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Archaeology's crossroad; working together or striding apart?
BAJR's Antiquity piece.

In this climate of stringent cuts and quantifiable values, where can we as archaeologists find a foothold on an increasingly steep and slippery professional slope? Discovery and research should be fundamental to our profession alongside public inclusion and dissemination of knowledge, yet we only have a vague understanding of what we produce, why we produce it and who it is produced for.

In Martin Carver's editorial in Antiquity (December 2010), he contends that our currency is knowledge which holds equal value with the output of any other profession. By increasingly bowing to commercialism we risk losing touch with that value. Knowledge is no longer our official currency: at best it represents the loose change rattling around in our pockets......................

Feel free to be
a) offended
b) disgruntled
c) in agreement
BAJR Wrote:By increasingly bowing to commercialism we risk losing touch with that value. Knowledge is no longer our official currency: at best it represents the loose change rattling around in our pockets......................

The reason that the other professions of which you speak are held in higher regard is because to a certain extent their knowledge is believed to have a commercial value. The real problem we have when compared to say geotechnical specialists is that if our findings are a bit woolly the bridge doesn't collapse.
D. Vader
Senior Consultant

Vader Maull & Palpatine
Archaeological Consultants

A tremor in the Force. The last time I felt it was in the presence of Tony Robinson.
One could say that if the astonomers make a mistake about the presence of a planet 45 million light years away, the bridge does not collapse either, or if the artist uses a different brush, or the writer creates a new ending to the book... I know what you mean, but the premise is that knowedge itself is a valuable asset.
I remember a joke that was told in a copy of the New Scientist a few years ago:

Scientists ask, "Why does this thing happen?" Engineers ask, "How does this thing happen?". Philosophers ask, "Do you want fries with that?"

Unfortunately archaeologists can be lumped alongside the philosophers!
Natural Philosophy, shame there.
Leading Scientists (and probably engineers) certainly turn to philosophy for inspiration and is the salt that makes everything a bit more palatable.

Knowledge is also not a preserve of the elite - to say that archaeology must re-focus on its only real p[product (ie knowledge) is not the same as suggesting archaeology should be more academic or exclusive.

In contrary there is substantial interest ('demand') for archaeology in public arenas - - knowledge and public access are mutually reinforcing, but also mutually diminishing when declining.
Knowledge Creation should be the centre of the Game Plan.

(anyway, a real philosopher would ask 'do you REALLY want fries with that?')
Our currency is knowledge. It just so happens that knowledge of the kind that we trade in isn't highly valued at this moment in time, or maybe it's easy to dismiss. Perhaps we have to take the two threads of this discussion and find a way of bridging them (we might need some information engineers for that).

I don't agree with Martin Carver. Whilst I think that there has been a significant bowing to commercialism over the past decade or two (this is a profession of sorts, we operate in a commercial environment), there is research and disseminated work being chucked at bookshelves all over the country and eminating from commercial archaeologists and archaeology firms which in many cases surpasses the output of academic individuals and institutions in quality and relevance, if not quantity. The struggle to marry the two and still get paid for it is something worthy of debate but not that I can immediately think of any solutions to.

I suppose what I'm saying is, I think we know the value of our knowledge, we could do a much better job of disseminating it and communicating with those who are interested in it, but it isn't a particularly commercially valuable asset unless those who are interested transpose that into political support for the commercial aspects of our knowledge production and then we can be free to pursue it to our hearts content (well, as long as we can generate the support for it).

Those professions with knowledge which is considered to be commercially viable often don't engage the public in the way we do. That said, architects design buildings with visability and asthetic in mind and are paid to do so; there aren't that many astronomers and the work many of them do is considered valuable in certain areas of the sciences where their knowledge is considered to have a commercial value; painters get paid to produce specific art-work or produce it knowing it will have a commercial value or they do something else to earn money and paint on the side ......or they don't get to eat. I don't like capitalist commercialism [understatement!] and this is one of the reasons, but its definately here.
Quote:knowledge and public access are mutually reinforcing
Absolutely. and this is the point that has to be made, and fired across the sky in 100ft high letters.

