Recent Archaeomags

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I’m very pleased to have made it back onto the courtesy subscription list of Current Archaeology, which is a popular zine about UK archaeology. Not only does it offer good writing and photography, but it covers an area whose archaeology is actually relevant to what I do. Not too many millennia ago you could walk a straight dry-shod line from Gothenburg to Edinburgh.

I recently received Current Archaeology #250, whose cover story is a collection of attempts to look in a positive light at the future of UK archaeology after radical public spending cuts. These were occasioned by two unfortunate things that hit the UK at the same time: a severe economic recession and a Conservative government. To me, the most interesting voices in the ten-page story are those of my Leftie radical colleague Neil Faulkner who calls for revolutionary resistance against the cuts, and Lord Rupert Redesdale, MP for the Liberal Democrats and known for his Green opinions.

Redesdale first appeared on my radar as author of the preface to the 2009 volume Metal Detecting and Archaeology (which I reviewed), where he draws an interesting parallel: the UK’s amateur metal detectorists are a semi-rural cultural resistance movement against the central authorities of the same kind as, though less posh than, the fox-hunting crowd. Redesdale is chairman of England’s All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group, and I can only wish that Sweden had politicians who cared enough about my subject to form a similar work group.

I share a number of views with this member of the UK government, regarding archaeological hedonism and the prime importance of not losing sight of who the target audience is. Writes Redesdale,

“There is still enormous interest in archaeology, as is shown by the large numbers of students who have taken archaeology degrees over the last two decades. However, there are few jobs in archaeology and much of the archaeological work undertaken is in the realm of the developers. There has been a major failure in making local people aware of what has been learnt from the thousands of digs that have been undertaken, and how it could enrich their sense of place in the local community: the real crux of why archaeology is being hit so hard. Local people have been disenfranchised by a profession that should be based on disseminating local information. The tens of millions of pounds that has been spent on archaeology in London alone, which has generated vast reams of grey literature (which almost no one has read), is a massive failure that lies squarely with the archaeological community.

The present cuts, whilst devastating in their impact, could give the impetus for the industry to change direction. What is the purpose of archaeology, if not to excite and promote wonder at the rich and varied landscape in which we live? We cannot rely on academic theses to be the only product, if we want local communities to devote scarce resources to preserving our heritage.”

Other highlights of this CA issue are eight pages on the Gristhorpe Early Bronze Age oak-log inhumation (the academic treatment of which appeared in Antiquity shortly before the CA piece) and five pages on richly furnished Roman burials at Hungate in York.

Skalk is another pop-sci magazine with great writing, great images and coverage of an area that interests me: yndige Denmark. The December issue was yet another example of something I’ve complained about in the past: not enough archaeology. After eight pages of Late Palaeolithic arrow-shaft sanders and Medieval churches with skull niches, Skalk moves on to 20 pages of written Danish history. I read it all with some interest, but I do prefer news about the country’s stellar archaeological record. In fact, if Sweden has something cool in archaeology, Denmark always has even cooler and more plentiful examples of it. And when Sweden has something that Denmark does not have, then it’s pretty much a boring elk-trapping pit. I wish I had a job at Moesgård.

The summer issue for 2010 of Archaeology Southwest, published in Tucson, Arizona, recently reached subscribers. The theme of the issue is “social identity in the Northern San Juan”, an arid area full of of pueblo sites in the Four Corners region (mainly in Utah and Colorado). Interesting stuff and highly exotic to an ignorant Scandy like myself.

Archaeology Magazine’s Jan/Feb issue has a piece on an amendment to the NAGPRA federal repatriation law. I may want to write a separate entry on this as I, being a citizen of the world and a lover of science, absolutely loathe reburial, particularly on nationalistic grounds. I don’t care if you’re a Swede, a Sioux, a Jew or a gnu, you do not have greater right than anybody else to the archaeological record – even if somebody did commit atrocities against your great grandfather.

A feature piece on rock art at Djulirri in northern Australia is really interesting as the site has lots of “contact art”: aboriginal people painting various overseas ships and people that they have come into contact with over the centuries.

