`It's Better to Dig Than Dance': Archaeological Method and Theory in Antiquity 1927-2002. (Special Section)

By Darvill, Timothy | Antiquity, December 2002 | Go to article overview

`It's Better to Dig Than Dance': Archaeological Method and Theory in Antiquity 1927-2002. (Special Section)


Darvill, Timothy, Antiquity


Introduction

Right from the start, papers and notes dealing with archaeological methods and theoretical perspectives have featured strongly between the covers of ANTIQUITY, jostling for attention with exciting new discoveries, popular pieces on well-known sites and, of course, controversial finds and claims such as those from Glozel. Including method and theory was a brave move by O.G.S. Crawford on two fronts. First, in relation to Crawford's aim of establishing a popular journal of interest to what he called `an intelligent public anxious to be enlightened' in archaeological matters (1955: 173); and second, because archaeology in the 1920s was only just beginning to establish itself as a recognized subject, as Crawford saw it a discipline uniquely `concerned with the development of the human race and of the various forms of civilization which it has evolved' (1955: 178).

Crawford was a practical man with academic interests, and in leafing through the first volume we find both sides of his character amply represented. A discussion of orientation in the March issue provides a set of conceptual tools and terminology that might be as useful to today's phenomenologists as they were to ANTIQUITY's new subscribers (interestingly, the next article in the March 1927 issue was on Stonehenge as an astronomical instrument). In June, the use of place-names in archaeology was the subject of methodological debate, while for their Christmas treat readers found a short note about the use of air-photographs to help revise maps, and a longer piece on the light that climate studies shed on British prehistory, provided of course they could keep the December issue in its wraps until the festive season. But what really sets the academic tone of the first volume is the theoretical piece by R.G. Collingwood, then a young fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford, teaching philosophy and beginning his researches into the nature of history. His paper, issued as two parts, (Collingwood 1927a; 1927b), was on the theory of historical cycles. It was heavy stuff, and had the Theoretical Archaeology Group been in existence back then there can be little doubt that its lecture rooms would have been packed to hear a general theory of history transformed by Hegel in the 19th century and later restated by the German philosopher Oswald Spengler in a book provocatively entitled The decline of the West.

Over its first decade of publication, ANTIQUITY carried about 30 articles dealing explicitly with archaeology method or theory. On the methodological front contributions dealt with topics as diverse as photography of many different sorts, underwater survey, experimental archaeology, and bosing. Archaeological science was represented by papers on geochronology, dendrochronology, the use of ultra-violet light to explore parchment palimpsests, petrology, and blood groups. Meanwhile in the field of archaeological theory there was discourse about migrations along the Danube, the use of cross-cultural comparisons, the methods of prehistory, and debates on the recognition of race in ancient populations. David Randall-MacIver's discussion on whether archaeology was a science was published in 1933, contrasting with Stuart Piggott's memorable contribution in 1937 on the role of the 18th-century Romantic Movement in shaping archaeological thought. These and other papers sought to situate archaeology within the prevailing intellectual and philosophical traditions, and made notable lasting contributions still worth re-reading today.

What would nowadays be called Archaeological Resource Management (ARM) also figured amongst the papers published in early volumes. Amongst them was Grahame Clark's polemic on `Archaeology and the State' in 1934, and reports on the workings of archaeological organizations and the operation of protective legislation in a wide variety of countries. Public archaeology also had a voice through contributions such as `Museums Old and New' (Crawford 1932), `History in the open air' (Randall 1934) and `Cinema-photography and prehistory' (Pittioni 1936). …

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