Happy New Year from SSCIP on its 10 year anniversary, and a special interview with Grete Lillehammer

Happy New Year. 2017 marked the 10 year anniversary of SSCIP and I have the pleasure of talking with one of the founders of the Society and the social archaeology of childhood, Professor Grete Lillehammer from the Museum of Archaeology, University of Stavanger, Norway.

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Tell me a little bit about your research?

My main field of research is children and childhood studies. This broadly covers several topics on the past and the present through the lens of social archaeology, including gender, burial rituals, cultural heritage, and museum archaeology/museology. I am a participant in the research program BEVARES – Biological EnVironmental and Archaeological inter-disciplinary RESearch on life-course, material and materiality in human depositions. The program seeks to address issues surrounding the recovery and curation of organic materials from archaeological contexts, and in particular, our understanding of in- and ex-situ preservation from previously excavated material in the museum’s stores and material recovered during ongoing excavations. One of the projects on this program focuses on previously excavated material in the museum’s collections which has either not been analysed, or has not been analysed using up-to-day techniques/standards. I work together on this project with a bioarchaeologist and an archaeologist. We focus the research on two age categories in the human life cycle – the young and the old, and in particular their biological and cultural relationships in the past. At the SSCIP 2015 conference in Chicago, Eileen Murphy and I decided to organize a session at the EAA 2016 conference in Vilnius, eventually on “Giving New Meaning to Cultural Heritage: The Old and the Young in Past Societies”, http://eaavilnius2016.lt/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/67.pdf

How did you get into your field of research and why?

Museum outreach, curation, and excavation have been my gateways to approach children and childhood in the past. During the preparation for an exhibition on the Vikings early in the 1970s I noticed the small size of an arm ring from a female grave inventory, which prompted me to start thinking about the young ones. Later being a mother of three, I pondered on transmission of learning and stone technology while processing material from stone-age sites. UN’s Year of the Child in 1979 gave me the opportunity to think and do something more. I organized an exhibition and wrote together some pieces about small-scale archaeology and the hidden and forgotten children in the past. Then I brought one of my children on a dig. Looking at the excavation of a hearth in an Iron Age house, the little one noticed some small stones identical to the skipping stones that the child played with on the shores of a nearby lake. I wrote a piece about that event too. These experiences became eyes openers to what to me was a shadowland, and according to the archaeological narratives of the past, a foreign country where everyone is adult and preferably male. Children form bridges between the past and the future. I wanted to fill in gaps in the picture however difficult, and I have been travelling on the road ever since.



As one of the founders of SSCIP, and a supporter of the idea for a society from the very start, I remember the great optimism partaking in the events. The initiative emerged at a conference organized by the archaeologist Mike Lally at the University of Kent in 2005, (see Mike Lally and Alison Moore (eds.) 2011. (Re)Thinking the Little Ancestor: New Perspectives on the Archaeology of Infancy and Childhood. BAR International Series 2271). There was an agreement among participants that the time was ripe to get a move on the issue of children and childhood in the past. This resulted in an important and constructive meeting between enthusiasts with interests in the issue at the Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge, organized by Carenza Lewis in 2006, which led to the foundation of SSCIP in 2007, and the running of a new journal – Childhood in the Past – in 2008. The timing was good. The short period it took to establish a multidisciplinary forum and seeing the outcome of the Kent conference and the Cambridge meeting today is really something to be proud of in retrospect. It shows also members of the British academia being great organizers.

What is on the future horizon for your research?

First, I will settle down to the challenges and duties of a professor emerita. One of the jobs is to get the EAA 2016 session published together with Eileen. Another job is to get my project “Let us draw the past” finished properly. I have been engaged in this piece of work for several years in between other projects researching a collection of children’s drawings. I analyse the material, which is great fun and very stimulating to the logic of scientific thinking. I am going to continue my study and writing on children and childhood, and depending on the funding, I will also participate further in the BEVARES program.


Figure: Meet the ancient humans – Grete Lillehammer (left) in dialog with a class of schoolchildren at the Museum of Archaeology, University of Stavanger. Photo: Museum of Archaeology, University of Stavanger.


Figure: Pebbles and/or skipping stones? Photo: Museum of Archaeology, University of Stavanger.


Children’s drawings. From “Children’s exhibition” at the Museum of Archaeology in 2006. Photo: Museum of Archaeology, University of Stavanger.