Current Archaeology 237

i-e0af2590c530b6d9d49018ecfd6eb74b-001_coverca238.jpgCurrent Archaeology’s December issue offers one of the mag’s signature feature write-ups of new books, this time The Complete Ice Age: how climate change shaped the world by Brian Fagan et al. Interesting stuff, where the following passage on the coming of our own species into Ice Age Europe struck me as particularly illuminating:

“In the past, climate change had either forced movement or engendered physical evolution [in the area's hominid population]. Homo sapiens, supremely intelligent, responded to new challenges through cultural evolution. The interaction between nature and humanity now produced social progress: a gradual accumulation of knowledge and technique, of understanding and skill, that enabled human groups to solve problems by inventing new tools and methods.”

Then there’s a piece on a razed henge monument found at the river end of the ritual avenue that leads to Stonehenge. It may well be that the Stonehenge bluestone orthostats originally formed this riverside henge and were then hauled up to their current site. They were famously quarried in the Preseli hills of Wales, and I just had to check: regrettably, “Presley” and “Preseli” are not cognates. “Presley” is an English word meaning “priest’s meadow”, and “Preseli” is a Welsh word whose etymology I haven’t been able to trace.

A scary story is told about Bamburgh Castle in Northumbria where a senior British archaeologist conducted extensive fieldwork in the 50s, 60s and 70s. This man behaved with such criminal negligence that when he died, some of the documentation and finds were found in his home, a lot was found in hastily abandoned and decades-locked site offices in the castle, and much is simply missing. An unfortunate fieldwork team is now trying to make sense of what he did on site by means of meta-archaeology, digging to document what the earlier excavator did. Needless to say, archaeology would have been much better off if the first campaign at Bamburgh Castle had never taken place at all. Myself, I get really antsy if it takes more than a few months for me to submit my final archive report of a dig.

In a column about “independent archaeology”, which seems to be the British term for well-organised amateur archaeology, CA’s publisher Andrew Selkirk (who comments here at times) tells interesting news from a conference he’s been to. He thinks community archaeology funding is too restricted in the UK. And he lets slip a few asides that show that he doesn’t like the EU, political correctness, bureaucracy, the left wing or overly professional museums. I am unfamiliar with CA’s past, but statements like these make me wonder if the magazine has some kind of anti-government well-to-do hobbyist background? What is Current Archaeology’s official position on fox hunting?

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Comments

  1. #1 Gavin
    November 28, 2009

    I would characterise Andrew Selkirk’s viewpoint as right-wing libertarian – basically he seems to oppose government interference in the rights of the upper classes to do archaeology wherever and whenever they feel like.

    Much of what he writes is barking mad (but never boring) but overall it is a much-needed breath of fresh air in the dreary and paranoid world of officially regulated British archaeology.

  2. #2 Jonathan Jarrett
    November 28, 2009

    I don’t know when Selkirk took over CA but the older articles I’ve checked in it suggest to me that it’s always been a publication with a mission of getting scholarly-standard archæological news out to the general public, quickly and comprehensibly. From this it’s quite understandable that a lot of its audience are hobbyists and enthusiasts, and that someone with Selkirk’s stance about things that could be seen as ‘in the way’ of that mission could do well at the helm. I do worry a little about some of the magazine’s editing of its contributors but overall it is a good thing and all too often the only publication some things get, simply because it’s quick and easy.

  3. #3 David P
    November 30, 2009

    Andrew Selkirk is the founder and owner of CA. I would agree with Gavin that his views are right-wing libertarian (and he’s never made any secret of this); generally whilst his personal views come out in the comment articles, they don’t seem to imping on wider editorial decisions about the sites/topics covered. Its also salutory to note that one of the associate editors of CA is Neil Faulkner, an archaeologist whose politics are firmly and explicity situated on the left of the political spectrum.

    With ref to the Bamburgh, it is worth flagging up that Brian Hope-Taylor (responsible for the early excavations at Bamburgh and Yeavering) had some major mental health issues which impacted directly on his failure to publish his work at the site; he’d certainly succesfully published some of his other sites, such as Yeavering.

  4. #4 Martin R
    November 30, 2009

    Too bad there was no institutional safety net that could catch Hope-Taylor’s project when he fell through.

  5. #5 Geoff Carter
    November 30, 2009

    Some of our most important archaeology was saved, elucidated, trashed, and wasted, by a combination of enthusiastic amateurs, official indifference, professional, and academics.

    In about 1982 I saw the official ‘backlog’ list of unpublished sites; it read like a Who’s Who of British archaeology, not all of who had mental health issues.

    This is may, in part, reflect a deeper issue, excavation and post excavation is stressful, especially when poorly funded, destroying important archaeology carries huge responsibility. Further, post-excavation and interpretation is a difficult and challenging process, requiring a different set of skills, for which may people are poorly prepared.

  6. #6 Graeme Young
    December 2, 2009

    The past is a very different place. With regard to the model under which archaeological research is conducted this is certainly true. Its difficult to compare the way that archaeology was approached decades ago with today and all the standards for research design and management. In the instance of individual cases its probably not very fair either.

    I for one am just glad that the RCAHMS and EH acted so quickly to save what they could when Hope-Taylor’s final illness reached its sad conclusion. At least now we have the opportunity to complete his work. He may have been to our eyes eccentric, but he was also a careful observer and a meticulous recorder.

  7. #7 Martin R
    December 2, 2009

    And again, the system needs safeguards to keep one man’s mental illness from trashing an important site. We have less respect for eccentric senior figures today than people did back then. After an unreported season of digging, I believe today it is usually quite hard to get a permit for the next season in many Western countries.

  8. #8 Dan Milton
    December 4, 2009

    http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O40-PreseliHills.html

    Preseli Hills Pemb. Precelly, or Percelly 1868. The name renders Welsh Mynydd Preseli (Welsh mynydd), probably from Welsh prys, ‘wood’.

    A. D. MILLS. “Preseli Hills.” A Dictionary of British Place-Names. Oxford University Press. 2003. Encyclopedia.com. 4 Dec. 2009 < http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

  9. #9 Martin R
    December 4, 2009

    Thanks, Dan!

  10. #10 STORI
    December 8, 2009

    PRESELI in MACEDONIAN means to move. The word is most probably of ancient Macedonian origin and it is still being used in Macedonian language today. The meaning of druid is also of Macedonian origin. Drwo=tree, Vidi=see, Voda=water

  11. #11 STORI
    December 8, 2009

    The blocks were moved from PRESELI Mountain to Stonehenge.

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