BAJR Federation Archaeology

Full Version: Archaeology's crossroad; working together or striding apart?
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still looking for those celebrity names to light up those skies....(new Time Team series on the way..? Niel Oliver ?)
of course a cabal of prominent academics from obvious institutions would also be good (Gosden/Pit rivers, McGregor/BM, the Ashmolean, ........ but perhaps they are they are too politically constrained....as might any archaeological Lords)

it is not unfortunately not just a case of Knowledge Hungry Archaeologists standing firm in a Commercial Environment.....part of the problem is our own evolved work practice and culture, in which we have ourselves (in many routine ways) managed to devalue archaeological knowledge...while fighting for our profession in society, we might as well try to reform some of the fatuous and wind-baggy nonsense that has grown without much reference to fact.
It seems that archaeology (commercial and academic) has failed to grasp the real value of its endeavours. Commercial archaeology seems to focus upon two main aims-to satisfy the planning conditions placed upon client groups and to satisfy the requirements of curators. Academic archaeology pursues knowledge arguably for the sake of knowledge. Both of these entities by and large, fail to take the next step. The very fact that archaeology has a place in planning "law" is a reflection of a central government that has placed a value upon our collective past. The Valletta Convention arguably enshrines similar principles across a wider geographical community. If archaeology then is accepted as a valuable (and finite) asset, what is the point of accumulating vast stores of data if we do nothing of value with it?

The value to a commercial client is clear- with planning conditions duly complied with, their commercial endeavours can go ahead unfettered. Commercial clients could, if they were in possession of savvy marketing officers, capitalise on this by seeing archaeology as a valuable selling point. A developer could raise its public profile by being seen as environmentally friendly. Smith and Bloggs Developers PLC takes pride in carefully preserving our collective heritage where it can and dilligently records what it can. Smith and Bloggs has signed up to the Heritage Charter and provides accessible and glossy brochures outlining the history of the plot that your new house now stands upon-congratulations, your new house will root your family in a rich prehistoric landscape etc. Dragging endless bewildered local pensioners around a muddy field on open days is simply not a selling point. Developers could easily incorporate architectural elements of the past into new builds or place glass floors in over ground-level archaeology to enhance the "value" of their commercial outlay. The truth is, the vast majority of development destroys the very archaeology that is valued at government level and "preservation in situ" is a rare event. Surely, we can`t "value" archaeology and the built heritage on the one hand and then see it as something that simply needs to be swept aside (quickly and in secret) on the other. The intrinsic value of archaeology to client groups has been mostly lost. That surprises me-the marketing and P.R value for a developer could be huge. If thought about, the public profile of a developer as a caring company would increase, the unique selling point of offering new buyers a history of their new home would increase sales potential and ultimately, the developer would be contributing to new-build communities who would have the opportunity of understanding their "place" in the great continuum (corny I know..).

Archaeology as a social tool with which a sense of community, identity and belonging could be introduced.......archaeology as a valuable asset within mainstream education systems.....archaeology within social projects.........it`s all entirely possible and arguably why archaeology is seen as a valuable asset by central government. And yet, archaeology remains by and large- an endeavour carried out in secret or, is an effort in data retrieval as playthings of academia. If we are really lucky, the odd television program reminds us that there is archaeology out there but even this is reduced to an entertainment value. Commercial and academic archaeologists really need to take the obvious next steps- embed archaeology in society. After all, society is inextricably embedded in archaeology.
I would suggest that the currency and indeed product of commercial archaeology/developer funded/temporal contamination whatever you wnat to call it is not 'knowledge' at all but 'information', which are not the same thing. Of course the information is generated in a system using archaeological knowledge, which would include a wide range of things including understanding of dating, techniques of excavation, comparable sites/finds etc etc. Of course, sites that are of enough interest to be fully published are going to include far more knowledge/understanding than another watching brief that finds sod all. Archaeological 'knowledge' is more likely the currency of academics, who have the opportunity to sit down and ponder the big questions. Speaking of questions, what does knowledge even mean anyway?

