Another Perspective. (Special Section)

By Stoddart, Simon | Antiquity, December 2002 | Go to article overview

Another Perspective. (Special Section)

Stoddart, Simon, Antiquity

In our opening editorial, we raised the question of what other professions and disciplines think of archaeology. As a discipline we can be too introverted and we have thus requested Another perspective. We took advice from august friends and colleagues, and sent invitations. At least one author died, at least one suffered from the mental exhaustion of addressing the issue and withdrew, one author we hope will be published in a future ANTIQUITY, some invitations remained unanswered and others, in this commercial age, probably expected money. As an aside, I have discovered in the Crawford archives in the Bodleian library that ANTIQUITY did initially offer a fee (of undisclosed size) to its contributors, but that this was replaced by generous provision of offprints, a service that has yet to be defined as subject to income tax, even by the present UK government. Public service replaced financial remuneration and this is the enduring tradition of the ANTIQUITY team. If we had decided to continue as editors for a further five years we would have persevered in our invitations to other university-based disciplines and recruited other complementary perspectives, those of a philosopher, an historian, an art-historian, a lawyer etc. We would have worked hard to collect together the thoughts of a poet, a craft potter, a sculptor and another fine artist. We would also have collected the views of an engineer, a diplomat and ... perhaps another editor will take on this challenge.

The three authors who responded rapidly and generously to our invitation, and whose words are published here, form an interesting, diverse, yet coherent view of archaeology from the perspective of the public. The politician represents the public. If s/he does not, s/he is not re-elected. The publisher provides for the public taste. If s/he does not, the publishing house goes bankrupt. The cartoonist interprets the public mood in a way that in written words would be more dangerous. If s/he does not, the lawyer intervenes. These three perspectives are very important to the archaeologist. The politician provides funding for our activities. The good publisher disseminates our results and ideas in a way that represents them effectively, avoiding the lunacies that Glyn Daniel was wont to fulminate against. The cartoonist has the ability to tease the archaeologist, to stop us taking ourselves so seriously that we ossify our views in ignorant insularity, or couch our language in obscurity and jargon.

Tam Dalyell, the Father of the House of Commons and spokesman for clear principles, not always in agreement with the current government run by his political party, provides an engaging set of anecdotes of archaeological encounters. He had the inspiring teachers that lead to many an archaeological career. He met at least two key figures in the biography of ANTIQUITY: Childe and Piggott. He has also met key (if not always pleasant) political figures from the world stage who understand the power and importance of the past, and the role of archaeology in understanding that past. Cultural diplomacy is highly effective. Cultural diplomacy that employs archaeology goes beyond the narrow confines of written history and encourages both self-identity and the exchange of ideas. As I have personally visited many famous archaeological sites in the world, I have ascended the steps of many a pyramid preceded by one of our well-known cabinet (executive) politicians. Yet how rarely do those self-same politicians climb the steps of the British Museum, open an archaeological conference or write the introduction to an archaeological volume. Tam Dalyell makes the point forcefully that an academic degree in archaeology is one of the best preparations not just for the vocational career of archaeology itself, but provides the lateral thinking, diplomatic skills and training for many other careers. …

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