Sensible Archaeology?

Sensible. Tell me “sensible” and I’ll reply “shoes”. Sensible shoes is what your butch 60ish aunt and her partner wear when vacationing in Paris. Although my Ireland-based colleague Stuart Rathbone and I share a great many opinions, I don’t think it’s a good idea to call for sensible archaeology.

Empirical, yes please. Plainly phrased, indeed. Solidly argued, always. Do I scoff at pretentious academic jargon, like Stuart does? You bet your trowel I do. Should we avoid unfounded speculation, perhaps even accept the “positivist” moniker? Sure.

But rather than sensible archaeology, I think we should aim for mind-blowing, flamboyant, outrageous archaeology. Archaeology to make your hair stand on end and leave a damp spot in your knickers. Like the sequined red 3-inch heels your aunt’s partner changes into for a long night in Parisian boîtes de nuit after three days of walking the halls of the Louvre. Because if it ain’t fun, archaeology ain’t worth a damn.

Thanks to Cornelius Holtorf for the tip-off.

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Comments

  1. #1 Dan J
    October 9, 2010

    But rather than sensible archaeology, I think we should aim for mind-blowing, flamboyant, outrageous archaeology. Archaeology to make your hair stand on end and leave a damp spot in your knickers.

    I think you’re absolutely right. There should be excitement in order to engage the next generation of archaeologists. Very few would intend to become part of a group of stodgy old academics, while I’m sure that many would love to be part of the work of getting their hands dirty while showing the world what they’ve discovered.

  2. #2 Matt B.
    October 10, 2010

    So you agree with Stuart on every point except the name? Aren’t you just playing semantic tricks, a trait of the kind of archaeology you (rightly) despise?

  3. #3 Martin R
    October 10, 2010

    I want the label on the box to fit the contents. And I think it’s important that archaeology is not perceived as humdrum, plodding and mundane.

  4. #4 bomoore
    October 11, 2010

    “Mindblowing”, like the Discovery Channel? Please, archaeology needs to clean up its magic act. “Relic envy” has archaeologists inflating “finds” to religious status! Pot shard, bead, atlatl = complex civilization that predicted string theory 3,000 years ago.

    Best solution? Remove archaelogy from the sciences to the arts, which forgive, or encourage fantasy.

  5. #5 Martin R
    October 11, 2010

    No, not like the Disco Channel, please.

    Archaeology already is in the arts in Europe. It exposes us to a lot of nonsense from lit-crit and sociology, which explains why UK archaeological theory is so weird.

  6. #6 stripey_cat
    October 13, 2010

    My own experiences as a child were that archaeology was either desperately worthy and solemn, or even more desperately trying to be relevant, and managing about as well as your grandparents trying to use playground slang. There was very little space for just the sheer effing coolness (or awe, or however you want to describe that feeling) of admiring exquisite artifacts (I still think good flint arrowheads, well lit on black velvet, are as appealing as any jeweller’s display – thank-you, Dorchester museum display people in the late ’80s), or charging round some field site. The only possible problem I see with flamboyance is that it may seem strained if you’re having to make a conscious effort to achieve it.

  7. #7 Stuart Rathbone
    January 25, 2011

    Hi people, thanks for your comments I have belatedly come across.

    This is interesting as I don’t see a connection between what I have been agitating for and the subject suddenly becoming boring. For instance I think the dense and impenetrable language used in so many modern text is excruciatingly dull to read. Likewise the flamboyance you request could perhaps be more easily provided by good writing and story telling, rather than using peculiar explanations based on complex and controversial theories lifted from the social sciences.

    Case in point. Compare the late Ben Cullens “Contagious Ideas. On evolution, archaeology and Cultural Virus Theory” with Barry Cunliffe’s “The extraordinary adventures of Pytheus the Greek”. Which one provides the more riveting read? Which one makes the best use of some actual evidence?
    I would see this as a case where Cunliffe’s book is populist, well written, interesting to read and, in dealing with the very earliest historical fragments from Britain and Ireland, highly relevant. Cullen’s book may well be a flamboyant example of the wilder edges of archaeological research, but it exists in its own strange parallel universe where grammar, syntax, logic and common sense have all been crushed into paste after passing beyond the event horizon of deep theory (Flamboyant enough for you?).

    Stuart Rathbone