In other news, I was very pleased to receive a call this morning from the National Heritage Board. As reported here recently, Swedish metal-detector legislation is likely to see an overhaul soon. I have now been invited along with several well-known colleagues to speak at a hearing on the subject. I was also asked to help find a good Swedish amateur detectorist who would be willing to give a talk. Maybe I should offer the participants to write guest entries here afterwards?

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Comments

  1. #1 dogteam
    January 27, 2011

    Paul Tacons’ work on the Djulirri rock art is something that I do follow….he has also written some very interesting Anthrozoology articles on the relationship between man/dogs/wolves, which is a particular interest of mine.
    One of the rock art sites that he’s studying appears to show a thylacine being used to carry packs. Neat stuff.

  2. #2 Geoff Carter
    January 27, 2011

    Re Current arch/state of the world.
    I feel obliged to point out; in Britain most the workers of the commercial archaeology sector – those that actually do most of the archaeology, was lost their jobs 2 years ago; 1600 redundancies only just registered a flicker of interest in our House of Lords.
    I would add, somewhat cynically, if academics actually ‘did’ archaeology they might produce something relevant and interesting, or at least be able to train some archaeologist who could.
    ‘Grey literature’ is a failure in the legislative framework, and a cost saving measure.

  3. #3 Squigit
    January 27, 2011

    I’m a little surprised by your NAGPRA comment. I almost feel the same way, except that I’m well aware of the history of archaeology and anthropology-Native relations in the US so I just find it disturbing that the law was needed in the first place. Not only that, but NAGPRA and the movement behind it wasn’t really about archaeology at all…it would take me forever to go into it here, but I highly recommend Skull Wars by David Hurst Thomas as a good starting point.

  4. #4 Ann Klein
    January 28, 2011

    Glad to hear you are coming to Minnesota. Not a hotbed of archeology, but very big on Scandianavian history. My experiences in Southwest field work (New Mexico)were some of the best memories of that part of the country. If you suceed at work in that area, you can work anywhere. Being able to tell what is an adobe wall from the surrounding mud it was made of is a real skill. Now in Minnesota, all I can dig is frozen snow!

  5. #5 Jonathan Jarrett
    January 29, 2011

    There’s a tension, though, isn’t there, between the positions you’ve outlined here about getting up popular interest in archæology and denying disproportionate popular claims to it. To put it more simply, if you’re going to try and get people to care about their past, you have to be ready for them starting to feel as if it’s theirs! Where that’s human remains, and there’s an ancestral connection that can be imagined, it’s always going to be tricky to tell people “these are your past” at the same time as telling them, “and they’re scientific objects with no remaining human qualities so back off”. NAGPRA is one way of tackling this; I don’t know of anywhere that’s got it *more* right except New Zealand whose recent equalizing of Maori culture (recent as in last forty years) is exemplary, but also only possible because the British just didn’t manage to exterminate the Maori enough to ignore their rights.

    As far as outreach goes, meanwhile, it must be said that London has been abnormally terrible for the UK in this respect. I think that this is because most projects think that the (excellent) Museum of London (and its associated and well-known Archaeology division) have it covered so they don’t have to do anything by way of outreach themselves. But if you follow the Archaeology in Europe blog, you’ll see there announcement after announcement of some local UK project holding a study day or community sessions or whatever. Just not in London…

  6. #6 Martin R
    January 29, 2011

    Well, thing is, in my culture we don’t believe in ethnic identities. We see them all as group-cohesive fictions. So I’m happy to allow the modern versions of Indian tribes to govern the treatment of, say, 19th century burials and later. Prior to that, I can’t see that they have any Blut-und-Boden rights. And the locals you mention are mainly Europid by now, while the 18th century tribe was removed to some distant badlands reservation long ago.

  7. #7 Bill Poser
    January 31, 2011

    With regard to NAGPRA, I agree that it is outrageous to rebury old remains. There is a legitimate motivation for NAGPRA, namely the fact that some physical anthropologists and archaeologists raided recent cemeteries, which when done to white cemeteries constituted grave robbing and desecration. I favor a limited version of NAGPRA, one that would forbid the desecration of recent cemeteries and require reburial of remains stolen from them, but leave remains from older sites and isolated burials to science. While some native tribes do have real spiritual objections to disturbing human remains, it is quite clear that in many cases what is really at issue is control of history and rejection of science.