12 October 2012
Breaking New Ground: How Professional Archaeology Works. Kenneth Aitchison. Landward Publications. Kindle Edition. 2012. Available from Amazon £2.87. ISBN 978-0-9572452-0-4
With Breaking New Ground it is Kenneth Aitchisons aim to provide a follow on , maybe a companion volume, to RESCUE publications, Rescue Archaeology (Rahtz 1974) and Past Imperfect: The Story of Rescue Archaeology (Jones 1984). It might also be perceived as a post-script to Competitive Tendering In Archaeology (Swain 1991). The bulk of this exhaustive, rigorous and closely argued work originated as his doctoral thesis and in taking the approach of self publishing as an e-book, which can be downloaded from Amazon onto either a smart phone, a kindle, tablet/ipad, or even a PC, this work is aimed at as wide an audience as possible. To most people engaged in professional archaeology in the UK, members of the UK's Institute for Archaeologists (IFA) and/or members of the European Association of Archaeologists, Aitchison will be known as probably the most hard working and prolific writer about archaeology in the market place, championing the adoption of business ethics and practices within commercialised archaeology. It will come as no surprise, therefore, that this work is entirely consistent with his already prolific output. Arranged over four chapters this text provides a comprehensive, if partisan - how can it be other, historiography of the development of rescue archaeology, what has become commercial archaeology in the UK. The broad sweep of the narrative and analysis of the genesis of the commercial world of archaeology is comprehensive in its range and fastidious in its use of data, closely reasoned argument and case studies. Obviously there are areas of analysis which can be, should be and no doubt will be contested, principally because of the underpinning paradigmatic position coupled with a tendency for revisionism. This book serves as a good, exhaustive guide and update for the archaeologist and non archaeologist in understanding how archaeology in the UK has developed. It uses 23 case studies to explain and illuminate the rise of archaeological units in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the politically inspired/imposed advent of competitive tendering in the late 1980s in Berkshire, the complex but entirely predictable/avoidable mess over the excavation and continuing entombment of the Rose Theatre in Southwark, (the vigil by the "lovies" and others a manifestation of what we might now call the big society?) in 1988/89 and the consequent/subsequent moves towards reform of the planning system leading directly to PPG 16. The increase in developer funded archaeology as a direct consequence of an increase in development and the inclusion of archaeology as a material consideration in the planning process and the consequent rise in the numbers of field archaeologists accompanied by the advent of the consultancy sector in archaeology is also. The sweep of its historical narrative ends with the advent of the recession, up to the autumn of 2010, before the cuts started to bite, but covers in some detail the organisational structure of commercial archaeology, its situation within the environmental sector of sustainable development, the rise in the IfA. This book is exhaustive and comprehensive, in exactly the same way that Trotskys History of the Russian Revolution (Trotsky 1932) or Churchills History of the Second World War (Churchill 1948) are comprehensive, but like both it takes a stance and narrates a history which though factually accurate can be contested in the reading and interpretation of detail. This book is a valuable contribution to what is an expanding historiography of the development of our craft and its fledgling moves into the realms of the commercially led development industry. It declines from engaging fully with equally valid alterative narratives, written by people engaged in the process of making archaeology happen, about the ramifications and pitfalls in the way archaeology has situated itself within the market place. This is not because these narratives do not exist, or because they are discredited, representing for others the realities of the situations they see themselves in. Might it be because, in a phenomenon observed by Chomsky (1999, 22) and more recently Sandel (2012) that there has been a tendency, since the fall of the Berlin wall, to conflate democracy with free market capitalism so that any critique of the latter is erroneously dubbed as being anti-democratic, an argument which is used to marginalise (Chadwick 2000) rather than engage and debate counter narratives.
Rahtz, P. A. (ed.) 1974. Rescue Archaeology. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Chadwick, A. 2000. Taking English Archaeology into the Next Millennium - A personal review of the state of the art. Assemblage 5
Chomsky, N. 1999. Profit over people: neoliberalism and global order. New York: Seven Stories Press.
Churchill, W. 1948. The Second World War. London: Cassell.
Jones, B. 1984. Past Imperfect: The Story of Rescue Archaeology. London: Heinemann.
Sandel, M. 2012. What Money can't buy: The moral limits of markets. London: Penguin.
Trotsky, L. 1932. The history of the Russian Revolution. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Swain, H. (ed.) Competitive Tendering in Archaeology: Papers Presented at a One Day Conference in June 1990. Hertford: RESCUE The British Archaeological Trust; SCAUM Standing Conference of Archaeological Unit Managers.