i-4a868e7c104a4a1cd3abb1eded0e083b-001_COVER229final222.jpgThe 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.

Comments

  1. #1 Matt B
    April 27, 2009

    Ah well. At my university (in Germany) we need at least half a year of digging experience in order to graduate.
    (At least I still do. Now that they have changed the university system here, the younger students only need a month or something ridiculous like that)

  2. #2 Jonathan Jarrett
    April 28, 2009

    I guess this hardly needs saying but I would be cautious about opinion pieces whose authors don’t use their real name. I can only speak about Cambridge archaeology degrees but the Cambridge-trained archaeologists I know certainly had digging experience at undergraduate level. One of them is now a Finds Liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which seems a better comparison to your biträdande länsantikvarier than the curatorial posts about which Amicus is writing, and the others are either still doing postgraduate study or have got jobs in the real world. 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 but a soundbite from someone, who admits that his or her case is not typical and that he or she has only been in post three months, sounding off. 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. I’d suggest at least reading the report before drawing conclusions, myself.

  3. #3 Martin R
    April 28, 2009

    Interesting! Could you please tell us who employs these UK curators?

    Sweden’s equivalent of PAS officers don’t work for the county council (länsstyrelsen), but for the county museum. This means that they are typically affiliated with an excavation unit, not with the body responsible for allocating developer money.

  4. #4 Jonathan Jarrett
    May 5, 2009

    Sorry to leave this one so long, I lost track of where I’d been commenting! The museum structure in the UK is not very uniform. There isn’t a structure of `county museums’, although there are many local museums and all fall under the auspices of the government’s Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. That parcels out funding and so on for projects but the museums are essentially self-governing. Some are administered by local councils, and some from private establishments; some, like mine, are parts of universities but get most of their money from an endowment. So the employers of a museum’s staff can be funded from many places. Some are certainly local council employees, and networks are set up to make sure, or try to, that they can appeal for help to staff from bigger museums when faced with something outside their expertise. We don’t get much call on that service though.

    The PAS, however, is centrally funded by the state, not by the councils. There are county archaeological units who do the digging and cataloguing, and those are as you say essentially funded by squeezing money from the developers; but as with so much in Britain there is also a centralised structure with better funding and a less useful remit running parallel to them, which is the PAS, whose intent is to record it all in one database, and contribute to identifications and expertising. They don’t however have to deal with storage, conservation or curation. So it’s a bit confusing…

  5. #5 Martin R
    May 5, 2009

    Thanks! What you say seems to go for museum curators in general. But I wonder about the curators that Amicus Curiae discussed, the ones who make decisions about contract archaeology. Who employs them? And what are they called if not “curators”?

  6. #6 utari
    July 20, 2010

    when i was child, i really wanna be archaeolog..but now i’m a scientists, but i still love about archaeology..

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