Mike Parker Pearson, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Archaeology and Prehistory here at Sheffield, contemplates his years at Cambridge with Ian Hodder's class of '79, the birth of post-processualism, life, love and the universe..! You may navigate your way around this interview in one of two ways; follow each of the vaguely themed 'pints' or just scroll down and read as Mike related it.
Interview by Mel Giles, Judith Winters and Kathryn Denning
Class of '79 Social Theory Uni Life Institutional Atmospheres
Post Cambridge YearsCould it happen again? Archaeology in Practice
Reminiscences Repercussions In the Beginning... The Future
Integrating Theory & Practice North American Archaeology Last Orders
5.30pm O'Hagans bar, Sheffield, March 20th 1997
So, you were the class of '79?
Yes, yes we were. OK now let's see. Danny Miller, Chris Tilley and Mary Braithwaite started one and two years beforehand and Ellen Pader was finishing off as well around that time. So in addition to them it was a brand new intake and it was Henrietta Moore, Sheena Crawford, Alice Welbourn, I think we were probably the principal four, and one or two others sort of drifted in and drifted out, someone called Steve Cogbill who came to look at round barrows and there were others – Paul Lane was a bit of a late starter and also on the fringes was Andy Mawson who actually did some ethnoarchaeology in the Sudan but went off to work for Amnesty. They are the ones who immediately spring to mind – I've probably left out someone ... Roger Thomas and Jane Grenville had a healthy scepticism towards the group's ideas but were my closest friends.
Were you all students of Ian Hodder?
Yes, we were all his supervisees. I was going to do something very boring on the Bronze Age of the Alps...
You could have found the iceman!
Yes exactly. It would have been quite interesting with retrospect but never mind!
So, Ian said "Forget all that. I've got a brand new plan for archaeology and that we are going to change the world, we're going to change the whole approach to archaeology.". Of course he had been doing his work in Baringo and was finishing that off, and realised that ethnoarchaeology was the way in to developing a whole new approach, because, it was basically to re-examine the relationship of material culture to human activity, and to do it in a very different way to what was going on particularly in the New Archaeology.
Was that a current approach within the department or did you find yourself at odds with most of the others?
Very much so. Not with Ian's students, but there were certain people, like Paul Halstead. He was particularly antagonistic. He was always a terrier snapping at Ian's heels and basically telling him to be more rigorous. Really a very good thing because he was a sort of little devil on one shoulder saying "You don't want to believe all that". And so Paul coined the term 'cogi-playgroup' and a bit later on Todd Whitelaw arrived and he sort of fell in with Paul's side, so there was always this kind of antagonism set-up. What Ian did was very clever really, he said "What we're going to do is divide up material culture into four or so basic types and each one of you will do a particular issue.". So I got Death, Henrietta got Rubbish, Alice Welbourn got Craft Specialisation and, what did Sheena end up doing? She was looking at Household Space. Oh and Linda Donley I've forgotten. She had already started but [was] very much one of that core. In addition to that, Chris Tilley was looking at design and style, but already very much in the context of the Swedish Neolithic. So yes, it was all sorted, we all had our little thing, our little topic to study, and what Ian basically set out was that we should do some ethno work on those particular aspects, go off for a year...
How was that funded?
I think most of us had British Academy grants. And we had weekly or bi-weekly seminars. Ian would just send us away, different ones, with a particular book. At these sort of weekly sessions, someone would read a book on behalf of the others and then just tell everyone about it. So it was our chance to read a lot, particularly about ethnography, and of course a lot of new writings coming in at that time in the sort of post-functionalist schools in anthropology. The other one I've forgotten is Mary Braithwaite, who was already there, again before us, and she was looking initially at cognitive mapping of designs and so on, what you might be able to say in universal terms about designs and styles. That didn't really come to anything because increasingly as we got into it, we abandoned any sense of universalist notions of what we might be able to get out of it – that everything depended on context. And that increasingly became clear the more we worked at it and the more we read. We also talked to the people in Social Theory, well SPS as it was called, Social and Political Science and Social Anthropology and I spent a lot of time going to some very bizarre lectures in the Philosophy of Science and SPS and psychology as well as anthropology.
