May 2021, 3:20 pm
Updated Friday, 21st May 2021, 4:57 pm

It has 50 years of world-beating contributions to knowledge of the past and many household names – including Mike Parker Pearson, the world’s expert on Stonehenge – made their names there.

Now, an institutional review could bring an end to an era.

In an email calling for support, Dr Lizzie Wright, on behalf of the Sheffield zooarchaeology team, said: “As you can imagine the whole department is absolutely devastated by this news and we are rallying round to call for messages of solidarity from as far and wide as possible.

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The university of Sheffield.

“We need to act very swiftly to make our voice heard… As you can imagine it is a hugely stressful situation, in which staff are confronting the potential loss of their jobs as well as all that they have built in many years of love and dedication.”

Staff were told in a meeting yesterday that the university is considering three options.

The first is to support and invest in the department. The second is to discontinue archaeology as a subject at Sheffield University and make all staff redundant. The third is to discontinue archaeology as a department but retain aspects of archaeological research and education and make remaining staff redundant.

Dr Wright said it was understood the university’s leadership was leaning towards the latter two options.

The Council for British Archaeology said any kind of closure would be a “devastating blow” to the country.

It said: “The University has a very high profile in the archaeological and academic world and has made huge contributions to the country’s higher education profile…[The department] contributes immensely to the local community in Sheffield, such as its work on the site of Sheffield Castle. Loss of this expertise to the local community would be a devastating blow.”

It added that it follows similar proposals at the University of Chester and said: “We are extremely concerned about the teaching of archaeology at a time when the country needs qualified archaeologists to support key government agendas – Covid recovery, development and levelling-up.”

Professor Umberto Albarella who has been with Sheffield University since 2004, said the department had around 70 to 80 postgraduate students and a smaller number of undergraduates.

He added since he started working there, the number of teaching staff had reduced from 29 to 11 – with many leaving and not being replaced.

Dr Wright urged people to email the University Executive Board, the vice chancellor and the deputy vice chancellor calling on them to choose the first option, to support and invest in the department, based on its reputation and the importance of archaeology, environmental archaeology and osteology.

This needs to be done before Tuesday, May 25 when the University Executive Board is due to make a decision and she asked that people also send the messages to the department so it can keep track of them.

A petition was also launched which, at the time of writing, has more than 4,400 signatures.

This can be found here: https://www.change.org/p/university-of-sheffield-save-sheffield-s-archaeology-department?recruiter=false&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=psf_combo_share_initial&utm_term=share_petition&recruited_by_id=8402abc0-b94d-11eb-b9fe-a9bebeac6811

The University of Sheffield was contacted for comment.