An article was published in The Telegraph recently, which discusses the issue of far-right groups attempting to “retake” ancient monuments in England.
Twisting the past to try and legitimise fascism is nothing
new. Archaeology was used as a part of Nazi nationalist propaganda to prove the
origin of a master race that was German. Indeed, it played such an important role
that during World War II the Nazis had archaeologists coming behind the front
lines, even taking over and continuing ongoing excavations in countries they
Archaeology in Britain is poor at countering this. Of 837 archaeologists surveyed by the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA) in 2013, seven described themselves as non-white. With a community that narrow, however well-intentioned many of us are we are failing to be a voice against white supremacists. Statistically I imagine we are up there in what a white supremacist would wish for in terms of diversity.
We are also bad at tackling it head on. Many will have concerns about becoming a target or feel it is not their place to get involved. When publishing little if any thought is given to how the material will be consumed and used for various political ends. When things do get political there is also a tendency for archaeologists to either hide away or state that once it is out of their hands then they are unable to control how it is used.
There is also apathy. A link to the Telegraph article put up on the Prehistoric Society facebook page shows a number of people who either do not care or are actively defending the actions of the neo-Nazis as a “free speech” issue. The ever excellent moderating by Tess Machling saved that post from becoming an absolute trash fire of an argument, but still highlights how much needs to be done.
It is easy to not get
involved. It does not impact us (white) archaeologists much in our day to day
life and we will often be totally oblivious to it going on. That leaves the 1%
of the industry to fight the use of archaeology as a tool against them. Racist
tropes of angry and disruptive individuals then come into play and careers stagnate
or are demolished.
We should all be angry that archaeology is being used to
legitimise an ideology that kills. As the Telegraph piece points out mass
shootings in Norway and New Zealand that combined killed over 100 people were
carried out by Odinists, a religion often espoused by fascists. The heavy
lifting can not be left to those who already carry more than their fair share.
The industry more widely must do more, but there are things we should all be doing:
When disseminating archaeology consider how it will be consumed and engage with its life after you have published it.
Challenge these ideologies safely, but directly.
Recognise your own racism. Being in the society we are in means we all (including me) have racist ideas that we may not recognise. If you are called out on being racist don’t be defensive, use it to be a better person. Nobody is perfect, work to be better.
Do not talk over BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) people on this issue. Yes be actively involved and take the weight off others, but do not make it about you and do not drown out the voices that need to be heard
One of the wonderful advantages of living on Orkney is
the east access to so many wonderful archaeological sites. This Easter holiday
we went to visit the Broch of Gurness. If you have not been before it is a
mind-blowing example of a broch with associated smaller structures: Domestic?
Not domestic? Let me know your thoughts. It is also interesting in that it is situated
just within sight of Midhowe broch across the water on the island of Rousay.
It is also a brilliant site to let children run
themselves exhausted amongst the ruins. Not only this, they can fit into small
spaces with a torch to report back on what they see (all very risk managed and
health and safety conscious of course). As discussed before, enthusiastic child
labour has its uses in archaeology.
For anyone who is unfamiliar with brochs, they are quite
specific to Scotland. Also known as “complex atlantic roundhouses”, they are
huge drystone circular towers that are often found on the coasts or close to
water sources. The use of these structures is highly debated, making for a good
example of the robust conversations that go on within archaeology. If nothing
else this debate shows once again that “mainstream archaeology” is totally
incapable of agreeing to hide large alien conspiracies. People built cool
stuff, there is no need for aliens: end of.
Although dated later than my natural hunting ground of the Neolithic, brochs will always hold a special place in my heart. My first ever excavation as an undergraduate was at The Cairns on South Ronaldsay. It was an exciting place to do my first ever dig, with data of truly international significance being recorded. It is also just a genuinely cool site to have been involved with. Excavations are ongoing with regular updates posted online (see links below). Every year new unexpected and remarkable things are being found and I have no doubt that the final publication is going to be substantial in understanding both the monument type and Iron Age society.
Brochs are, of course, not just an Orcadian thing. They
spread across northern Scotland from east to west with various wonderful
regional variations. The Caithness Broch Project have in recent years done a
huge amount to highlight the amazing number of these monuments in what is now
Caithness. Their big aim is to build a replica broch, but they regularly have smaller
projects going on. Just recently they did a fine job tidying up Achvarasdal
While I love Orkney and its archaeology, it is not lost on me that there is a significant research bias on this part of Scotland. For those of you who wish to see the archaeology of Scotland, Caithness should never be a part that is driven through to catch the ferry to Orkney. You will see things in Caithness to rival anything on Orkney, although of course do come to Orkney as well because it’s brilliant.
Before moving up to Orkney and setting this up I worked with Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology Service, where I was involved with the study of a previously unrecorded Recumbent Stone Circle that turned out to be a replica built in the 1990s. Here I discuss the details around the study of this site specifically as well as going into more details about the archaeological process and public engagement more generally as well as trying to understand just when does something become archaeology?