I think we very much felt that we were on a mission. Ian was very persuasive but he wasn't bombastic, like Binford or a lot of the New Archaeologists, which I think was also part of his charm because he was always very quiet and softly spoken about things, but had a very strong commitment and a very strong conviction. The only trouble was that he would always disappear off on these bizarre tangents. In a sense I always felt he was always bouncing off the walls in extreme directions, but somewhere in there was a kind of middle ground that we were stepping out and forging for ourselves. The way it all came together in terms of the public, well, public perception within archaeology, was that Ian decided to hold a conference in the summer of, I think it was, the summer of 1980, in Cambridge, and he wrote off to a lot of people in America that he knew were sympathetic to this cause and ended up with people like Alison Wylie, Susan Kus, Thomas Wynn and various others coming along to the conference. We'd had a disastrous TAG in Sheffield in '79 and we had a particular session; I didn't give a paper of my own because it was my first term, but Alice was supposed to read Mary Braithwaite's paper on artistic design, cognitive ability, children and so on. She decided she couldn't read it because she had a sore throat and I had to read it. At the end of that session, Ian got really roasted, and I felt terribly sorry for him because he had a very hard time, but he didn't lose his cool, he didn't lose his bottle he just kept going and replied to all the critics. Of course everyone expected answers, complete results and so on and there weren't any. These were very early days. Afterwards [Colin] Renfrew came storming up to me, absolutely red in the face with fury, and said "I don't know how you could possibly have brought yourself to do that". Just to read this paper, nothing to do with me, and [he was] very cross.
Why was he so cross with you?
I had been one of his students at Southampton, and he felt I was kind of 'losing the way', simply after reading this paper, and I must say I didn't agree with a lot of it. At that time, well let's see, Alice Welbourn was reduced to tears by Renfrew's treatment and I remember turning to Steve Shennan and saying "How can he be like this?" and Steve's only comment was "If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen". Anyway, weeks later, Renfrew wrote a kind of apologetic note in which he said "I'm afraid that when it comes to structuralism, I have to admit to a suspension of disbelief.". Which was a very strange thing to say, but he was making it utterly clear that he didn't want anything to do with structuralism and that kind of symbolic approach. So it was a rough and rocky start. The conference in '80 was great and by that time I had already started on my analysis of British funerary practices and enjoyed it enormously. I was looking at contemporary Britain. It started off really as a piece of 'child-work', before I did my PhD, before I did my proper fieldwork, which I had initially planned to do in Kenya with Henrietta and with Alice Welbourn, and at the last minute I bottled out, when I discovered from their ethnography that they were particularly secretive about their burial practices. It wasn't really going to be much help. So I then decided to go to Borneo and I knew that Sabah and Sarawak were very hard to get into, and it seemed that that was probably a better bet, to go to the British ex-colonial bits rather than the Dutch. Which only left Brunei and two unfortunate run-ins there; first of all the grant I was hoping to get - Sir Edmund Leach was one of the people on the committee and he got very cross that in my application form I had put that anthropologists did nothing to do with time, that they were really looking at ethnographic snapshots. He stopped me getting the grant all by himself, the rest of the committee were going to give me the money, and he wrote me a letter saying "You say you want to do material culture but most of their stuff is perishable!" completely missing the point that we were interested in all material culture, "and as for history, well let me show you half a page I once wrote about long-term change in Borneo" and that was it! I was just gobsmacked that he could be so annoyingly wrong. And the second thing was trying to get a visa from Brunei because of course, I think they decided I was a Marxist terrorist and didn't want me there at all! I was also dabbling in things that they would see as politically problematic, because I wanted to look at traditional religion amongst the inland Iban? and other groups and it's a sort of political minefield because Brunei is a very carefully controlled state. It's Islamic and they were trying to basically eradicate all the traditional beliefs, so I could have got myself into an awful mess if I'd gone. And in many ways that's what Madagascar was about all these years later - to finish the work that I was initially going to do.
So going to Madagascar gave that a sense of closure for you personally?
