Closed Shop for Archaeology?
Archaeology is at a cross-roads. The great increase in money available for rescue archaeology—in the past 3 years it has increased fivefold—has meant that excavations can now be conducted on a scale hitherto undreamed of. But how are we to use these new opportunities? Is archaeology going to turn inwards, and become a small clique? Or is it to remain facing outwards, and maintain the close links between amateur and professional which have been one of the great glories of British archaeology in the past? The proposed 'Professional Institution' (CA 43) raises these problems in an acute form.
No. 45 for JULY 1974 Vol. IV, No. 10. Published December, 1974 Edited by Andrew & Wendy Selkirk, 9 Nassington Road, London NW3 2TX, Tel. 01-435 7517
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'Profession" is an unfortunate term here, for archaeology is certainly not a profession in the strict sense. The essence of a profession is that it consists of a number of self-employed practitioners who offer their services to the general public—plainly not the case with archaeology. Who in fact is the client for whom the archaeologist works? The answer surely lies in that mystic, but nonetheless vital, abstraction, the Nation, which needs to study its past if it is to remain healthy. Thus whereas a professional is accustomed to work in secrecy to keep his client's work confidential, the archaeologist must work in public. Professions usually forbid publicity: archaeologists court it. The unit director should be continually asking himself, "Can I open this site to the public? What choice tit-bits can I find for the weekend diggers? In what way can I encourage participation? Can I bring in the schools?" The archaeologist who conducts his excavations with professional efficiency, and ends up with a pile of reports lying—unread—on the library shelves, has failed—utterly.
Yet this is precisely where the new proposals are leading. The psychology of a professional institute, with its traditional mysteries, is quite wrong. It wil l mean that instead of encouraging participation, archaeology is to be made into a closed shop. It is particularly sad that it should be the Council for British Archaeology that is sponsoring this new body, for the CBA is meant to represent the whole of British Archaeology, and not one particular faction. Yet these proposals, which are being rushed through with such unseemly haste, have never been discussed by the full Council, but only by the Officers and the Executive Committee. Thus when the full council — on which most archaeological societies have tw o representatives—assembles on January 10th, the delegates should assert their own , and the national interest, and reject the present proposals. The funds now available for rescue archaeology offer great opportunities. The CBA should respond with imagination on behalf of the whole of British archaeology.