Looks as if academic archaeology is in a seriously beleaguered state just now. The article reproduced below is an interesting analysis containing some good points. It's a bit naive, because it treats all archaeologists as heroes, and seems to think that archaeology takes no responsibility at all for what seems likely to be an uncomfortable fate.
It says this: "Archaeology faces a “perfect storm” of university cuts, skills shortages and potential changes to planning rules which threaten to irreversibly damage the UK’s world-leading reputation in the discipline, experts warn." That, I think is very naive indeed -- there may be a perfect storm, but one of the components in it may well be the declining reputation of archaeology as a serious discipline with a respect for the scientific method and a carefully controlled and monitored way of operating. This may well not be true of ALL academic archaeology, but some of it, at least, is so obsessed with storytelling and myth creation that it seems to be disinterested in maintaining any sort of reputation as a "discipline."
If very senior archaeologists appear to have lost their respect for hard evidence and the truth, in pursuit of their post-processual obsessions, why should they get any respect from either the public or from a new generation of students? And why should they be funded by the research funding organizations if all they are going to produce are fantasies and myths? From where I stand, archaeology seems to be intent on the "dumbing down" of its curriculum and on appealing to the tabloid press and TV documentary makers rather than to the community of scientists. Colourful characters pursuing their own personal quests may make for good tabloid headlines and good TV ratings, but what are they doing to uphold academic standards? How much RESPECT does archaeology have outside of its own little bubble? Not much, I suspect, whatever gushing praise may be directed towards it by the author of this article.
Archaeology could be rendered a thing of the past as multiple UK courses and jobs face the axeUniversity staff fear the discipline could be consigned to history because of funding cuts
The find made headlines across the world. Tim Allen, of Historic England, paid tribute to them saying: “It was only thanks to them being able to assist that weekend we were able to secure the coffin, axe and surviving human remains.”
Incredibly, they won’t be around to help in future, as the archaeology department faces closure by the university authorities.
Archaeologists at Worcester University face a similar fate while those at Chester face redundancies.
News of Sheffield’s demise sparked controversy in the usually sedate corridors of academia. Digging up the past is seen as a British strong suit. UK universities are internationally recognised as among the best in the world – four of the five highest ranking courses are here – with Harvard in the US the only interloper. Sheffield is ranked seventh in the UK, 39th in the world.
Archaeology faces a “perfect storm” of university cuts, skills shortages and potential changes to planning rules which threaten to irreversibly damage the UK’s world-leading reputation in the discipline, experts warn.
Across the country, men and women usually found working quietly in trenches with trowels are protesting about the state of the profession. The crisis has prompted some to ask the Monty Python-esque question: what has archaeology ever done for us?
Well… there are discoveries from Stonehenge to Skara Brae, via “Seahenge” and Sutton Hoo.
Heritage tourism – refreshed with newly unearthed discoveries – from the Mary Rose to the burial place of Richard III or the recently unearthed Prittlewell Prince – supports 350,000 jobs and contributes £20bn to UK coffers.
There are as many as 7,000 archaeological jobs in the UK. A 2019 study found archaeologists working in the planning system saved the construction industry up to £1.3bn in delay and emergency excavation work.
Far from being a dead hand on progress, archaeological concerns were cited in just 0.01 per cent of planning refusals.
Dr Hugh Willmott, senior archaeology lecturer at Sheffield, suggests he and his fellow academics suffer from an image problem.
“Too often, we are seen as ‘people who play in the dirt’ or very occasionally – and
fortuitously for their media outlets – ‘finders of secrets’ rather than serious academics.”
More widely he believes archaeologists “are not shouting loud enough to our managers about the genuine value of archaeology”.
“University management, in my experience, massively under-estimates the extent to which we all collaborate with other disciplines on truly innovative projects.
“We need to be telling them that archaeology’s partnerships are not just with the History department, although this is important. At Sheffield we currently have active collaborations with Biomedical Science, Geography, Engineering, Mathematics, and Materials Science to name just a few.”
Fellow archaeologist Dr Chloe Duckworth, at Newcastle University, points out a 2018 poll found archaeology was the UK’s 11th most common career dream behind professional footballer, train driver and astronaut.
“Many more of my students hope to use the degree to gain a set of skills they can translate to other workplaces. Archaeology is really good for that. Teamwork, problem-solving, project management,” she wrote in British Archaeology.
She set up Dig for Archaeology in a bid to champion the discipline and argues officials in authority undervalue the skills involved.
British archaeologists are embroiled in a diplomatic spat in Turkey
The British Institute in Ankara is responsible for important archaeological work in Turkey.
Last month, Turkish officials entered the Institute and seized its famous collection of ancient seeds. Turkey has declared all seeds/plants collected by foreign organisations the property of Turkey.
Chemist Ibrahim Saracoglu argues that they are critical to Turkey’s history. He is a key player in Turkey’s Ancestral Seed Project.
The collection argued that under a long-standing agreement with Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the institute served as the collection’s custodian and offered to share the resource.
Mr Saracoglu said: “We do not divide. This is the property of the great Turkish nation.”
Post-Brexit, the profession is now on the official skill shortage list but only after fierce lobbying. Such neglect is hard to understand. Archaeology remains popular with the public as the success of shows like Time Team and The Great British Dig demonstrate.
However, Dr Willmott suggests such shows may not always have helped the cause. The TV image of “archaeology being a three-day jolly with some colourful characters” has not helped persuade parents to “sail their children off into an archaeological career,” he says.
Whether news that Fleabag star Phoebe Waller-Bridge is being tipped to replace Harrison Ford as the fictional professor of archaeology, Indiana Jones, in the Raiders of the Lost Ark franchise films, will change that perception remains to be seen. For the moment, archaeology’s past remains clearer than its future.