Yes I think so, and the most important thing was that I just went there on holiday and realised that there was a whole way of life that was totally alien to anywhere I'd ever been before but it was somewhere, of course, I'd read all the books about before I had gone, and I think it was that feeling of "My god, yes we are right" because, just seeing how people were living in traditional societies, the sorts of things that we were thinking and trying to do, really I felt, were confirmed by going there and realising that there are 'other countries and the past is also one of them'. That it was obviously the way to be looking at past societies in anywhere around the world, if you like. So that was a very important moment all those years later, that any doubts I might have had that we were just imposing our perceptions on what life might be like in traditional societies, was not the case. That was really important for me.
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You were already interested in social theory then; who were your guiding influences?
We were very influenced by the writings of Pierre Bourdieu and Giddens as well. Giddens was in my college, in Kings, so I actually asked him if he knew much about archaeology and would he be interested in coming to talk to us and getting involved in our projects, and he was. He wanted initially to read some books on archaeology to get the hang of what was going on and I gave him a series of references as to where we were at theoretically, in other words, straight processual stuff, and he came back after a couple of days after having read the lot – well he said he did I don't know if he really did! – and said, "Well it's all terribly functionalist you know and that sort of thing has basically died a death in the kind of work that we're all up to.". I think it was very refreshing that there were people like him who were there and on tap to go and talk to. So I introduced him to archaeology and he came along to one or two sessions but then I think his interest waned. Partly because his own work is particularly directed to what he sees as the period after the fundamental break with traditional pasts, yeah, but I mean, that's the revolution onwards and therefore he felt that there wasn't much to be said about pre-industrial society.
So do you think that might pose a problem in the way that Giddens's work is extensively used?
I think there are big questions about the nature of agency which we've taken on board without understanding the constraints that people in traditional societies work under. I found a lovely quote about this the other day in Frazer's Golden Bough where he talks about the people of Java being slaves to their religion and tradition. Although it's over-stated, I think it brings out the sense that agency is a very different matter in many traditional societies that don't have notions of innovation, change, fashionability and so on that we're so used to living with today.
So in archaeological social theory we may be placing emphasis upon individual action and freedom of thought that might sometimes be inappropriate for past societies?
Yes, I think we do. It's all part of our working it through. I mean Giddens never meant his theory to be a universalised and general theory. It is a theory for its place in time which is contemporary twentieth century society. He's not interested, and I don't even think he'd see it as relevant, I think he'd see it as a misapplication, if we were to take it into the pre-industrial societies.
Do you think then that such an interdisciplinary aspect is really important for a department?
Yes. Professional anthropologists were a bit of a disappointment. I think the difficulty was that they never really saw what we were trying to do with material culture, because material culture and anthropology at that time were still associated with Pitt-Rivers and the early twentieth century school of thought. Even when it was explained, now I think the people I probably talked to most were Alan McFarlane, who was writing about medieval societies and the rise of English individualism and that sort of thing, and Stephen Hugh-Jones, and again I think it was very difficult for them to see quite what it was we were after, because of course they always felt that archaeologists were hampered in not having access to systems of meaning because the people were dead, and therefore you were very limited in what you could do at all. So we never really got into the deeper theoretical issues with them because they were always saying 'Well you can't really do that sort of thing anyway'. Impoverished cousins, yes! There were quite intriguing things coming out from Jack Goody but he was impossible to talk to because he never finished his sentences!
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How was all of this feeding into the wider world of archaeology? Did you all finish your research in good time, publish very quickly and push for posts?
No. Tilley I think finished in about '83 or '82, Henrietta finished in '82. She was the quickest through. She basically did it in two and a bit years, at the same time as setting up the Archaeological Review from Cambridge that she and Sheena did. She was very, very motivated and incredibly hard-working. Half-way through mine, well I spent a year just going to seminars and lectures, everything I could get to, and in that first year I also did the Cambridge funerary studies. In my second year I realised that the ethno was off, and in a way I did far better just going straight into an archaeological case study and then the Iron Age thing seemed like a very obvious place, very good material, good excavations, lots of different sorts of contexts and the ideal chance to try out these things in a material culture-rich, prehistoric situation. The only problem was that after I had done my fieldwork, the last thing I wanted to do was to write it all up. I had far more exciting things to do and I can remember telling Ian that I was off for nine months digging various holes in Britain and the Middle East, and he was extremely unhappy about it and said 'you know you really must stay at home and do it'. Of course I didn't listen to his advice but went off and had a wonderful time, and doing things that were fundamentally important for later really, such as Barton-on-Humber cemetery and church. But what was the outcome of that now? Oh yes, yes of course, I got beaten up on Paignton sea-front shortly after I finished all that, and ended up with a broken leg which was exactly what was needed to keep me in one place, to sit down and write the PhD.
