The Archaeology of Britain: An Introduction from the Upper Palaeolithic to the Industrial Revolution

By John Hunter; Ian Ralston | Go to book overview

Chapter One

British archaeology since the end of the Second World War

Ian Ralston and John Hunter


INTRODUCTION

As with so many subjects, archaeology, and in particular British archaeology, has been the subject of greater involvement and awareness than was the case in the years around 1950. University departments teaching archaeology have grown from a mere handful to nearly thirty today, the subject itself has developed from a traditionally historical or Classical base to include natural, physical and computing sciences, and its scope has expanded to embrace, for example, standing buildings, underwater remains and whole landscapes. By way of a measure, British Archaeological Abstracts, first published in 1968, noted fewer than 300 articles that year, while its successor, British Archaeological Bibliography, abstracted nearly five times as many in 1996. Furthermore, long-established, county-based archaeological societies—the mainstay of the amateur involvement in which British archaeology has its roots—have been joined by an increasing range of special-interest groups; these are recorded in the annual reviews published by Current Archaeology. This amateur involvement became radically ‘professionalized’ with the appearance of whole new sectors of archaeological endeavour both in local authorities and, most notably, in archaeological units. The latter bodies first conducted ‘rescue’ fieldwork on behalf of state agencies, but now, together with archaeological companies and consultants, fulfil the needs of a wide range of developers. This is a product of legislative and planning changes by which developers have been required by government to conduct archaeological investigations within the framework of the ‘polluter pays’ principle.

The same awareness of ‘heritage’ has also seen archaeology’s remit widening in both scope and detail; its chronological interests lap up against the present, with industrial archaeology (its history is sketched in Chapter 16) now including redundant plant of all kinds reflecting the quantum leaps of twentieth-century technology in methods of energy generation, transportation and bulk processing. A new field of enquiry susceptible to archaeological approaches comprises, for instance, the surviving concrete and other military defences of twentieth-century Britain (e.g. Brown et al. 1995). Thus the remaining tank-traps and other defensive installations on the beaches around which today’s mid-career archaeologists played as children are now a focus of attention (Figure 1.1). Some are Scheduled Ancient Monuments. In sum, archaeology is defined more broadly, and the archaeological community that researches, manages and monitors this resource is substantially larger and more diverse than it was a generation ago. Even though many archaeological jobs remain precarious, far more individuals earn their living from British archaeology in one of its many guises than was the case in 1950.

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