CURRENT ARCHAEOLOGY 102
The World Archaeological Confer ence was held at Southampton from September 1st—6th. Following the ban of the South African dele gates, only some 1,100 of the 3,000 originally expected turned up; there were virtually no delegates from France and Germany, few from Israel or the Arab countries, very few from Japan, while there was only a handful from Britain itself. However, there were good attendances from central Africa and from Australasia.
The format of the Congress was a new one: they decided to break away from the traditional approach that history must be limited by time and place, and instead replace it by themes, such as animals, plants, and 'objectivity'. There were still a number of sessions devoted to period topics, but these tended to be very second rate - academic nitpicking at its worst - while the topic sessions tended to turn into politics.
The most successful sessions appeared to be that on the pleistocene, and possibly that on plants: the session on animals tended to get side-tracked into a discussion of the nature of animals. However, the liveliest session was undoubtedly that on 'objectivity', which was certainly not objective (they failed to discuss independence, which is the economic basis of objectivity), and for much of the time not even comprehensible. The two political sessions which seemed most important were both devoted to specific topics - a session on Stonehenge organised by Chris Chippindale (in which the English Heritage proposals for Stonehenge fell apart), and a discussion led by some American Indians on the reburial of archaeological skeletal remains. The session organised by Henry Cleere on Cultural Resource Management also proved lively.
The conference ended with a plenary session attended by some 430
delegates. They voted at the end that a steering committee be set up to try to negotiate a compromise with the UISPP, and if a compromise could not be reached within the year, they should go ahead and organise another separate congress. Perhaps surprisingly there were five votes against both proposals. The steering committee consisted of regional representatives who had chosen themselve s a t a privat e sessio n beforehand; however, it was then promptly pointed out by the representatives of the International Forum for Women in Archaeology (who had been prominent throughout the congress) that the congress had already passed a resolution promising equality of treatment for women as well as students and ethnic minorities; yet no women were included in the steering committee (it was later discovered that there was in fact one woman on the committee) and there were no representatives of students or ethnic minorities, because all were regional representatives. A vote was taken at which over 50 votes were cast against the representative committee. The representative for Western Europe is Professor Day, the chairman of the conference, who is Professor of Anatomy at St Thomas'. Since it would appear to be unlikely that there is any possibility of compromise over the banning issue, it now appears to be inevitable that the archaeological world will be irrevocably split, and that henceforth there will be two international congresses. So much for the brotherhood of man.
Hart Report In the 1970s the British Academy became concerned about the lack of funding for archaeological science. They therefore persuaded the Science and Engineering Research Council
(SERC) to set up a Science Based Archaeological Committee (SBAC: a lot of initials in this field) to distribute Government money for archaeological science. Subsequently it has been funding archaeological science to the tune of just under £0.5m a year. Recently the SERC decided to reassess the whole field and commissioned a report from a panel chaired by Professor M. Hart, Professor of Physics at Manchester University.
The grants are now divided among five 'themes'. The theme that received the most support was dating mostly radiocarbon, but also including the Belfast bog-oak dendrochronology programme. The most controversial tended to be biological and environmental techniques where many of the projects tended to be rejected because they involve routine, rather than research science. Then there are analytical methods (mostly chemistry), statistics and computing (a high rejection rate) and prospecting methods, for which no grants at all were given.
In recent years one project has absorbed more than half the grants the new radiocarbon laboratory at Oxford. After many trials and tribulations this is now producing 400 dates a year, but the committee suggested that by improving their preparation methods, they could treble their output.
The committee made two main recommendations. Firstly they suggest that the SERC should concentrate on original scientific research and not on the routine application of established scientific methods. They then point out that this will open up a gap between the pure science that they are funding and the site oriented project work done by the HBMC
The more controversial part of their report is that they are dismayed by the wide variety of sources from which British archaeology is funded —