More Time Please. (Response)

By Lawson, Andrew J. | Antiquity, December 2001 | Go to article overview

More Time Please. (Response)


Lawson, Andrew J., Antiquity


This further comment on Geoffrey Wainwright's retrospective `Time please' (ANTIQUITY 74: (2000): 909-43) is written from the perspective of someone who has been actively involved in professional archaeology since the creation of the first county `units' in 1973, who helped to promote a professional institute and its codes of contractual behaviour, and who has directed an independent Trust through the transition from state funding to private funding.

Whatever one makes of Geoff Wainwright's personal account of the development of English archaeology over the last half-decade, it is clear that the current position which archaeology enjoys in England today has been hard won. At times when the public and government were looking to future prosperity and the discipline of archaeology was little known, the historic environment awaited charismatic champions following in the footsteps of Sir Mortimer Wheeler and Glyn Daniel. Today the situation is very different: archaeology has many faces, appears daily in the press, and is serially played out on the television screen. Never has it been better known, and perhaps now is not the time for too much historical analysis and lament, but a time to build upon success.

It must also be acknowledged that through his internal struggles for government cash the former Chief Archaeologist played a significant role in establishing the current position. The role of Chief Archaeologist to English Heritage cannot be an easy one, yet one which demands an ability to identify and pursue long-term strategy, to have resolve in the face of conflicting pressures -- and to have a very resilient skin. Inevitably, some decisions will be controversial and the manner in which they are handled will always be criticized by someone.

Our world, its expectations and perceived priorities are constantly changing so the situation is never static: new challenges emerge and solutions must be found. We now do this with the benefit of an established archaeological profession which did not exist 30 years ago, and from the `firm platform' of PPG 15 and 16. The challenge now is not to dispense with essential principles but to strengthen areas of weakness, to re-aim where the target has moved and to harness the newly found sources of support. Different histories of British archaeology in the 20th century will be written but I would like to focus on some aspects of the `firm platform' not enlarged upon by Dr Wainwright.

`Professional demarcation'

When the prospect of privately-sponsored archaeology loomed, archaeologists in Britain were mindful of potential pitfalls and vested interests. A `contract archaeology' committee, established under the auspices of the newly formed Institute of Field Archaeologists, recognized that the development of archaeological sites could be viewed from different perspectives and that negotiations over such matters are complex: someone (the `curator') should stand up for the archaeology, someone (the `contractor') would to be employed to do the work, and someone (the `consultant') might have to give advice on such things as the reasonableness of planning authorities' demands or the estimated costs of the work.

This analysis of roles was not designed to split up the profession but to aid understanding. Although there was no problem with the labels for the roles, certain misunderstandings grew. Beyond archaeology the labels may have conveyed a different sense: for example, someone used to employing bricklayers might erroneously have presumed that `contractors' were only capable of doing what someone else specified for them. In an archaeological context, a similar presumption grossly underestimated the abilities of those employed in `contracting' organizations and ignored the diversity of expertise within a well-established professional practice.

Although it is imperative for all parties to know where each one stands, division amongst the ranks of archaeologists is not conducive to the best overall result built upon teamwork and the pooling of expertise. …

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