Fate takes a cunning hand!
Oh yes! There were quite a lot of tensions and frictions as well within the group and they are probably worth talking about. [They were] very strong willed individuals a lot of them, because there were a lot of us! I think that the more that we thought about 'life, the universe and everything', the more that the group split into two. In that one half saying, 'what are we here for? We should be here to help others' and this was a very strong direction which came out of the ethnoarchaeology, was that, 'how could you go and study another culture if you were simply going to live there and leave, and not really deliver anything for them ?'. For Sheena Crawford, Henrietta, Alice Welbourn, this became a very, very important new direction in their lives. It almost divided into the boys and the girls. Ellen Pader stayed very strongly with the archaeology but then, she has gone off and now works as an advisor in America, where she is actually using her expertise to design housing which bears in mind ethnic differences and therefore has accordingly. But the boys I think still stayed relatively keen on archaeology, Chris Tilley stuck with what he had. He was unemployed for a long time afterwards during which he wrote the two books, and Mick Shanks was only a second year at the time.
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Was there a lot of inter-relationships between graduates and undergraduates?
No, not at all.
So he [Michael Shanks] was quite unique in his year?
He was. And the reason for that was that he was in Peterhouse with Chris Tilley, so they just formed a sort of a pair, because of the college, otherwise I think he wouldn't really have a way into it. He wasn't part of the group, certainly for that formative first year.
Was there a difference between the way the women and the men in the group were treated?
It was the first time that that became an issue. It was never a case of the women being put down or talked down to, I think because largely people like Henrietta [Moore], Sheena [Crawford], Mary Braithwaite, Alice [Welbourn] and Ellen Pader, were very, very forceful, strong characters and so they were becoming increasingly politicised. It was very interesting seeing the transition in Henrietta; she became much more radical as a result of her fieldwork in Kenya. She came back a changed person, utterly. And I think what was also interesting was that this was also happening throughout the university at the time.
At what time did King's become co-ed? It was one of the more progressive ones and that was late!
They were the first ones to do it and that happened in, I think that happened in about 1970-1, [Paul] Halstead would know, so it had already established a reputation for being an integrated, mixed college and a radical one as well.
Do you feel that that reputation was deserved?
It was a little hot-house, full of precious people who all thought they were terribly clever, and, that said a lot of my friends now are people I met then, so, you know, it was, though I think a lot of people at that moment were forging a lot of friendships, developing a new outlook on the world.
Do you think that that's something quite unique about Cambridge and perhaps Oxford, the college system and the divide between undergraduates and postgraduates?
I was lucky because Halstead was in Kings as well and he was always challenging. He coined the term the 'cogi-playgroup' to describe us – 'Ian's bright-eyed research students' and of course no-one had ever heard of..., well it wasn't called 'processual archaeology' really and there certainly wasn't a 'post-processual archaeology'. We were 'cognitive, structural and symbolic' and it was only later on that others rewrote it as 'post-processual'. Of course there was the famous seminar with Lewis Binford. Have you heard all about this? No? Oh, that's funny. What happened was that Binford had been invited, he was doing a British tour, and four of us were asked to prepare papers on these new directions, and I obviously gave one on burial practices. Henrietta gave one on rubbish probably. Danny Miller gave a paper and Chris Tilley must have been the fourth. And Binford was so incensed that he tried to storm out of the lecture theatre, saying "I'm not staying here to listen to this. I'm out of here!". And I'll never forget him striding down the lecture theatre with Danny Miller on one arm and Ian Hodder on the other saying "Please, please, please don't go Professor Binford!". That's how I remember it !
He was outraged?
He was furious! Utterly furious.
Because you had been picking holes in his work?
