Thursday, 20 December 2012

Proposed Closure of Southampton's Archaeology Unit

Southampton's city authorities need to make savings of more than £20m, and one of the things they've decided can go is Southampton's archaeology unit whose experts have been custodians of the city's historic sites and artefacts for more than 50 years. It is a non-statutory service, which the council is not legally required to provide, and so is facing closure as the economic slowdown, affecting the archaeology sector nationally, has meant the unit has struggled to win contracts from the commercial sector.
About 10 people currently work in the Southampton unit, which was among the first professional archaeology departments to be set up by a local authority in the 1950s. Many councils followed, responding to the growing interest in protect historic sites threatened by post-war development.[...] University of Winchester archaeologist Dr Paul Everill said the unit had a "pioneering" role in British archaeology and played an important role in the council's planning decisions [...] He said the Southampton situation reflected a "bleak" outlook for archaeology in the UK. A combination of watered-down previous requirements for developers to employ archaeologists ahead of construction projects and the general slowdown in the building industry has led to job losses across the archaeology sector.
Still, never mind, eh? Plenty of treasure in the ground and lots of amateur Treasure hunters out there to find it for us and its easier to raise the next £65,000 for the umpteenth bucketload of Roman coins than to keep on a group of real researchers, a professional team that finds seeds and old shoes in cesspits and VLG (Very Little Gold) archaeology is just not hot news any more. Old hat, out with the old and bring in the new "Britain's Secret Treasure" archaeology, that's what it's all about now. That's what gets the tourists coming to museums, not those boring old seeds and old shoes, this is how-people-lived stuff and all that narrative about agency and all that. Time for some sound-bite dumbed-down archaeonarratives. Archaeology is what any Tom, Dick and Harriet can do with a metal detector, producing all manner of little things that - we are now incessantly told - can in themselves "rewrite history", all at no cost to anyone much. British archaeology's biggest outreach Scheme has reached out far too many times with its greedily one-sided public message on what archaeology is about, and public support for a more expensive different type of archaeology is thus being steadily eroded. In today's economic climate, that is a dangerous situation for archaeology to be in.

BBC, 'Archaeology cuts 'tragedy' for Southampton' 19 December 2012

Vignette: You won't find many medieval shoes with a metal detector. 

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