The comparisons with engineers and so forth still stands. An egineer provides information that shows how and why the bridge will stay up, again using the knowledge available to their profession (accumulated over several millennia). They don't provide a lengthy report on the nature of physics. Those looking to protect endangered species on a site provide information about what might be present and how this can be achieved, not a 10,000 word dissertation on the breeding cycle of bats. Martin Carver's way of thinking simply adds to any sense that a division between academia and commercial work is a terrible thing.
While I agree largely with what is being written here, I'm not sure where its getting us. We all know much of this and, at present sometimes we accept it in the commercial world, sometimes as an aspiration and occasionally as achievable. We are all aware of the divisions between the commercial and academic fields as well, and the various reasons (although I would suggest its a fairly simple list) why this schism exists.

I'm intrigued by the idea that archaeology can be something else, though. Can it transcend the current cult of the commercial that we all swim around in, depressed and with gripes that we can never seem to solve? Can it represent something else to society beyond those trudging tours around muddy fields followed by pensioners and middle-aged time-team fans (and beyond half-cocked, dumbed-down nonsense to appease viewers who can understand but can't be bothered to read a book)?

I'm a commercial archaeologist. I'm wrapped up in commercial archaeology, I contribute (I hope) to doing and producing good work which has academic value and where possible, I embrace the idea of inclusive community involvement and contribution. I've undertaken community based work in various forms in the past, although probably nothing beyond the standard types of projects that many of us at all levels do. In the past I've held the frustrations at the academic community who don't capitalise on the huge quanitites of data we produce, and frustration at the large number of academics who really should retire and stop clogging up the system (and I think that applies as readily to the commercial world as well, I should add - that isn't a gripe I hold as particularly relevant now or is relevant to this, nor a debate we need to get into on this thread).

However, I do not see this as being a justification for archaeology's existence either to society or to politicians or to the commercial markets we 'serve' in clearing away the archaeology they don't want to be there.

I hear what you're saying about the value of archaeology to commercial developers and in some limited areas this is embraced by them. If you're building a middle class gated community in Berkshire then maybe it will be a selling point. But if a developer is cramming as many plots into a surburban site in Manchester, Birmingham or Leeds to be sold as starter homes or 'value' properties as most housing developments are, they won't give a monkeys about what was there. The most you might get them to do is put up a banner or placard somewhere, outlining the projects findings and nice publicity piece on the local news. That said, image is worth a lot in the ongoing battle for big businesses to stave off the 'big, bad and corporate' image and exploiting archaeology for that is something developers across many industries already recognise as their primary proactive aim in hiring archaeology companies. I have no doubt commercial and academic archaeology can change and develop and improve and evolve into better things, but along those routes will always be the pitfalls of likeability to certain markets. University archaeology departments have been continually shut down or merged or shrunk over the past few years because universities are now largely business orientated and archaeology depts can rarely offer the types of income that medicine, engineering and various sciences etc can. Commercial archaeology will always be subject to the whim of developer's lobbies and the blessing of public interest and political support.

But the question is, where else can we go with this?

Are we destined to be slaves to the developers and to our own poorly evolved systems. And is the public destined to only view archaeology through the lens of a production company's cameras with a 'knowledgable' and 'likeable' fella fronting some slightly more complicated theory interspersed with interesting graphics and a lot of hyperbole?

Push on, people. Lets think anew!
I have just had this sent to me and very good it is too

Quote:Can I draw the attention of recent BAJR Site Hut posters to the following site report/book review, freely-accessible online by following the weblink address given below and then scrolling down to the 'Free Review' section at the bottom of the page. This review perfectly illustrates the exising symbiotic relationship between commercial archaeology and academic archaeology in Britain today, while highlighting their differences of approach and access to resources. It also makes interesting points about the value of 'local knowledge' and the difference between presentation of data and its contextual interpretation.

