The ‘real’ archaeologist redux

I’ve been hoping to do a follow up post concerning my commentary last month on the “real archaeologist,” but the start of term came upon me and I’ve been left breathless from it.  The wealth of responses that I received from that post, however, demands some kind of reply, as I heard from people via my blog itself (see comments below), Facebook, Twitter and email, and the magazine Current Archaeology also unexpectedly solicited comments through circulating my blog to its Facebook and Twitter readers.  References supplied to me by Harriet Deacon, Nigel Jeffries, and Charley Young, among others, really struck a chord and have led me to rethink and expand some of my original articulations about the ‘definition’ of an archaeologist.  Perhaps more profoundly than anything else, I was impacted by the number of non-archaeologists who got in touch to say that their experiences were identical to mine – that they too had been ostracised in some way from their own field of practice based on some kind of prevailing (but unsubstantiated) discourse about that practice – that they too knew exactly the feeling of standing at the centre of a disciplinary turf-war whose ramifications were likely more detrimental than meaningful to the discipline, and whose effects on oneself could be demoralising.

The real archaeologist
The real archaeologist retweeted

Honestly, I was overwhelmed by all the responses that I received.  The past few months have been among the most difficult of my life as I’ve been planning/implementing three new modules (what North Americans would call courses!), running two Master’s programmes, leading on a couple of other relatively major administrative duties in my department, and working on my various research projects simultaneously.  I’m aiming to do a series of separate blog posts in the near future about the experiences of a new lecturer, building upon one that I did back in April, but the support that I received from my discussion of the ‘real archaeologist’ did much to inspire me and stretch my thinking on the topic.  Thank you so much to everyone – it means a lot.

This week I was generously approached by the editors of the department’s one-of-a-kind undergraduate-run journal The Post Hole to write an article for an upcoming issue (probably in the new year) that follows up on the conversation about the ‘real’ discipline of archaeology.  I’ve been experimenting a lot in my teaching recently with blogging and using related social media to broaden classroom work and stimulate critical thinking, and so I’m keen to ask others to consider sending me further material to add to the article (with full credit of course!) – or, alternatively, to consider sending your own articles about the subject to the editors for review.  The journal is open-access and welcomes contributions from anyone around the world with an interest in archaeology.

I’d like to keep the conversation going, and to that end, I’ll leave you to contemplate a quote from a 1972 article that a friend and current PhD student in Classics & Ancient History at Exeter, Charley Young, referred me to – “New roles for the amateur archaeologist” published in American Antiquity 37(1):1-2, 1972:

More than anyone, the amateur is the local watchdog. His is the responsibility and the pleasure of safeguarding the archaeological resource. In this sense, the amateur may protect the basis of the science – the cultural residue itself. Ofttimes it lies in a field just outside his door, or in a river bottom just across the county. For the devoted amateur it is sacred ground and he cannot rest when it is threatened. And when it is, he must call upon all his decision-making faculties to decide whether he can handle the site himself, with his fellows, or whether it should be referred to those with more technical and theoretical abilities. In this stewardship role, the amateur is on the front line of archaeology. He is the sentry who often must make a general’s decision.

In other news, Matthew Johnson’s and my article on the archaeological illustrator and artist Alan Sorrell was recently published in British Archaeology magazine.  Grab a copy at your local news stand! And with much support from Tom Smith at the university, I’ve set up live-streams for our departmental heritage seminar series, YOHRS.  The first of these, a brilliant talk by Sharon Macdonald on museum shops, is now available here.  The next talk takes place on Tuesday, starting 5.30pm GMT.  Please tune in.

Happy Halloween!

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