Wednesday 19 May 2021

What do Archaeologists do?


The Times wants me to pay to read the rest of this (Mark Bridge, Great Army of Viking warriors used Northumbria camp to launch raids on Picts' The Times May 20 2021).

A massive camp of the Viking Great Army discovered on a Northumbrian hilltop is the first physical evidence for chroniclers’ accounts of raids by the commander Halfdan against the Picts, experts say. The 49-hectare site in the Coquet Valley was identified by archaeologists after metal detectorists reported numerous finds of gaming counters, coins and other artefacts typical of Viking encampments. According to excavators the discovery appears to confirm written accounts that say that, when the Great Army split into two forces after its conquest of Mercia, an army under Halfdan ravaged the territories of the Picts and the Britons of Strathclyde, in today’s Scotland and Cumbria, in 875AD. Dr Jane Kershaw, the archaeo...
. It's not very enticing. It seems it's saying that 'archaeology' exists to illustrate what the written records say, to provide something physical to gawp at, fleshing out the picture, while paying rapt attention to the words of some medieval monastic chronicler. And it's "metal detectorists" that found the things that produced the story that archaeologists then went along and "found more things" to show we can believe it. Kershaws 2013 book on 'Viking identities: Scandinavian jewellery in England' is very object-centric, based mainly on discussing isolated metal-detected finds in the PAS database.

It seems to me as more and more university boards decide whether or not to drop teaching archaeology (shockingly, Sheffield in the news today), we really have not done a great job in promoting public awareness of the values that make it more, hopefully much more, than just "digging up old things" and padding out what we already know from the historical records. Is what the rest of the Times article (written by their 'historical correspondent) does?

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