It’s been another interesting week in the world of archaeology. First we have news that Israel is establishing a 5 year heritage project to promote Jewish ties to ancient sites in Israel and the West Bank. The project has received criticism for emphasising Jewish history at the expense of other periods and cultures. Now I do not feel that this is the place to discuss international politics, but I do believe that it is important that any presentation of history is a balanced one. If the UK government were to establish a project promoting British history, but focussed only on Anglo-Saxon aspects, ignoring the Roman and prehistoric history that came before and the Norman influences afterwards, not only would it be decried as a poor representation of our heritage but it would be a narrow view which in isolation would make no sense. I mentioned last week how important context is in archaeology, and grand narratives are no different. Ultimately I don’t think this can be seen as anything but a political move, a statement of “we have always been here, so this is ours”. Judging from past efforts by governments to use history to legitimate themselves and their actions, this attempt won’t be a success, but then there are always exceptions to the rule.
In other news, a local group in Didcot is campaigning to create a history trail to mark the presence of a number of sites uncovered at a housing development nearby. One of the aims is to protect the remaining archaeology, only 30 of the 180 hectare site having been excavated. It is an unfortunate fact of modern archaeology that we can’t excavate everything, instead we have to choose the most significant looking areas to focus our work on, there just isn’t the time or money to do otherwise. Of course we could make greater demands of the developers who must fund the work due to UK planning regulations, but ultimately this could have negative effects on the building trade and thus how much work we are able to do. Undoubtedly some archaeology will be destroyed in the development, though archaeologists will be on site to monitor the groundwork in case something of interest turns up. To return to another of last weeks themes, all archaeology is destruction, we just have to manage it as best as we can. A more pressing concern for me is the idea of a history trail. Whilst one of its aims is to preserve the archaeology, another is to attract tourists, and as highlighted recently at Hadrian’s Wall, a large number of walkers can cause significant damage to archaeology below the surface. This trail could very well end up having the opposite result of that intended.
Finally, we have more news from Kingsmead Quarry. This time in the form of gold! Yes, we do find it sometimes. Another first for this packed site is a middle aged woman buried with gold, amber and lignite jewellery from around 2400 BC. Of course, as always, there has to be a catchy sound bite, and in this case it is that this woman may have been a princess or queen. Now I know that any professional archaeologist knows better than to propose anything like a system of royalty existed during this period, but as I started this blog to bring attention to the hype generated by and for the media I expect to see such things in the news.
More importanty, this is just further proof that all the most exciting things appear after I leave a site. Still I did find a dump of Roman industrial waste. I guess that’s a consolation, right?