Quote: I think we know the value of our knowledge, we could do a much better job of disseminating it and communicating with those who are interested in it
Which I would say, many are not allowed to, whether they want to or not. Even if we do understadn it, as you say, we (often) fail to communicate it. THere are of course many occasions for commercial work enlightening us all, but there is no reason to see ourselves as heritage heroes.

I have said it many time and will say it again. Commercial archaeology should embrace what it is.... Temporal Contamination Removal.

Make money, and get what you can... but as you see in other threads, the Minerals lobby is getting unhappy - the we don't owe you a job mentality which I encountered twice today with two clients - and fair enough, this is money... not knowledge, and it is their money.

I now carry out work which is of benefit to people. Yup... archaeology that is fun and useful... (currently, a Walled Garden, a Primary SChool garden with a hillfort and rigs, a year long festival of art, archaeology and ecology, a film project and a field school) It is pure knowledge, but pure useful. And I often get paid. Wink

Thanks for adding to the discussion GPStone.

I actually agree with much of what you write, but feel archaeology needs to re-examine its heart.
I have some sympathy with Martin's view, but do feel that berating commercial archaeology is an exercise in futility. Commercial archaeology is what it is.

Where perhaps there is common cause would be to ask the question that Martin fails to address 'What has academic archaeology done in the past 20 years to embrace the huge amount of data that commercial archaeology has produced and conveniently left in archives all over the country'.....answers in an application to the HEFCE please!!
With peace and consolation hath dismist, And calm of mind all passion spent...
Which is why in my piece I decide to berate everyone. (myself included)

It is hard to argue with this

Quote: Knowledge is no longer our official currency: at best it represents the loose change rattling around in our pockets, and accepting mitigation archaeology and preservation in situ as methodologies for managing the archaeological resource ensures a lack of progress and decline in data and information.

without having to point at 'the other' and say... but they are doing it too, as if this somehow justifies commercial archaeology.

Commercial archaeology has left records over the country, commercial archaeology has done many great things , commercial archaeology reports also relate specifically to exactly the brief (well thats the job of course) so a roman site that can be left in situ remains as that... a Roman site... er... um... So a saxon cemetery is fully excavated but the village that it comes from is not as it lies outside the development area... er um... the roman road that leads to a river is recorded, but there is no attempt to look for how it gets across. Constraints from commercial requirement.

Thats just the way it is. But is it archaeology? Is archaeology not about following the lead? joining the dots? understanding as much about the whole? Or does it stop at the site boundary and stop at the preserved in situ deposit or perhaps even the end of the contractual period. Archaeology really does not.

Can I do the same to Academics? yes... what about community groups... probably... (the Open Archive system was carefully given no help or support by those that could for example, and was designed to cheaply sort that issue)

All I argue for is that the various groups stop saying it is not their fault, but get together and make it work.

Whats has anyone done to embrace anything in the past 20 years?
I think I see what you mean now. And yes, I agree, commercial archaeology as it is now should embrace what it is in many respects. I'm not sure the minerals lobby are necessarilly pushing to eliminate 'those pesky archaeologists', but I do think they have concerns which they feel are legitimate, and in many ways so do I.

That isn't what I wanted to say, though. A number of the now larger companies (and some of the smaller ones for that matter) were originally structured with the aim of using their commercial income to support the development of non-commercial outlets (lets ignore the fact that this never came to fruition for a variety of reasons). Do you think that this, should it be returned to, would offer something towards what you're getting at?

Or are you suggesting we should move this debate on and push forward this reexamination as individuals, aiming to take our own personally accrued wealth of knowledge and use archaeology itself as a tool within communities and for a completely different (non-heritage) purpose?

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