We were critical basically of everything that added up to his approach. And he said he didn't understand what I was trying to say with burial practices. So that was a bit unfair! I've been told that he came straight up to Sheffield to see Robin Torrence, who was an ex-student, and Chris Gosden was hanging around in the foyer of the old department, the one in Clarkehouse Road, and not knowing what had happened at all, asked him, "How was Cambridge Professor Binford?". The reply was, allegedly, "I should take you outside and whip your ass boy!". So I think that went particularly badly.
How did you cope with that? Did you just storm on regardless; did you feel you were on the right track?
I think the one thing that we really derived a lot of strength from was the fact that in what was happening in philosophy of science, social anthropology, psychology and social theory, we were just catching up with what was already accepted – water under the bridge – and I can also remember my puzzlement because when I went to listen to what was going on in all these disciplines, I thought they'd be able to provide me with the answer and, imagine my surprise when I discovered that also in many ways, they were going through these kinds of crises as well. That there was no answer that could be given, so in a way that was unsettling but also comforting, because it was a problem across all the social disciplines at the time.
Do you think we have made any advances on catching up on the other disciplines?
No! I don't think we have. We've seen various mini-trends come and go since then. There was a brief flirtation with chaos theory, which I think has probably utterly died a death. Otherwise we're simply reworking a lot of the themes that were already around at that time. I think the other nice thing was that there were a lot of ethnographies being written, which were very much in the terms that we were interested in. That was really helpful because again it was a new, a totally new approach to ethnography, ethnoarchaeology and studying material culture.
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What happened then? How did you make this approach known in the wider world?
Well Danny [Miller] had a really lucky, good break in that he was snapped up pretty well as soon as he finished, if not before, at UCL, and of course, he's now professor and he made his name in material culture studies, in particular consumption studies. Chris, as I've said was unemployed for sometime. Mike Shanks, after he graduated, went back to teaching because he already had a PGCE and was teaching up in Newcastle. Ellen went off to the States. Henrietta was busy doing development work in places like Burkina Faso and Upper Volta. Although she started off working in development studies, she eventually came back into mainstream anthropology. She was teaching in Cambridge for a short time then got the job at LSE. Sheena went off to the Yemen and I think she's still working there. Alice also went off to do development work for an organisation called CIRR. And who does that leave? Just me I suppose! Well, Steve Cogbill went off to do computing for Shell. He was there for about five years and then moved into another firm. Andy [Mawson] went off to Amnesty and the jobs came up at English Heritage. Roger Thomas, Bob Bewley, the late Bob Smith and I were lucky enough to get the jobs. Jane Grenville also became involved in heritage management as a lecturer in the archaeology department at York. I suppose for me, I was still very interested in field archaeology and I didn't want to lose that, and it seemed like a very obvious job to go for. I was, in a way, very lucky to get it because I thought it was going to be doing the sorts of things that people like [Geoffrey] Wainwright and [Ian] Stead had been doing for the previous twenty years – big digs with lots of money – sounded like my sort of thing. And of course it wasn't that at all. We were basically government bureaucrats. I was especially lucky, because at my interview, they didn't ask me what a scheduled ancient monument was ! A good thing too, because I had no idea and it seems incredible that I didn't know! So in a way that was a new direction, but the other big revolution that happened in archaeology at that time was developer funding. And it was great to be there for that revolution as well and I played my little part in that!
Ian played quite a large part then in directing everyone into a particular field – you and Danny went on to stay in those areas he carved out for you – Death, Material Culture. How did Henrietta move into gender studies from her research interest in rubbish?
Her interest in rubbish led her straight into gender studies. Because it became very apparent that the whole structuring of Marakwet [from Kenya] rubbish disposal was very gender-organised. And of course that led her into looking at her spatial stuff. It was out of that really that I think the change happened. She got off to a difficult start because she wanted to look at bone deposition. When she arrived there were no bones to be seen, of course as is the case in traditional societies. Bones don't lie around. They get chewed up unless they are already buried. And so she wanted to know where the goat bones were from all these goats that they were killing and eating. And the men just sort of rolled around with laughter, because at that stage it was just the men who she was still addressing. It was the funniest thing that they'd ever heard because they were just bones and well 'We just throw them out to the dogs' and 'Why should you want to know?'. It was, again, that sort of clash of culture in terms of our peculiar questions, being slightly inappropriate at the beginning, but in a way that's fieldwork because you have to learn what you can ask and how you can ask and so on.
