Archaeological research in the UK has developed over the last century to enrich and expand our knowledge and understanding of prehistoric, ancient and historic civilizations as well as more recent times. Writing about the 99.9% of the human story not found in written sources, UK archaeologists are world-leading in an academic discipline taught in different forms in c. 30 HE institutions across Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England.
The subject develops a wide range of transferable and subject-specific skills and expertise. Archaeology also enjoys close synergies and collaborations across the hard scientists, social scientists and the humanities.
For these reasons and others, archaeology makes for a versatile and robust undergraduate subject, a rigorous academic area for postgraduate teaching and research degrees, and a nested set of vibrant and rapidly evolving academic research themes.
Following many important field-, lab- and desk-based investigations, the mature discipline has possession of theories and methods to refine and enhance knowledge of human engagements with the material world over vast tracts of time from the Lower Palaeolithic to the present day. We also understand more, and protect more about our British landscape thanks to archaeological research and heritage legislation.
We now come to an exciting point in archaeological teaching and research. Finally, this accumulated expertise and knowledge, conducted and supported at every stage and level by university academics, researchers and students, is on the brink of not just a single great discovery, but a range of internationally significant revelations. These will allow British archaeologists to transform our understanding of humanity’s past, our present environmental and social trajectory, and our future on the planet.
What are these new discoveries? I don’t know!
Worse still, we might never know!
Because we have seen a sustained offensive against all heritage and archaeology sectors (governmental, museums, commercial and academic). More archaeological assets are being destroyed without key protection being enforced and archaeological work conducted.
Now, we have multiple archaeology departments threatened with reduction given the Brexit shitstorm, the impending TEF process, and an incremenetal process of turning universities into businesses.
This is known.
The point is we now live with the tangible possibility that great new archaeological discoveries simply won’t happen!
In addition to the museum reductions and closures, the destruction of historic environment teams, threats to heritage assets (historic buildings, monuments and landscapes), the university departments that teach the UK’s next generation of archaeologists are under threat.
Who will come next? I fear the worst is still to come.
Still, three points about what we can do!
- Sign the petitions in support of archaeology at Bangor and academics at Manchester.
- If you are eligible, VOTE at the upcoming UK General Election. There are so many key issues, yet archaeology and heritage are among them. Look at party manifestos for what they say about protecting heritage and supporting academic research. Whatever your political persuasion, please VOTE!
- If you do vote, please vote wisely! At the very least vote to avert a hard Brexit and vote to block a strong Conservative majority. Even if you are a life-long Tory voter, this is the moment to end the madness and restore liberal balance to British politics to ensure protection for archaeological heritage and the future of UK university archaeological teaching and research.
I still have hope for a bright future for UK university archaeological teaching and research, but in May 2017, things are looking bleak. So let’s all do something positive for archaeology!