Editorial

By Carver, Martin | Antiquity, March 2006 | Go to article overview

Editorial


Carver, Martin, Antiquity


The Danish government, often a leader in archaeological matters, has provided a sum of money for training its PhD students for the world of work. 'Work' in this case largely means working in universities and museums, for which one key qualification is naturally deemed to be the writing of academic papers. Responsibility for tutoring Denmark's archaeology students in the business of publication was accorded to the department at Aarhus, which duly held a workshop for them in late 2005. There the students were told how to prepare a paper and how to choose a publisher, and there was a lively discussion about the central issue--who are we doing this for? As usual, the academics insisted that it was the referees that would control the selection (and thus the research that got published), while those publishers present attempted to persuade us that it was the market--the readers--that would determine the value of the research in the long term, by buying it or not.

Denmark's most read archaeological publication is probably the Danish language periodical Skalk, founded by Harald Andersen in 1957 and still very much a private enterprise. It is lively but choosy, rejects 60 per cent of its submissions, and by no means trivialises research: it provides the latest Danish archaeology for the busy professional. It's probably time we stopped calling this type of journal 'popular' or as Glyn Daniel would say 'haute vulgarisation'. Done like Skalk, it is a necessary part of the research communication system: and its contributors are paid. Danish students have many of the same kinds of outlet as other European students, but perhaps recognise more than most that completing a PhD is no longer enough. If you want to get a job doing archaeology in a university, you need to get publishing long before that, in media both recreational and lofty.

My colleague Dr Humphrey Harumpher was not invited to the workshop, but that never stops him giving an opinion to any who will listen (in this case me). 'Professionalising post-graduates is poppycock', he alliterated, angrily. 'The PhD course is a tryst between an individual and the unknown, the only time in the whole of a life where you are free to read what you like, go where you like, waste time if you like and think the thoughts you want to think--wherever they lead. This is the only way to produce new ideas, new directions, great art and some mildly independent archaeological theory. Who wants the government interfering with this deeply personal and spiritual experience? Might as well try and teach them how to make love'. Humphrey has yet to be fully professionalised himself--but he is on a waiting list to have the operation. (He is in no hurry, thinking it will probably prove fatal).

It's a pleasure to draw attention to the appearance of new books on the archaeology of China. Those of us teaching world archaeology courses have had to rely for decades on milky pictures and old newspaper cuttings. But not any more. Li Liu's State Formation in Early China (with Xingcan Chen) (Duckworth 2003) is followed by her brilliant The Chinese Neolithic (Cambridge University Press 2004). What Neolithic in any country has been treated to such a detailed and lucid presentation, and such rational modelling? The nursery of China's first emperors turns out to be a place of political experiment in which the religious leader in the form of the shaman is a principal player. With a spring breeze of common sense she bangs no theoretical chime bells, but allows social and environmental voices to be engaged in dialogue: 'In China the regional Neolithic cultures experienced different trajectories toward social complexity, which must have been affected, to some extent or other, by the particular ecological settings in which these ancient stratified societies arose' (2004: 32). Amen to that; it seems that history, and a changing environment, actually happens after all.

For the full imperial glory one has The Formation of Chinese Civilization (Yale University Press 2005) in which a galaxy of authors edited by Sarah Allan take us from Beijing (Peking) man to the end of the Hart with large numbers of juicy pictures. …

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