Did you come up against then that quite a lot in Madagascar?
No. I simply went in with more knowledge about what happens and what goes on, and it's just a matter of knowing what to do and what not to do. Yes, you do things wrong. I can remember someone gave me a pot because they knew I was interested in particularly these old things. They no longer used pottery in this particular village – this is when we went there on holiday – and it had a hole in the bottom and I picked it up and did that with it [holds up imaginary pot and looks through the hole] and everyone just dived onto the floor. I said "What have I done?" and they said "You never do that. Never look at somebody through a broken object." and again it has all those connotations with unluckiness and evil eyes and so on. It's always a learning experience. I think the other thing about ethnographic fieldwork is you have to learn what you ask and how you ask it. It's the most important thing. Never lead a witness! You have to have ways of checking up on what information you have been given and so on. It's incredibly difficult. One of the very best ethnoarchaeologists in our department by the way is Paul Halstead. You probably didn't know that.
I know he speaks Greek like a shepherd!
Yeah. He can do every dialect perfectly. He's done a lot of work on ethnographic things to do with sheep and animals generally, fodder and so on. He's a just a past master at it. And Glynis [Jones] likewise with all her work on seeds. The pair of them are probably our best trained ethnoarchaeologists.
Would you say that we don't have a very strong tradition in our department for encouraging ethnographic research?
No. True. I've said that. There ought to be more of it I think. The other thing to say is that I think the most important thing that we ever did was to write Structural and Symbolic Archaeology. It was years later that, I can remember talking to John Barrett in a pub in London about it, and he was saying "Look, that is the crucial book. Why it's never been republished, I don't know." And I think he's right. I mean John's a very interesting character in all of this because, he was also a big influence on me at that time, because the summer of 1980 I went to dig at South Lodge. And he and Richard Bradley were directing that and it was a very formative moment for me because they were people who were working with converging ideas of what we were up to in Cambridge. And also I think, more excitingly, they were far more engaged in terms of the actual..., the dealing with the archaeological context. It was also where I met Niall Sharples. So I think a lot came out of that moment. What questions have you got left?
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Could it happen again basically? Why do you think that group got together at that point in time? What made it happen? Was it Ian Hodder's careful selection, encouragement or something else?
How did I get into it? Essentially Ian Hodder came to give a lecture in Southampton on the work he was doing in Baringo, and I was particularly impressed by his nice slides! He had these pretty diagrams with the blue background, so they were sort of like negatives. So that the black lines were white and the background was blue and I thought "They're very pretty!". The other thing was that he was actually saying something very controversial, and very different to what was basically orthodox theory at the time and I thought this was just so exciting and at the time I was working with bronze age pottery in the south-west, and so I was already writing to him about long-distance trade in ceramics, what people do with clay, so I was already very interested in ethnography from that point of view. And he wrote back and said 'well, you can do this, you can say this, you can't say that' and so on. And Steve Shennan was a big help because he and Ian had known each other for a long time, and he said "Look, go there.", because Steve had been to Cambridge and Sue [Shennan] had also been there as well and it was just that feeling that something different might just be about to happen.
You had a sense of it?
I think so. Yes. We got there and Ian basically had a programme for all of us.
Do you have any idea where that programme came from, was it his own work?
Yes. He was still teaching orthodox, boring stuff so he'd just written Spatial Analysis in Archaeology, published in '76, and that was the main, the big moment I think really because in '82 he produced three books; Symbols in Action, The Present Past and the edited Structural and Symbolic Archaeology. Barrett said, very rightly, 'why the hell didn't he publish it as Cambridge Workshop?' and we should have done it as that and really broken the mould away from the 'big ideas', all the big men peddling everyone else's ideas for them. I think the other thing is that Ian also derived a lot particularly from Henrietta. I think her more than any of the others and Chris [Tilley] also, and I remember there was a funny showdown between Chris and Henrietta at one of our weekly 'dos' where Henrietta finally admitted that Chris was cleverer than her and I thought 'My God, I thought I'd never see the day that Henrietta actually said that.'.
Were there tensions then? Did you have rights to your own ideas...within that group?