See: review by Henry Hurst of A. Simmonds et al. 2008 Life and Death in a Roman City. Excavation of a Roman Cemetery with a Mass Grave at 120-122 London Road, Gloucester. www.journalofromanarch.com/

The report hey are talking about is this one... pdf download
Henry Hurst, "Interpretative challenges from a well-studied cemetery at Gloucester", being a review of A. Simmonds, N. M?rquez-Grant & L. Loe, Life and death in a Roman city. Excavation of a Roman cemetery with a mass grave at 120-122 London Road, Gloucester [Image: new.GIF]


May I also say I like your style GPStone I like the way you are thinking around things.

I will be queit for a second or two as I would like to hear contributions and thoughts.
GPStone Wrote:I'm intrigued by the idea that archaeology can be something else, though. Can it transcend the current cult of the commercial that we all swim around in, depressed and with gripes that we can never seem to solve? Can it represent something else to society beyond those trudging tours around muddy fields followed by pensioners and middle-aged time-team fans (and beyond half-cocked, dumbed-down nonsense to appease viewers who can understand but can't be bothered to read a book)?

I have to say I'm quite confused by this whole thread. What are people actually asking for, or come to think about it, even talking about. The quoted paragraph seems to sum it up quite well. What do we want? Something different! What exactly and why? Er, not sure and don't know. The cult of the commercial? Things are pretty bad for everyone at present... Representing something more to to society? My introduction to archaeology was largely though trudging through muddy fields, but that was the whole point! What shiny alternative do people expect. It sometimes feels like the measure of public interest archaeology has had over the last few years - call it an extended Millennial fever, the influence of Time Team, or whatever - has never been higher, and yet there is this running thread that it's not enough, as if the public should be compulsorily engaged, forced to attend lectures and museums, seen to appreciate it in the way 'we' do. Hate to break it to everyone, but to most people it is of minimal interest, the pursuit of an interested minority, but you know what, that doesn't actually matter and it doesn't lessen it's value! I have little interest in a whole range of things, but I accept that they have value and are worthwhile. Perhaps just getting on with it would be a good idea? Solving our problems would be better achieved by higher moral standards in some people, rather than a willingness to exploit. We are only 'slaves to the developers' if we allow ourselves to be, a bit of self respect would go a long way.
I was hoping we could generate an open discussion on it. I'm not suggesting that we look at the potential for archaeology as a discipline or a commercial concept within the current scope of the commercial field. I suppose its blue-sky thinking in a way, and shouldn't really be focused on what 'we' want. Again, I think we all know the rough range of things we want in our current guise, this is about alternative ideas, not simply pushing forward within the parameters of commercial archaeology (we can do that anyway and I hope we will).

And with regard to public views on archaeology, its within our power as archaeologists to develop and change the concept of what it is, what we do and the uses of it as we see fit or want to explore. This is all hypothetical in that sense.

The issue of self respect isn't. Its precisely that lack of it that prevents us from exploring new ideas and pushing boundaries, but the reality is that we are at the whim of developers. If the development lobby was to decide to make a concerted effort to remove archaeology from the list of planning requirements, most of us would be out of a job (or out of our current jobs as archaeologists in the commercial field, at any rate) unless we could fight it using public and academic support. But again, that's a different issue, we can start a new thread on that one.
Q. What is produced? A. Information=knowledge.
Q. Why produce it? Knowledge is power.
Q. Who for? A. The communities we live in.

