Friday, 21 May 2021

The Importance of Archaeology

This blog is normally reserved for matters relating to the decision making process; scrutiny and accountability in legislatures.

But today I want to draw your attention to a threat to the future of archaeology in Britain - and how it threatens the loss of knowledge about our past. I have to declare an interest:  history - and archaeology - fascinate me. As well as my academic and practical political interests - I spend a lot of time reading archaeological reports - and (save for lockdown periods) - visiting places of archaeological interest. I live close to Watling Street - and archaeologists in Milton Keynes have uncovered a host of Bronze Age/Iron Age/Roman settlements in my part of a very modern city.

We in Milton Keynes have a special debt to those with the foresight to fund and undertake archaeological work while the New City was under construction. There is a special series of monographs about what has learned about this area - published by the Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society. While the fantastic Milton Keynes Archaeology Unit has been wound up - a number of Archaeological Companies are continuing to unearth new secrets about our local past. Many reports can be found on the Archaeology Data Service website or in libraries.

Throughout the UK, archaeologists have helped us to understand where we came from - how our ancestors lived - and have revolutionised our understanding of the space which we, for our short lifespan, inhabit. Some projects have caught the public imagination - such as the discovery of the body of Richard III by the  University of Leicester School of Archaeology and Ancient History's Archaeology Unit. (Leicester Archaeology Monographs). Our understanding of our history has been turned on its head (see for example the references in the superb series presented by Huw Edwards "The Story of Wales"). The fascination with history powers a lot of tourism (and if you see my post from Tuesday this week about Owain Glyndŵr, you'll see how my recent holiday was enhanced by the work of Archaeologists - and took me to Sycharth, Conwy, Harlech, & Glyndyfrdwy). 

Our fascination with Stonehenge has led to many TV programmes and much tourism - drawing (in 2019) more than 800,000 visitors. Other crowd pullers include the Jorvik Viking Centre , the British Museum, and many local museums across the country.

It seems perverse then that a number of Archaeological Departments face the chop.

The Council of British Archaeology has highlighted the problem - do visit this page! I studied Law at Sheffield University & Politics at Leicester University. Cuts are threatened to the esteemed Archaeology Departments of both. The University of Chester (Chester was a Roman legionary city, and the site of a key battle  in the early 7th Century), Birkbeck College, part of the University of London, and Aston University  are also considering cuts to their archaeology departments.

There is an article in today's Guardian which is well worth reading.

If you'd like to add your name to the petition - and I'd urge you to do so - the address is here