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 MoesgÃ¥rd.
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?