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Kent Archaeological Review extract

Letter from the Chairman.
by W S Penn.

With the advent of more leisure, archaeology has attracted, in the last few years, a large number of people who, in their turn, have made possible the undertaking of much more field work than could be even contemplated some 20 years ago. But, rewarding though this development has been, it has brought out into sharper focus some of the dangers inherent in indiscriminate excavation. It may not be inopportune to state at least some of them.

There can be no question that methodical excavation and recording must, indeed, take place whenever a site is in imminent danger of destruction through modern development, not forgetting the constant effect of deep ploughing upon ancient field systems; there must also be field survey and recording of new sites. But the mere existence of a site is not in itself sufficient justification for its excavation. To re-echo the words of Professor Sir Ian Richmond, when addressing the CBA Conference on Romano-British villas some ten years ago, what is really needed is the complete excavation of type-sites, not piecemeal excavation for its own sake. Besides rescue excavations, what is needed is a planned programme of work in answer to specific questions; for, otherwise, to establish the plan and features of yet another camp, yet another hut-circle, villa or medieval farm-house, to take a few random examples, cannot add much to our knowledge unless it is likely to provide information not already forthcoming from other sites or sources. The difficulties in arriving at such a planned programme of research, which would command general support, are numerous but none need be insuperable; at any rate, a start towards something of this order will have been made if we were to consider such a policy.

Then, just as the archaeologist has learned to abandon his three-dimensional vision in order to interpret the vertical planes of his sections, so must we aim at recording not only the features of our sites, but also at re-creating the people that inhabited them -- else, archaeology would be in danger of becoming little more than a sterile academic exercise. People can be brought back to life, if we were to look at their sites as the visible remnants of their lives, our finds not so much in terms of dating evidence or type series but in their original utilitarian use, the rooms of our excavated buildings not so much in terms of size and plan but as bedrooms, living-rooms and studies; and, though it would be idle to pretend that we could restore much of their pleasure and griefs, unless by implication, much can be learnt from excavation of their wealth or poverty, their economic and cultural background, and their place within their own area and times-otherwise, archaeology could become an abstraction. In this respect, it would always be salutary to remember the point implied in the question of the casual visitor to any excavation who often wants to know how many people lived in those huts or buildings.

Again, if archaeology is to retain its attraction for the large number of the public, on whom in the last resort much excavation must depend, more care will have to be taken and thought given to presenting the results of our investigations in a form which could be easily appreciated by the non-specialist public. Excavation reports, and their presentation, will naturally vary according to individuals, but is there not a case for their becoming readable to a larger number of people than other archaeologists?

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