Monday, 21 August 2017


     The plan this week was to review a short assessment I completed looking at the role of hillforts in Iron Age Britain. But that can wait. 'A' level results have been published here in the UK and the scramble to fill university places, not by students but by the institutions, has started.

 My last missive provoked some interesting discussion on a number of FB groups, much of which centred on how students in particular (and many young field archaeologists) have become slaves to technological data to the exclusion of experience and expertise. 

   This beggars the question.......are we getting dumber? And if so, is it a problem unique to archaeology? The simple answer, of course, is "No", and "No", but let's consider what has been said and written by those "in the know".

     I did my A levels in 1981, and had an unconditional offer from Oxford University to read Zoology, Sept 1981. Life took a different course, however, and it was not until 2015 that I finally "went up" to read. Circumstances have changed over the years, and whilst the motivations for change might have been laudable (or maybe not), the results, I fear, may have long term consequences. If they are not already.

     You might ask what this has to do with archaeology. Without going into what defines the subject, I have always thought that the education provided to future generations reflects both the society in which it takes place, but is also indicative of the kind of society that is wished for. 

      Understanding societies and societal process is a large part of what archaeology is all about. So what is happening?

     In post-war Britain less than 5% of young adults attended University. A situation perpetuated through to the 1980's. Of these most were from middle or upper class families and had been educated privately (as I was). Our political masters tried to redress the imbalance by introducing tuition fees and amending the examinations system. The process has been largely successful from that point of view, but....

     More recently the Taliban in Afghanistan, seizing power following the withdrawal of Russian forces, prohibited all females from attending school. The result, a male dominated society in which females became second class citizens (if citizens at all).

     Many such examples exist from all over the world, but the principle remains that how, and who, we educate reflects both current society and the future we wish for. So, back to the UK and archaeology in particular. 

      This year over 25% of students achieved an A or A*, simply remarkable! Overall pass rate is predicted to be 97.9%. We should not be surprised, as the head of OfQual (that's the oversight authority) reduced the grading bands and the boss even declared "I want the message to be that students have done fantastically well. All our kids are brilliant". Ms Collier would not be out of place at the Mad Hatter's tea party!  Yeah...and I can beat Mo Farah over 10kms, debate origins of the universe with Stephen Hawking and could be starting QB for the Packers, though maybe not at the same time. And university attendance  continues to grow with latest estimates at ~40%.

     With such surrealistic people in control , and with the tuition fee system engendering nothing more than a governmental "ponzi scheme" according to Nick Timothy, former senior adviser to PM Theresa May,     Universities have no chance. Or do they? And if so, how? 

     Many of the answers can be found in the recent deliberations of the British Academy, so I won't repeat them here but do suggest you check them out.

     I am concerned that if we do not address the issues then, as a discipline, we shall be unable to contribute to the solutions that our society so desperately requires. Climate change, Inequality, Migration, Integration and Segregation are just a few of the many challenges we face. Archaeology and Archaeologists have a pivotal role to play but we must first ensure that future generations are educated and trained accordingly. It is not just about digging and displaying. Archaeology is far more important than that and, possibly, holds the keys to the very survival of our civilisation.

     Bill Shankly famously said "Some people think football is a matter of life and death......I can assure you it is far more important than that."  The same could be said of Archaeology.

     For an interesting, and philosophical, discussion I suggest you read Jose Ortega y Gasset, and in particular his seminal works "The Revolt of The Masses" and "Man and Crisis".