The best of British archaeology

Cover with Spine

The new British Archaeology is out today, and will be in the shops on Friday. It’s fabulous. I’ll get onto that soon, but first a diversion.

With all that’s going on, sometimes I’m tempted to wonder why we should think so hard about the distant past. But no, it matters. It’s who we are, it’s with us now and it’s part of the world we would like to be in. The best thing we can all do is do what we are best at. Here is a magazine to show that British archaeologists are very good at their jobs.

That includes archaeologists Sam Nixon and Jennifer Wexler. They have distinguished careers, PhDs from the Institute of Archaeology UCL, and are fully employed in Britain working on important archaeological projects. Nixon was born in Britain and is British. He is married to Wexler, who is a US citizen continuously resident in the UK for over a decade. Yet they have both in effect been told to leave the UK by the Home Office.

Not only is this absurd and cruel, but it goes against the government’s own policy to encourage “leading figures and individuals who show promise in technology, science, art and creative industries”, who are not British citizens, to work here. It is also a self-inflicted example of what the UK’s universities have warned the government about: “The UK could lose some of its brightest minds who are conducting life-changing research unless they receive long-term clarity from the Brexit negotiations.​” There can be no sensible explanation for this, regardless of your views on the Brexit process.

If Nixon and Wexler’s story is worrying, Hadrian’s Wall has thrown up a real laugh – if you take a DCMS announcement at face value. John Glen, the heritage minister, has launched a project to link the wall in northern England with the Great Wall of China.

The two world heritage sites will “work together on research, education and tourism growth”. There will be a “new Heritage Council… emphasising value of historic environment, building consensus and ensuring greater coordination across government”. “The Wall to Wall Collaboration”, says Glen, “is the perfect example of how heritage can be used to strengthen international partnerships, grow tourism and build a truly global Britain.” The agreement is “the first of its kind”.

Now all that’s good, and Glen’s speech suggests that what the Heritage Council actually does is open to negotiation and thus partly up to all of us. And there are more warm words. Glen’s heart is in the right place.


But China? The first agreement of its kind? Hadrian’s Wall is part of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire world heritage site, an international arrangement that brings together Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall (remember that one? It’s in Scotland, see map inset) and comparable remains in Germany. Promoted by British archaeologists, it was inscribed by Unesco in 1987, and extended in 2005 and 2008 – the agreement was signed in Rome. Frontier museums have been twinned. The project has embraced many other countries in and beyond Europe: the Roman frontier ran from northern Britain, across Europe and the Near East, and along the north coast of Africa. To coin a phrase, the frontier has brought together many people who “work together on research, education and tourism growth”.

So while celebrating a heritage project with China (who could object?), let’s remember we have some pretty good ones going in Europe, and could do more. We should support them all.

Enough. Here’s a quick look at the new British Archaeology!

Our front cover features the Roman god Mithras, and the new temple reconstruction at Bloomberg London, a remarkable story of archaeology, art and business.


Our Big Dig is Glenfield Park, where 11 cauldrons have been found at an iron age settlement.

Repairs to the roof of Westminster Hall are underway, but why are archaeologists excluded from examining one of the great wonders of medieval Europe? This follows our major feature on the Westminster Repair and Renewal project earlier this year, and a good piece in the Guardian by Charlotte Higgins a few days ago (to which I responded with a letter to the paper).


At Auckland Castle, major excavations have taken place at what was once home to the UK’s only prince bishops. (Bishop Auckland is one of eight new Heritage Action Zones announced by Glen.)


Animal, Vegetable Mineral? Remembering the original archaeology TV series, with an audience that could compete with that of modern soaps.

Hendraburnick Quoit: A Cornish megalithic ruin with a message from the past.

Why do archaeologists want help with excavating treasures?

Like Stonehenge megaliths – in flint. Phil Harding, Time Team archaeologist and flint expert, is in awe (as I am) of a group of flint “cores”, the most recent of which was found in the Avebury world heritage site.

I interviewed Rachel Whiteread, one of my favourite living artists, for My archaeology.

And there is much more, with reviews, photography, exhibitions and stories from the world of archaeology in Britain.

2 thoughts on “The best of British archaeology

  1. Sadly Mike the Home Office is throwing up absurd and cruel judgments because nothing is yet fixed down about the status of foreigners in the UK, whether they are EU nationals or not.
    best Tim

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