letters Time Team MILLIONS OF BRITISH COUCH potatoes and wannabe/active archaeologists alike are hooked on Time Team. But I cannot be alone in finding the latest project, (the 'Test Pit Challenge'; CA 185) really hard to take.
British archaeology has a curious relationship with the television, born out of some weird shotgun marriage. On the one hand we see the manic desperation of developer-funded archaeological projects and a hatful of academics struggling to fund original research. Over there are the cultural resource managers, sweating to preserve and present the nation's archaeological heritage. Public involvement - apart from, (mainly) acting as volunteers and passive consumers - limited.
On the other hand, look at the increasing desperation of the television media to find original archaeology to fill programme schedules amongst endless gardening, house makeovers, and cookery. Public involvement - apart from, (mainly) acting as passive spectators - limited. The Time Team solution for a chosen few to dig 0.6m deep holes in their gardens; can only mean the relationship is heading for a messy divorce.
Carenza Lewis's optimistic visions regarding 'real' archaeology and television's 'massive resources' need to be excavated in a Test Pit challenge themselves. First; let us be clear, television has lots of cash, but the amounts of serious cash, staff, back-up and management commitment required to run insightful and original long-term excavations are beyond even its grasp.
Second, 1 x 1 x 0.6m holes might be fun archaeology, but they unfortunately remind many of treasure hunting - 'we dig one here, we dig one there, we might get lucky'. Talk of 'help-lines' and 'evaluation' is both disingenuous and, frankly, ridiculous. What if there is archaeology 0.7m down? What if it is 1m to the right or the left? You either do proper archaeology and treat it with respect or you do not - there are not any half-measures.
As for Carenza's other arguments -
'the record' is already over-stuffed with vast quantities of information, and we really do not need yet more of it based on inadequate holes providing poor samples. The Whittlewood Project, quoted by Carenza in support of testpitting, is just not the same thing, being tightly focused on 12 parishes and a detailed structured research programme. As regards potential finds - I bet all those local museums are really looking forward to their 'communities being enlarged', (whatever that is) on top of their already-overloaded archives, local authority demands and cutbacks.
Time Team can be fun, entertaining, and it asks useful questions sometimes. But it must accept its limitations and stop misleading folk. We really do not need more 3-day keyhole archaeology. Time for Time Team to get a reality check - and to stop being so full of itself!
STEVE DICKINSON. 10 Trinity Gardens Ulverston Cumbria LA 12 7UB
Amateur Archaeology FIRST OF ALL, can I say thank you for such an excellent magazine. I have just taken out a subscription and have really enjoyed my first issues. I also find articles from the magazine very useful for my GCSE students and I refer them all to your web site.
Anyway, I am really writing in response to the feature in CA 183 entitled 'Are Societies Growing?' This suggested that amateur archaeology is in decline. My experience of teaching archaeology in the Newcastle area is rather different. Five years ago, there was one small GCSE archaeology class at Gateshead College. Today it has 16 students, two new classes have been set up at South Tyneside College and another at Gosforth High School. I believe classes are also running at North Tyneside College and Newcastle College. The majority of the students are young (16 to 40), bright and keen. A conservative estimate would suggest a doubling in the number of amateur archaeology students at this level in five years. Hardly a 'hollowing out. This
The 'Stealing' of Stonehenge INEVITABLY, STONEHENGE. Yes, we will get the Stonehenge we deserve.
Generations have, in turn, got a religious centre; neglect; superstition and stone burning; isolation after the agricultural enclosures; a sort of spiritual focus in an increasingly multi-faith or no-faith society; and perhaps now a privati sed theme park hidden away except from 'customers'. No wonder the proposals are couched in such paranoia and propaganda (surely no-one really believes the photographs on page 200 of CA 185, a nice green imaginary artist's view of a visitors' centre with not a car in sight, and a grainy black and white photo taken with an elephantine telephoto lens to push the car park and the stones to within a few yards of each other).
It is not the details of the proposals is matched by growing interest nationally in archaeology on TV and in museums. The number of people involved in historical re-enactment actively, has also greatly increased in recent years.
The challenge to the local societies is to tap into this enthusiasm and to make themselves accessible. My experience of attending some local talks has been that the audience tends to be middle class, rather serious, and rather elderly. Of course that's fine, but it isn't very 'Time Team'. I have lots of students who would love to get stuck in to some practical work, but they would need a helping hand. I suggest that local societies should appoint outreach officers to contact teachers like me and to come and talk to our students. How about special talks and digging days for amateur students? I think what really needs to change is the way the societies recruit and how they see themselves. I hope that these thoughts might be of some use. CHRIS BROWN, Tutor in Archaeology, Gateshead College, 25 Hexham Ave, Walker, NE6 3AL
current OlO 186