The May issue of Current Archaeology (#230) has an interesting piece about warfare in the British Neolithic. The UK has a lot of battle-dead inhumations. There’s even Neolithic battlefield archaeology of sorts at hillforts that have been besieged by archers and thus are full of flint arrowheads to this day. I heard a paper on this topic by Roger Mercer at an EAA conference back in ~1996, so I knew a little bit about it already.
Much of the issue is about the differentiation of Roman “villa” sites into functional categories such as shrines, tax-collecting depots and rural manors. In Scandyland we have nothing as visible as villa sites from the 1st Millennium, mainly because even the top-level elite up here used exclusively perishable building materials at the time. Our shrines and manors show up only if you metal detect them, which unfortunately isn’t being done much because of our laws.
An opinion piece by the pseudonymous writer Amicus Curiae, “Friend of the Court”, has some interesting things to say about UK’s heritage curators (minions of the County Archaeologists?). Apparently they correspond in their duties to our biträdande länsantikvarier, but their level of proficiency isn’t uniformly great if we’re to believe Amicus Curiae.
… curators without field experience have become, as Don Alhambra put it, ‘plentiful as tabby cats in point of fact, too many.’ Often they are recent graduates. The results are predictable. They perceieve archaeological potential where there isn’t any, and miss it where there is. [...] If I may refer you to the [Institute for Archaeologists]‘s latest survey, Profiling the Profession: ‘The university system does not prepare students for any type of professional archaeological work.’ Courses do not embrace excavation experience any more than literacy or numeracy, as employers have testified.
This calls to mind the recent findings of the National Agency for Higher Education regarding Swedish archaeology training. May the UK situation be due to a need among universities to prioritise putting asses in lecture-hall seats over teaching dull & gritty professional skills? Or is it because academe is cultivating its own ivory tower version of theoretical archaeology?
The mag also has a great big catalogue of digs in the UK that will welcome volunteer workers this summer.
Update 28 April: Dear Reader Jonathan comments,
The quote that Amicus disingenuously gives from the report (which can be downloaded as a PDF here) isn’t from any part of its conclusions, but from a sample response included as an appendix (p. 218). Thus, it’s not a finding of the report or its authors … I can’t immediately see anything in the report proper that supports the point Amicus apparently wants to make.
Amicus here seems to have taken on the anti-intellectual rôle of demeaning professionals and academics as ivory-tower dilettantes, perhaps as an editorial appeal to CA’s amateur and lay readership.