I did a fun exercise with my Umeå archaeology freshmen Monday: a role-playing debate about the ethics of burial archaeology. The framework was a hearing at the Ministry of Culture regarding a planned revision of the Ancient Monuments Law.

I assigned randomised groups of up to 4 students roles as archaeologists, neopagans, the Swedish Church, a housing development firm, Satanists, Saami nationalists and recently arrived Syrian Orthodox Turks. Each group got a slip of paper telling them what their opinions were about burial archaeology, above-ground curation of human remains and reburial. I also indicated to each group a few other groups that they liked or disliked. Then they got 20 minutes to prepare their best arguments for why Swedish law should reflect the opinions I’d told them that they in particular had.

The whole thing went great. One Syrian Orthodox student happily role-played a Satanist, and a neopagan student proved quite persuasive as a Syrian Orthodox representative. I played the Ministry moderator, and often had to ask participants to stop making disparaging remarks about each other’s religious beliefs. We concluded that apparently not one single group shared the archaeologists’ priorities on the issues. Afterwards the students immediately demanded another exercise like this one.