The Death Of British Archaeology?….. Not quite yet.

The positions available to archaeologists diminishes all the time, yet people around the world still hear the calling of the dirt.

They say now that there are no more voyages of great discovery on earth, no more places to discover, there are the entire worlds beneath our feet that have scratched their lives and their deaths under the very earth where we live and where we die, today.

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There are the humble heroes, men and women who embark on epic voyages of discovery everyday, from the armchair to the rain soaked ground, to write the diary of humanity. However as it has been proven in the last few months, not everybody shares the same sentiment.

I live in the Fens, and just a few days ago an announcement was, well, announced in the guise of a keynote party speech by the Conservative leader of Fenland Council Mr Alan Melton, essentially to the effect of relaxing important development rules in accordance with archaeological surveying prior to the building work undertaken in the area.

Basically all archaeological procedure can now be bypassed to help speed up and penny pinch to build more tulip factories or some other such nonsensical thing. The expletives that came to my mind when I read this are of a somewhat ‘rude eloquence’ that sadly I cannot repeat, but I think it’s fair to say I have a hernia now. At first when reading you would be forgiven for thinking that it must be a joke of some kind, to show this let’s just have a few quotes from the man in charge of Fenland council shall we?

Number one: ‘Conservation rules will be relaxed and development boundaries will become a thing of the past’  Love the use of irony there, he was probably very proud of that, that showed us eh?

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Number two: “The bunny huggers won’t like this but if they wish to inspect a site, they can do it when the footings are being dug out.” This is probably the stupidest thing that has ever been uttered from another human beings lips, but I will admit it’s lovely of him to let us ‘inspect when the footings are being dug out’  The field of archaeology’s gratitude knows no bounds to you for that Mr Melton. And if you ever actually hugged a bunny, you’d change your mind, it really is quite delightful.

And of course my personal favourite: “But we won’t dwell too much on the scriptures of the new religion, I don’t believe the Polar Bears will be floating down the Nene in my life time or indeed my children’s.”(*)

And this is from a man who actually is in charge of something.

The speech goes on to say how this will improve the market towns of the area, of which there are many. It will help them grow and prosper and enabled hard earned (cough) development money to be ploughed back into prosperous growth. And that suffice to say that is all well and good, but what about the archaeologists who now have to look even further afield for an already thinning, actually who are we kidding, positively anorexic margin of employment opportunity? And the least mentioned about the loss of the areas heritage the better. The Fens is a rich tapestry comprised of some beautiful and ultimately useful archaeology and now alas it stands on the brink of obsolete annihilation. And the same can be said for the rest of the country too, last month an announcement was also made to the melancholic tune of cutting English Heritages grant by 32%…yes….32%.

That I am sure by anybody’s measure, is a truck load of resources just taken away.

What will become of archaeology and the heritage it both discovers and protects? The interest and passion with which it is pursued will not diminish of this I am sure. What about the rest though? Sadly a beating heart is nothing without the precious lifeblood.  Public interest is a constant worry, in an ever changing society of consumerism where great items of interest are damn near impossible to remember the next day, what becomes of the landmarks that need protecting? The vultures circle the  fields to feed the legions of exploitation, grown fat on the heritage it greedily consumes. With the cutting of resources and much needed jobs in the Heritage Sector. The path is left open for the unsavoury elements, I can almost hear the night hawkers rubbing their hands in prospective glee.

Archaeology it seems is against the ropes, but like the old boxer who has still got some dance in the gloves yet, we have some magic left in the old trowel. My heart soars when I have read this week about the archaeologists in this country hitting back with beautifully crafted fury. I for one am proud to call myself an archaeologist and honoured to be amongst the ranks of some of the finest purveyors of mystery hunters that this earth has to offer..

I fell in love with what archaeology stands for, with the belief that it achieves solutions to enigmas that we as a race have an obligation to understand, and I share that love and respect with millions of people (and archaeologists)  What’s great is that the saga is never ending, with every new answer it is greeted with a rapture of applause…of more and more questions, but gosh, do we enjoy answering those questions (or rather, arguing about the theoretical meanings of the answers to those questions)

We are the archers on the muddy field at Azincourt, and we are the guardians of the Hot Gates,and we will charge the battleground of the present, armed with nothing but the weapons if the past.

So to you Mr Melton once more, we are down, but we are most certainly not out.

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Paddy Lambert
Paddy Lambert
Paddy Lambert is a student of archaeology and a regular contributor to Heritage Daily. Paddy has excavated sites within the UK and France where he supervises and teaches archaeology to the general public as part of an outreach project to raise awareness of the discipline.

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