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Community Archaeology Programme launched at Queen’s University Belfast

Members of the public will be able to get their hands dirty as part of an exciting three-year programme of community archaeological activity, launched at Queen’s University Belfast.

Pictured at the launch of the Community Archaeology Programme NI which has received £600,000 from The National Lottery Heritage Fund are (l-r): Dr Gerry Millar, Macmillan Cancer Support; Dr Paul Mullan, The National Lottery Heritage Fund; Professor Eileen Murphy, Centre for Community Archaeology, Queen's University; Ms Michaela Clarke, Alumni Engagement and Philanthropy, Queen's University; Ms Aileen Cummins, Civic Engagement and Social Responsibility, Queen's University; and Mr Darren Rice, The National Lottery Heritage Fund

The Community Archaeology Programme NI (CAPNI) has been made possible with a grant of more than £600,000 from The National Lottery Heritage Fund to the Centre for Community Archaeology (CCA) at Queen’s University Belfast.

The investment will enable local communities – both urban and rural – to directly engage with their local archaeological heritage through participation in excavations, surveys, experimental archaeology, walking tours and festivals. The funding will also enable the archaeologists to involve school groups in their work.

“Community archaeology is a relatively new aspect of our subject and archaeologists at Queen’s have been at the heart of its development in Northern Ireland over the past decade, having undertaken 25 community excavations during this time,” said Professor Eileen Murphy, Co-Director of the CCA at Queen’s.

“This funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund is fantastic since it enables us to roll out an exciting new structured programme of activity that builds upon these foundations. We hope to show the positive impact that archaeology can have on society, and research elsewhere has demonstrated how involvement in archaeological activities can be of great benefit to the wellbeing of participants, helping to combat issues such as social isolation and loneliness.”

Speaking at today’s launch, Darren Rice, Northern Ireland Committee Member at The National Lottery Heritage Fund said: “We are delighted to support this community archaeology programme which, thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, will mean that more people will be able to get involved with and learn about the history of their area.

“With a programme of activities happening across Northern Ireland in the next three years, we anticipate that as many as 18,000 people will have free access to fascinating archaeological digs, skills sessions, walking tours and more. Led by professional archaeologists and designed with accessibility in mind, we would encourage anyone with a curiosity about their local heritage to get involved.”

As well as accessibility, the programme is being developed with health and wellbeing in mind, with input from a range of health organisations and their representatives, such as Dr Gerry Millar MBE from Macmillan Cancer Support, who is also a Visiting Scholar in Archaeology at Queen’s.

Dr Millar said: "CAPNI is ideally suited to focus on the physical, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of a person’s condition and involvement in fieldwork or walking tours will holistically improve their long-term quality of life."

The archaeologists from the CCA are finalising the first year of activity and have been working with their partners to organise early-summer excavations in Carrickfergus, Castlereagh in Belfast, and one in the autumn in Derry-Londonderry.

First up will be an investigation at the Ulster American Folk Park near Omagh in April where – working with the National Museums NI – members of the local community and school groups will help the team to excavate at the Mellon homeplace to find out more about rural life in Ulster in the 18th century, an era when many people felt the need to emigrate to America to improve their prospects.

Schoolchildren will explore the heritage of the Shankill Road area of Belfast at a CAPNI School Hub event in March while another CAPNI School Hub will be held at the Hill of the O’Neill in Dungannon in May.

Also in May, the CAPNI team will take a stall at the Balmoral Show to interact with the farming community, the recognised custodians of many ancient monuments.

There will also be a series of four, experimental archaeology festivals each year that will give the public a chance to try their hand at traditional heritage skills such as flintknapping, basketmaking and pottery manufacture while interacting with Living History displays. The team is also organising a programme of guided tours and walks that will take place at historical sites and towns across Northern Ireland, with details to follow as they become available.

Acting Director of Civic Engagement and Social Responsibility at Queen’s, Mr Alistair Stewart, added: “At Queen’s, we are proud of the significant contribution made by our students and staff, and the positive impact we have on our society. The University’s Strategy 2030 provides a framework to further enhance our civic-engagement work and to realise the commitments set out in our Social Charter.

“I am delighted to mark the launch of CAPNI, a programme which harnesses the potential our rich archaeological heritage to engage, enable and empower communities to learn more about our past. The support from The Heritage Fund through National Lottery players is invaluable in realising our ambitious plans for delivery.”

Around 6,000 schoolchildren and 2,000 adult volunteers have already taken part in excavations across Northern Ireland over the last decade, led by the CCA. The experts behind CAPNI hope to extend this by providing opportunities for people from all walks of life to gain first-hand experience of the excitement and enjoyment of making new discoveries about the past.

  • Further information on the work of CAPNI can be followed at the “Archaeology at Queen’s” Facebook page ((20+) Facebook), while the CCA can be contacted at


About The National Lottery Heritage Fund

As the largest dedicated funder of the UK’s heritage, The National Lottery Heritage Fund’s vision is for heritage to be valued, cared for and sustained for everyone, now and in the future as set out in the strategic plan, Heritage 2033.

Over the next ten years, the Heritage Fund aims to invest £3.6billion raised for good causes by National Lottery players to bring about benefits for people, places and the natural environment.

The Heritage Fund helps protect, transform and share the things from the past that people care about, from popular museums and historic places, our natural environment and fragile species, to the languages and cultural traditions that celebrate who we are.

The Heritage Fund is passionate about heritage and committed to driving innovation and collaboration to make a positive difference to people’s lives today, while leaving a lasting legacy for future generations to enjoy.

Follow @HeritageFundNI on X and Facebook and @HeritageFundUK on Instagram, LinkedIn and TikTok and use #NationalLottery #HeritageFund



Inquiries to Una Bradley