S u m m e r 2 0 0 6 Volume 20 No. 2 Issue No. 76
0 7 News from the Net 2...
0 8 A monastic enclosure site at Clonfad,
1 2 Discovering ancient landscapes under the sea
1 8 Irish Bronze Age settlements: more than meets the eye?
2 2 Quern stones
2 6 The innermost secrets of Rathcroghan mound
3 0 The discoveries of Lord Charlemont,
a pioneer in the fields of Classical and harbour archaeology
3 6 Living in the landscape
0 4 News
0 6 Quote...
4 1 Events
4 2 Book news
4 7 Hindsight
4 9 Letters
Cover illustration: Body from the Bronze Age cemetery outside Derry (see p. 5).
I n the world of archaeological excavations, archaeologists have to equip themselves with multifarious skills and competencies, both practical and intellectual, in order to carry out this arcane exercise. Since the development of scientific methods of excavation and recording, site planning has become a foundational technique. In theory, the recording should be carried out to a degree of accuracy that would permit the site to be reconstituted to its original condition if so desired. Planning the past can be taught, learned and put into practice.
Planning for the future, however, is a different matter. While archaeologists are meticulous about keeping their records, rarely do they have a coherent plan to communicate the results of their labours, even though education and promoting awareness would be seen as core activities. Part of the problem here may be that the discipline exists in many different guises for those engaged with it. Academic archaeologists educate students in the precepts and render their research as erudite papers, conferences and lectures. The commercial sector, for the most part, earns its crust through mechanisms set up to ameliorate or mitigate the impacts that arise from new developments and redevelopments throughout the country. Archaeologists working in the public sector fulfil their statutory responsibilities as defined by laws, regulations and conventions. Needless to say, within these three core groups one could describe further subdivisions, specialisms and perspectives that eventually distil down to individuals who use their intuition, skills and enthusiasm to fulfil their goals. Unfortunately the fragmentary nature of the profession can lead to a lack of coherence in planning for the future.
Professional archaeologists labour under many restrictions and limitations, some of which derive from the myriad of Byzantine procedures and traditions that have developed since the formal discipline of archaeology was established. Often archaeologists see other interest groups and the general public as merely the passive recipients of the information generated within the profession. An item on a news bulletin, a lecture, an exhibition, a book, a website or even an article in a popular magazine are seen as the formal media through which archaeological information is communicated. In a sense these activities are the shop window for the communication and appreciation of archaeology. Yet broader education and awareness activities are rarely included in the job specifications of archaeologists. Furthermore, modules that include communication skills are absent from formal courses in the discipline.
Both north and south, relatively few sites attract the financial investment that would allow them to become flagship tourist attractions contributing to their local and regional economies. Yet throughout the countryside there are thousands of sites and monuments that have survived over the centuries and millennia—preserved and protected by previous and contemporary generations at no cost to the public purse. There are even more remains with no visible signatures that are as yet unidentified and unknown. To use current theoretical jargon, these sites are 'encoded' with the messages that the archaeologist wishes to translate for the greater good. Obviously it would not be practical or desirable to excavate every site or to build a visitor centre in every locality. But it should be recognised that virtually every member of the public in Ireland lives close to or regularly sees an archaeological site, either near at hand or in the distance. Given such a widespread and conspicuous resource it should be relatively easy to provide the public with the 'equipment' to enhance their appreciation and understanding of our archaeological inheritance. With such an understanding it would be so much easier to cherish that inheritance. What is required is a plan, and the wherewithal to implement it.