thinking about archaeology

Pick up your Metro!

British Archaeology’s cover feature is sampled in today’s Metro, bringing a bit of history to the start of 3.5m British commuters’ days (thanks, Ben Gilliland and COSM). My “10 big questions archaeology must answer”, in full in the magazine, range from “What species were Britain’s first humans?” to “Who are the British?” (I’ll fess up, that’s what the last question in some printed versions should be.) They are all big questions, and my point is that they can only be answered by archaeological research.

Archaeology, and the people who do it, are taking a real bashing now. It’s important that we remind ourselves that archaeology is not just a geeky hobby or a form of soft edutainment. Look at the British Museum’s new Afghanistan exhibition. Look at Egypt. (Has no one in the British media noticed that Zahi Hawass apparently resigned yesterday, having been promoted to head a new Antiquities Ministry as he praised Mubarak, and become increasingly embroiled in a fog of accusations and contradictory announcements about looting and damage to antiquities?) Look at the popularity of the BBC’s TV series, A History of Ancient Britain (the quick informed comment on that, is that it could almost have been made 20 years ago – some major recent breakthroughs passed it by – but it wasn’t, and it was worth doing now). To misquote VS Naipaul, to be aware of history is to cease to live instinctively. To know our origins is to be truly human.

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