New Book Chronicle

Article excerpt

In one way or another all the books featured in this chronicle's selection are about how things are done in archaeology. How to record and dig sites, how to manage landscapes, how to present them, how it was done in the past. This leads to some thinking aloud on the theme of 'best practice' while also highlighting some outstanding achievements, indeed 'best practice' without the prescription.

Down on site

Our first three books take us onto site, from the very specific (Pavel on context records), via the comprehensive (Tassie & Owen's excavation manual) to the more general (Drewett's second edition introduction to field archaeology).

CATALIN PAVEL. Describing and interpreting the past: European and American approaches to the written record of the excavation. 262 pages, 100 figures. 2010. Bucharest: University of Bucharest; 978-973-737-881-1 paperback New Lei 33.

G.J. TASSIE & L.S. OWENS. Standards of archaeological excavation: a field guide (Egyptian Cultural Heritage Organisation Monograph Series 1). xxiv+576 page, 195 figures, 49 tables, CD-ROM. 2010. London: Golden House; 978-1-906137-17-5 paperback 39.99 [pounds sterling].

PETER L. DREWETT. Field archaeology: an introduction. xviii+182 pages, 100 illustrations. Second edition 2011 (first published in 1999 by UCL Press). Abingdon & New York: Routledge: 978-0-415-55118-2 hardback; 978-0-203-8307-1 ebook; 978-0-415-55119-9 paperback 21.99 [pounds sterling].

CATALIN PAVEL's book on European and American approaches to the written record of the excavation is a University of Bucharest doctoral dissertation which included a period of study at Oxford under the guidance of Gary Lock. Pavel's task was to collect and analyse the different forms used for recording strata and assemblages on excavations in Europe, America and the Near East. He collected 60 examples, from Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Iceland, Israel, Jordan, Greece (Knossos and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens), Turkey (the University of Tubingen at Troy), the USA, Cuba, Canada (the University of Toronto at Madaba), Australia (La Trobe University at Marki in Cyprus), Africa (UCL expeditions to Volubilis and Mali) and he has done us a great service by reproducing all these forms in 100 pages of figures--the last 2 figures being his own design for recording archaeological contexts and features in Romania. These are accompanied by an 80-page commentary on the pro formae and the systems of recording governing this activity. The book also contains 60 pages of introductory discussions and a short conclusion.

The figures and commentary are the most useful part of the book and we must thank Pavel for bringing to the attention of excavators the variety of systems used by institutions and companies, thus dispelling the idea that there is only one way (or adaptations of one system) to record deposits 'properly'. He contributes pertinent insights and useful observations, for example on the relationship between contexts and features (the latter also named locus, installation, structure, group, ser, complex, Befundkomplex, fait, unite de fouille englobante or even 'built-in site furniture') and on stratigraphic diagrams or Harris Matrixes [sic]. He champions the latter, but some archaeologists might object to the statement that 'A revolution in the way sites are recorded was brought about by the novel approach in thinking [sic] archaeological sites pioneered by Harris's vision of stratigraphic units, and firstly applied by the Department of Urban Archaeology at the GPO site in 1975' (p. 62). This overlooks the innovations of York for example (see p. 4 of Tassie & Owen's manual, below, which gives credit to Max Foster at York in 1972) and no doubt many other examples elsewhere. It is tempting to point out what the book does not contain, but this would be ungracious. Nevertheless there seems to be little analytical output aside some attempt at comparing and contrasting various systems, for example for recording walls (pp. …