Editorial

By Carver, Martin | Antiquity, March 2007 | Go to article overview

Editorial


Carver, Martin, Antiquity


* The repositioning of archaeology at Edinburgh has been of exceptional interest, not just out of sentiment for the Abercromby Chair (Antiquity 80: 778-79), but because of the current signals for the subject's future coming from a great university. Their new Professor of Classical Archaeology and Head of the Subject Area of Archaeology is to be Jim Crow (currently of Newcastle), to whom we offer warmest congratulations. Jim's research interests extend from Roman frontiers and Hadrian's Wall to late antiquity and medieval Byzantium. The new professor is an experienced practising archaeologist, and, moreover, he comes out fighting: "Contrary to the anxieties you raised in the last issue" he writes, "this does not constitute the end of archaeology at Edinburgh. As part of a programme of restructuring, Archaeology will join the large School of History and Classics which will be renamed the 'School of History, Classics, and Archaeology' from September 2007. As the School's website announces, the appointment of the new Chair 'promises welcome synergies both within the existing School (especially in Classics and Medieval History) and with our new partners in Archaeology'. This appointment does not replace the existing Abercromby Chair in Archaeology, but represents a substantial investment in the subject that is a clear token of the University's determination to ensure that the integration of Archaeology into its new School (which is already home to several colleagues with archaeological interests) is a successful one".

He also reminds us that when Roger Mercer was at Edinburgh (see Antiquity 80: 987-95) Classical Archaeology and Byzantine studies were part of the normal fare offered to archaeology students. At that time David Talbot-Rice, a Byzantinist, was not only a distinguished Professor of Art History in the University, but had excavated and published on the Great Palace in Constantinople and had written the first book on Byzantine glazed pottery. "It seems surprising" he chides me, "that your editorial can only reflect on the past achievements of prehistorians, when today, in most successful Archaeology 'departments', teaching and research can range from the origins of early man to the archaeology of the twentieth century. By comparison with the 'big battalions' like History and Geography, Archaeology 'departments' remain relatively small, but the subject's strength remains its interdisciplinarity and the synergies that can be created both within, and beyond, the new 'schools' and faculties of today's universities".

Why does Professor Crow put the word 'departments' in quotation marks, I wonder? I can see that words like 'restructuring' and 'synergy' might deserve what modern editors call 'scare quotes', but Archaeology departments have been bidding for intellectual independence since the 1960s, and should have shed their inverted commas by now. Research thrives on discourse, but good discourse needs independent minds. As our readers will know, archaeology is a study of prodigious variety. Should we not protect all our subject areas?--they will live longer than we will. Furthermore, like mathematics in science, prehistory has an axial role in the study of the past. It is primus inter pares, it is sine qua non, not rudis indigestaque moles or parcus deorum cultor (1).

But reading between the lines, there is some hope that prehistory will soon be back at Edinburgh as an independent discipline with a new Abercromby professor at its head, dedicated, as he wished, to the antiquities and civilisation of the Countries of Europe and the Near East from the earliest times to the period at which the written history of each country may be said to begin. No-one can deny the merits of an interdisciplinary study of the past, but prehistory must be an independent partner, especially in the city in which the term was invented by Daniel Wilson 156 years ago (2).

* In 1978 Edinburgh University Press published Time and Traditions, the first influential book to be written by Bruce Trigger who died on 1 December 2006 aged 69. …

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