The principle aim of archaeology is discovery and research, with the commercial arm making the discoveries and the academics doing the research. The two cross over but the main point is what is in between? The rest of us. Stuck between these two monoliths fighting each other and also fighting for survival. Each monolith is in effect also cracked and fragmented. What 'archaeology' needs is gluing together. 'Archaeology' - the people who work in it as a profession and care about our heritage and want to see that it has relevence and meaning to all. Without that the three questions above should be binned and we should all go home and look for other work.
Meaning means value. Value for heritage is latent in all humanity. "Minimal interest". "Minority interest". Rubbish. Look at Saturdays Guardian in the Review section. We all know of the destruction of the Bamiyan buddhas. The Taliban did this to "consciously and deliberately turn their backs on Afganistan's long history... Today, in a political context of de-Talibanisation, we are returning to the notion of a historically open, culturally pluralist Afganistan". Many other examples could be sited of an elite using heritage (and its destruction) to underpin their power. Heritage is at the heart of all we do and all we are individually as a unique culture bearing species.
I could point out that visiting heritage sites/museums is the biggest recreational activity. Don't care. That would still leave open a charge of minority interest used as an insult. We all have our individual history, which connects us to our family history and then to our community/national/international history. There are no fault lines.
So where does 'archaeology' go from here after 21 years of being a profession? Commercial archaeologists are paid after the 'revolution' of 1990. Academics continue to be paid to research (and occassionally teach those pesky students). Community archaeology is even more fragmented than commercial archaeology. Lonely individuals, mostly, also struggling for crumbs of funding and fees. Closed little worlds not talking or helping each other. Jealous of others who may steal their ideas. But this is the time to come together and be the glue that binds the profession together. To present a unified face to the public. A face that says "lets work together to celebrate our shared heritage and story". We don't need to argue that it has meaning for everyone because they already know that, if they are asked. If they are talked to. All those who wish to work with and for the public need to get together and work together to push this agenda forward.
All the gripes about why we do this work, why is it so undervalued will be answered, if we just acknowledge that value comes from public engagement and public acclaim for this work.
We need a central point so that we can all get to know each other; to find out what we are doing; to share work and experiences and ideas in an open and trusting way. In this age of mass communication lets start talking and then meeting. Commercial archaeology has its part - academic archaeology has its part - we have a part to play also.
Matthew 10:28: And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (my italics)

Commercial archaeology is here to stay (perhaps) but if the attitude towards the archaeology by commercial units does not change - ie it is not ONLY a profit making exercise - we will be margialised and become Theme Park creators.
GnomeKing Wrote:... we might as well try to reform some of the fatuous and wind-baggy nonsense that has grown without much reference to fact.

Is that a reference to me? :I
I have come up with some silly comments recently on this forum, so hopefully here is a more solemn one to buck the trend.

Research for its own sake is a noble pursuit, valuable for the knowledge it generates, whether this is in archaeology or in particle physics. However, the resources for the funding of such research is finite, so research centres and their funding bodies, such as the UK treasury, have to make value judgements about what to fund, and how much. The focus is very much on science, as this is seen as having valuable and profitable outcomes for society. Academics in archaeology are caught in a fight for scarce and diminishing resources with well-established, prestigious academic subjects with a demonstrable reputation for developing economically beneficial outcomes- scientists, technologies etc. The intangible nature of the benefits accruing from arts and social science, and the comparatively lower level of income for arts graduates, puts the likes of research archaeologists on the back foot.

Commercial archaeology exists to fulfill a separate function, and is funded in an entirely different way. The funding of archaeological projects in the commercial sphere in the UK is dependent on individual developments and requirements for consideration of archaeological/cultural heritage impacts. Commercial archaeology (both units and curators) can help itself and research archaeology by improving the pay, conditions, training and quality of archaeologists by e.g. chartership status, and by making the fruits of their labour relevant to both the wider public and to academic audiences. Developing power structures that are not directly dependent on either government funding (e.g. curators) and developers (e.g. units) such as the IfA is important to developing the profession.

It's a shame that money takes such a prominent role in both commercial and academic archaeology, but we as a society have limited resources and need to mobilize those resources to match society's expectations as best we can. The best thing that we as individuals can do is to make our work relevant to our audiences - academic, public, curatorial and developers. In other words, do the best you can, and you'll be helping both the discipline and the profession as a whole!
Smile
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