Oh yes, [it was] a very competitive little group. I think so, people were very willing to share and talk about their ideas. There wasn't authorship on ideas. It was really who was brighter.
I find it quite staggering that Ian Hodder shaped so many of your lives. He did seem to mould a lot of people, and they seem to be carrying out what he set them on the road to do. Do you see that as your role now that you are part of a department, that you are in effect in charge of perpetuating a graduate body of work?
I think so. But part of it is that a lot of the ideas were opened up then. Not just in archaeology, because we were just catching up with everyone else, as ever on other people's coat-tails, and I don't think anyone has seen anything new since then. There's been more of an emphasis on post-modernism since then and I never felt very comfortable or interested with that line of enquiry. I suppose because I felt it was, in a sense, rather disabling. There's a lovely quote from Noam Chomsky on post-modernist studies and he says, well it's basically a way of academics creating work for themselves. I think there may be a certain amount of truth in that. It's a nice quote, I should dig it out.
In terms of a graduate community, do you think that that infrastructure of things like weekly seminars, people getting together and working things through, general approaches, is actually quite positive? Do you think it could happen here?
How can I say no! Yes, but we don't do it, do we?
What mechanisms do we have in place in the department of actually promoting and co-ordinating people? Do we want to do that ?
I think we do but I think the good thing is that, we're also in a better position for people getting together and forming their own groups to do that. I think that's what we've been doing at the Monday theory seminars, it can work that way, the fact that there's the Lampeter-Sheffield thing as another indication of that, assemblage is another obvious one as well, and it's just a matter of keeping going. I think what's so different is that of course back then, and still today in Cambridge, they don't have the load that we've got in terms of teaching, administration, supervision and so on. There isn't the time in the day to do the things that we should be doing.
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Do you think, with the funding opportunities as they are now, perhaps undergraduates will be put off from going on?
It's heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking. It was 1993, I can remember that there were some really good ones and they didn't go on to do the next step, and I thought 'What a waste!' What a real shame that they couldn't get the money, couldn't get the grants. That was really sad I think. It was my first realisation that the deserving didn't always get what should have been theirs...hmm... (wistful pause)...It was also very interesting coming here in the first place because Chris Tilley had just got his job at Lampeter, or hadn't been there that long, and I phoned him up and said "Chris, are you going for this job in Sheffield?' and he says "I'm not going there. They're all a bunch of environmental determinists!" and I thought "Thank god, because I'm applying!". It was nice that Chris had got it so wrong in a way, because if he'd thought 'That was the place for me' than I would never have got a look in, so there's luck and there's luck. And I think the other great thing is that there's nothing better than a sense of tension, and also the chance to actually learn what other bits of archaeology are being carried out. And I think it's wonderful that there is that scientific side of things, because it can really be useful. That's what's been great fun about Dun Vulan, is the chance to integrate the specialists, and get all sorts of answers so long as you're asking the right questions about the archaeology.
In terms of the way that you run that dig and the post-excavation work, how have you been able to co-ordinate the specialists in that and encourage them to think about the broader social themes? How is that practically possible? Is it practically possible?
Well we were in a better position than most because most of the specialists were actually here, so that I could go and bore them silly with my strange ideas. And that went reasonably well because I think they had an idea of what I wanted and I had an idea about what was possible.
Is that diversity of approach then a healthy thing for people?
