Anglo-Saxon Cross

The Practice of Archaeology in the United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, we have been atttempting to protect the archaeoological record for more than 100 years. But this is more easily said than done. So, for example, how much of the archaeological record should be preserved: every site, or just the nice ones? How do we make sure that sites are preserved? Do we take all sites into government ownnership, put up fences around them and pay for guardians to watch over them? Do we make it a criminal offence for anyone to damage them? If so how serious is this crime of damaging sites? Should we stop building work to ensure that all sites are preserved or just some of them? Should we stop excavating sites, because our methods will improve, and archaeologists are bad at writing up their excavations? How many people need to be interested in archaeology before we can say that it is reasonable to spend money lookng after the archaeological record instead of paying for schools and hospitals?

Preserving the archaeological record is where theory very directly meets practice. There are lots of different interests to be negotiated, there is the question of money, or rather the lack of enough money and lots of different potential uses for it. There is the simple mattter that our ideas as archaeologists change and whhat might have been a minor site one day might be a unique and valuable one tomorrrow. And there is also the simple matter of private property. Archaeological sites are physical things that exist on land owned by people. Do we have the right to stop landowners from enjoying their property just to save a few bits of pot, bone, stone and metal in the ground? In the UK, our understanding of the archaeological record has changed enormously, as have the mechanisms by which we try and protect the archaeological record. But the number of archaeological sites in England alone is enormous, and governnments, companies and individuals constantly strive to improve the economy and develop services are resources. In the context of the world economyy, archaeology is quite a small concern, it would appear.

Another problem relates to whether we should let anyone do archaeology. The great popularity of television programmes tells us thhat archaeology is an exceedingly popular interest amongst people. Individuals take great pride in their local archaeology and want to get involved in finding out about it. Yet the practice of archaeology is a very skilled activity, and it takes many years to get sufficient skill to run a modern excavation. So should we stop amateurs from doing archaeology, when local societies have been excavating sites for many years? Is it important that the excavator of a site should know something about the local archaeological record, or should we be happy to allow an archaeoologist from anywhere to excavate any site?

In the Practice of Archaeology in the UK we shall explore these issues in detail, and compare the way in which these problems are dealt with in the UK in comparison with other countries in Europe and further afield.

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