Current Archaeology 232

i-d6f246fd71dd13c2ee91235202320dda-001_COVER232.jpgCurrent Archaeology’s July issue offers a lot of good reading, of which I particularly like the stories on human origins (see below) and garden archaeology at Kenilworth Castle. But I have two complaints.

First point of criticism. The editors of CA have this weird habit of doing “media tie-ins” without any clear indication of authorship. In the past three issues were excerpts from a forthcoming book by Barry Cunliffe. They weren’t billed as written by Cunliffe. Instead you got the impression that a nameless writer had read his book manuscript and paraphrased it for the magazine. “Cunliffe believes this”, “Cunliffe says that”.

In the current issue this gets taken even further. Here’s a really interesting eight-page feature on the predecessors and origin of Homo sapiens. It has no by-line, but its intro hints that it’s got something to do with a BBC documentary hosted by University of Bristol anthropologist Alice Roberts. The piece is illustrated i.a. with three pictures of Roberts. But she isn’t the author of the piece, nor is one Chris Stringer who is mentioned in a box at the end as advisor to the series. Roberts hardly gets to say a word in the text, and Stringer isn’t quoted at all. To learn who is talking in this magazine article, you have to flip to the table of contents where we finally learn that CA features editor Neil Faulkner wrote it. But whose opinions is he relaying? His own? Alice Roberts’s? Chris Stringer’s? Other people’s mentioned in the piece?

Dear CA editors, it would strengthen the credibility of your excellent work if every piece in the mag had a clear indication of authorship.

Second point of criticism. On p. 26 editor Lisa Westcott gives a garbled (folk?) etymology of the word “bereaved”. In modern English it means “recently struck by the death of a loved one”. Westcott traces the origin of the word to Early Modern raiders on the Scottish border, “reavers”, suggesting that “bereaved” entered the English language as meaning “having been attacked by reavers”. This is a case where correlation does not entail causation. Both “reaver” and “bereaved” instead hark back to a common ancestor, the ancient verb “to reave” (cognate with Sw. röva), meaning “to rob”. The entry of “bereaved” into English thus has nothing to do with Early Modern Scottish robbers in particular.


7 thoughts on “Current Archaeology 232

  1. I recently read George MacDonal Fraser’s, (author of the excellent “Flashman” series), “Steel Bonnets: The Story of the Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers” in which he said much the same thing about the origin of the word.


  2. Thank you for your kind words about Current Archaeology, but as the founder and for 30 years the editor of Current Archaeology, may I comment on what I have always intended Current Archaeology to be.

    I have always intended Current Archaeology to be a ‘news’ magazine, based on The Economist which is a magazine that it is totally anonymous: no one knows who the editor is or who the journalists are. Everything appears anonymously, and I think that is its strength. Many other newspapers abide by this to some extent: at The Times for instance both the editorials and the obituaries are anonymous and in the newspaper world generally one relies on reports from say Reuters to give the information.

    In reading Neil Faulkner’s condensations of Barry Cunliffe’s book, you are reading Barry Cunliffe’s views, not Neil Faulkner’s, which are in fact very different. If you want to read more or to verify the theme, go to the book itself! But we are not an academic journal, where the authorship is important: we are a magazine, reporting as fairly as we can on the ‘news’ from the archaeological world.

    We have always tried to get away from the habit of so many magazines of employing ‘star’ columnists who pontificate on topics of the day. Instead we have reporters who report to the best of their ability on what is happening in archaeology, and the credit or blame for the ideas should go to our sources. Though now that we have four major writers, we do normally report who writes what.

    Admittedly with the growth of the magazine we have a bigger staff, and the younger generation has lots of new ideas. We are also faced by the problem of the falling off of ‘news’ due to the professionalization of archaeology, – hence the ‘media tie-ins’. But we remain essentially a ‘news’ paper.


  3. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I take it that with “professionalisation” you are referring to contract archaeology. It is a huge business. Why has its proliferation led to a dearth of archaeological news?


  4. An interesting question. But certainly we are rarely contacted by contract archaeologists with news of their latest discoveries.

    I think the real reason is that priorities have changed. In the old days, when digs were done by volunteers, it was essential to keep in touch with the volunteers and amateurs who make up our readers. Today the bosses are the planning departments and the construction firms who actually pay for the work. Thus the major priority is to cultivate the local newspapers which are read by the local planning officers and the local councillors who control the planning permissions. And the second priority consists of the national newspapers and television — if you can get on it — because they again affect the politicians who control the planning process.

    I am afraid that our readers — the amateurs and volunteers play no role in the planning process and thus we come low down in the list of priorities for the scanty time that professional archaeologists have to do publicity or to publicise their work.


  5. But is it not true that today the volume of volunteer-staffed fieldwork is the same as or higher than 30 years ago, and that the growth of contract archaeology has occurred in addition to the volunteer projects? This would suggest that the amount of fieldwork news available to CA every year is about the same. If indeed contract archaeology has no interest in communicating with CA.


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