Following up on Saturday’s entry on the bleak prospects for many UK archaeology departments, I’d like to share a remark made by a senior colleague a few years back.
All archaeological research covers a certain area of the world. What parts get covered is largely decided by 19-year-old non-archaeologists.
The mechanism is simple. For reasons of convenience and economy, most academic archaeologists study the region where their workplace is located. Regardless of any on-going research, an academic department is dependent on students for its livelihood. Therefore, if students avoid a department, then it will have to close, and archaeological research into that part of the world will cease.
The example my colleague pointed to was Umeå in northern Sweden (c. lat. N 64°). Our population is concentrated in the country’s southern third. Umeå has (after the short life of the Östersund department) the only archaeology department in the northern two thirds. Rumours about its imminent demise have been circulating for years, and it hasn’t advertised an open position in the past decade. If this department were to be closed down, Uppsala (c. lat. N 60°) would once again be Sweden’s northernmost archaeology department. But Sweden extends to c. lat. N 69°! And whose call is it? The National Science Council’s? The Ministry of Education’s? Yes, to some degree. But largely it is up to Sweden’s 19-year-old non-archaeologists. If they choose to study the subject in Umeå, academic research into the archaeology of northern Sweden will continue.