Antiquity and Britain. (Special Section)

By Cunliffe, Barry | Antiquity, December 2002 | Go to article overview
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Antiquity and Britain. (Special Section)


Cunliffe, Barry, Antiquity


The birth of ANTIQUITY in 1927 is a well-documented event. As its begetter and first editor, O.G.S. Crawford, tells us it came into being for a very specific purpose (Crawford 1955: 175):

At the end of 19251 conceived the idea of starting a quarterly journal which would serve as the organ of the very live and active group of archaeologists then working in England. We needed such a journal, and as appeared later the public wanted it too. The Antiquaries Journal, begun in 1921, smouldered on and contained some good stuff, but never broke out into flame; that would obviously have been a most improper thing for the organ of so ancient and respectable a society to do. But without flame there is no light, and there was an intelligent public anxious to be enlightened.

Within little more than a year of the conception of the idea ANTIQUITY Vol. 1 no. 1 for March 1927 landed on the doormat. Its readers were left in no doubt from Crawford's first editorial what they were about to receive:

Antiquity will attempt to summarize and criticize the work of those who are recreating the past. Archaeology is a branch of science which achieves its results by means of excavation, fieldwork and comparative studies: it is founded upon the observation and record of facts.... Each article will be but a tiny facet of the whole; for our field is the Earth, our range in time a million years or so, our subject the human race.... Never before has so much been known about the past; never has the desire of knowledge been greater. If the world is our playground, it is also our audience.

And so for the next 30 years, with a simplicity and an inviting freshness, Crawford strove to bring archaeology to its ever-increasing and always appreciative audience.

The contents of that first issue set the scene for what will follow. Crawford himself writes on the drowned landscape of the Scilly Isles while a Wiltshire amateur, R.C.C. Clay, presents the field archaeology of Wessex trackways. Air photographs of Woodhenge accompany a brief account of its recent excavation by Maud Cunnington, while Stonehenge, an ever-popular subject in ANTIQUITY, is considered as an astronomical instrument prefaced by a paper on `Orientation' by Vice-Admiral Boyle Somerville. Two more friends of the editor were persuaded to produce overviews, R.G. Collingwood on `The Roman Frontier in Britain' and Gordon Childe on `The Danube Thoroughfare ...', and finally the anthropologist Raymond Firth contributed a comparative study of Maori hillforts. It was a rich and varied mix, field archaeology, ethnology, air photography, Stonehenge, Roman Britain--all the editor's favourite subjects--and in the notes and news, reviews and lists of forthcoming excavations, much else besides.

The first volume is, as might be expected, heavily biased to British topics which amounted to about half the contents, but over the years the quantity of insular offerings was gradually reduced, reaching only 11% in Vol. 30. Under Glyn Daniel's editorship (1958-86) Britain featured rather larger at 20-25% but since then has fallen back to an average of about 10%, reflecting the increasing world coverage which more recent editors have rightly striven for. Given the constant stream of British archaeology published in the pages of ANTIQUITY over the last 75 years we may reasonably ask, how has the journal served this particular subject area?

Crawford's editorship can conveniently be divided into two phases, the first from 1927 to 1940, the second from 1941 to 1957.

In the first phase Crawford's particular interests predominated. His prime concern focused around field archaeology, the subject which he was later to develop as a book (Crawford 1953). During the first 13 years of the journal he contributed a major paper almost every year, covering topics such as barrows, stone cists, hill figures, field systems, surveys of linear earthworks, and the sites of Arthur's battles.

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