I’ve been asked to write an opinion piece about the future of Swedish archaeology for a high-visibility venue. This, as you can imagine, I enjoy doing a lot. Here’s an excerpt from the piece as it’s looking at the moment.
Swedish academic archaeology should continue its on-going voyage back towards health and sanity, away from the pretentious introverted nadir of a decade ago, and be a robustly empirical science. We should return to a stricter definition of what archaeology is and what we will allow archaeological research funding to be used for. I submit, without any pretence to originality, that only such research is archaeology that aims to find out about how people lived in the past through study of material remains. If that is not what you want to do, then there are plenty of other university disciplines with skilled practitioners who will welcome you and judge your work in a competent manner. Yet we should collaborate even more than we do with specialists in other relevant empirical and historical disciplines. Not just buy data from them, but collaborate and co-author.
Archaeology should have a popular/populist slant designed to please tax payers. We should aim to be Time Team without the three-day fieldwork limit. We should study site types that are comprehensible to the layman and preferably do our fieldwork in or near densely populated areas. All other things being equal, a site that many tax payers can visit and have a personal relationship to is more valuable than one in a far-off desolate spot.
We should as far as possible avoid studying anything that is boring. Archaeology is after all not useful to anyone in the sense that food and housing and healthcare is useful. The hallmark of good archaeology, instead, is that it is fun. It is chocolate, not potatoes. And if it is not fun, then it is bad archaeology. Of course there is no accounting for taste, but I believe that there are many archaeological sites that nobody, scholar or layman, can see any fun in whatsoever. Particularly near the bottom ends of the monumentality and preservation-quality scales.
Academic archaeologists should collaborate much closer with contract archaeologists. Academics might for instance use their research funding to excavate well-preserved sites that a highway project is avoiding, or bits of an interesting site that extend outside the highway corridor. Then the research excavations and the rescue excavations in the area will provide context for each other, each producing richer results. In my opinion, Swedish academic archaeology needs contract archaeology far more than the latter needs the former.
We should collaborate more with amateur archaeologists. Their tax money funds public construction works and contract archaeology, which means that arguably they have a right to enjoy the process of archaeology, not just its products. And seen strictly from a selfish perspective, by stimulating popular engagement with archaeology we stand to gain better funding in the long run. Amateurs also offer valuable labour and local knowledge for under-funded research projects.