Yes, and coming back to Cambridge and what was going on there, there had been a duality, or dualism, for a long time because there was Higgs and Clarke, and Paul [Halstead] was a very interesting case because he did actually go between the two and he was told in no uncertain terms by Eric Higgs that if he was seen going to David Clarke's lectures and seminars, that would be it, he would be out of it from the 'Higgery'. You should actually get Paul to do a thing on his place in all this. So what then happened was that Higgs and Clarke...well, Clarke died, Higgs retired and then died, and there were two youngsters appointed, and of course they were Geoff Bailey and Ian Hodder. A lot of people feel very bitter about Hodder because they don't think that, if Clarke had lived, he would have taken archaeology in the same direction at all. They think that he would have really continued on what we would now call the processualist path and broadened it, rather than Ian's total break with the past and shackling his horses to the structuralist and post-structuralist bandwagon. So I don't know, I don't know, I never met Clarke so I have no idea, but that tension I think was very important because there was always an argument going on and terribly important. There was a lovely book by David Lodge called Small World, do you know it at all? It was made into a TV series, and it was all about English literature and international conferences and jet-setting between conferences, and there was one big conference. There's a group of people on the podium, each one had to give a short talk about their approach to English literature, in order to win this prize which was basically a professorship with lots of money for the rest of their lives, and so there's the Marxists, the Structuralists, the post-Structuralists and so on in this line-up, all of them saying why their approach is right and all the others are wrong. And then at question time the hero of the novel puts his hand up and says, "I've got a question. I'd like to know what would happen if you all agreed." Deadly hush and someone says, "Well, that's a stupid question!" and the chairman, who eventually awards himself the prize, says, "Oh, I think that's a very good one. Answer it." and they all stumble for an answer, and the lovely thing is that of course that if everyone did agree, the subject would disappear because the only way we work is through tension and constructive tension and it's terribly important. The trouble is I don't like confrontation myself, but it is sadly the way that things do change and work, and I guess we've probably got to try and do more of that. And I suppose in a way that Sheffield has seen more of a coming to terms in all directions I felt , but you do appreciate the work of what others do, you don't just dismiss their work as silly and pointless as we had a tendency to do as graduates.
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Do you think you'll stay here then? You like the atmosphere?
If they renew my contract! Nowhere touches this place. Nowhere at all in Britain.
Not even Oxford or Cambridge now?
No. Cambridge had its bad side. It's an elitist place and it certainly had a role in making me politically aware. I just could see the disgusting privilege and the way that so many of the students there live their lives oblivious to the rest of the world and I think the other thing was that it was a very depressing building, the archaeology department, there was a grisly little coffee room which is still there and it had no character or soul to it at all, so it was almost a kind of social vacuum, and I was lucky because we were in Kings which was a good college, there was Halstead just next door for quite some time, much to his deepest regret! I got into real trouble once because without telling him, Glynis [Jones] lent me the key to his flat when he went off to Greece one summer, on the understanding that I'd water the plants. And of course it was a great place for holding parties, and I got caught, and Paul got into terrible trouble because of me and he's never let me forget it either.
Have you ever repaid him?
He's made me repay him a million times!
Where did you do your drinking?
We did at lot of drinking in the Eagle, and all over the place really. I think the Eagle was probably my favourite, or King's bar. King's bar was sort of trendy, being very 'radical'.
It's all red now, like hell! What was your most embarrassing moment?
I think it was probably in my room with Paul Halstead and Chris Tilley...., oh no maybe it was when I was running naked around Paul Halstead's room...I can't remember! Paul's got the good stories.
But that's another interview!
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Doyou think the ideas of your group enriched certain aspects of archaeology, prehistory for example?
It's created a huge rift in archaeological theory, simply because it was at that time that we created the discipline of archaeological theory in its own right, and for that really read social theory, we never got broadly back again to what I've always felt we were supposed to be doing which was to, you know, the application of it, the integration of theory and practice and we should have been in the best place and time to do that. And yeah, I think it was fundamentally important that Shanks and Tilley wrote those two books and everything else they've done, but I don't think they've really been able to pull it back together.
Do you think that that's something that can happen in the nineties?
I don't know. I think it's a knack. I think some people can do it better than others, and it's a knack almost like digging, that you can or you cannot do it. I don't quite know how you explain it and I think it takes certain sorts of minds. Almost in the way that some people are really good at maths or music, Chris can write brilliant theory, just sit down and straight off the page. Others are just more interested in almost the detective work of actually working things through, finding out how good the cases are. That's what I like. That's what I like doing. And I suppose increasingly I've got bored with theory for theory's sake, because I want to see it work and there are two ways in which it can work. One is directing your mind to looking at what happened in the past and the other is looking at what's happening in the present and the practice of archaeology. I think I'm slightly worried that we have so much of a split, in that a number of people are very keen at looking at the present and just ignoring the past, either saying, "Look, there are so many interpretations that we can never get there." or just saying, "Well, it's far more interesting what's going on now.", and to my mind you've got to have the two together.
I suppose the other thing that's very important is diversity. That we do work in all directions and the great thing about archaeology is, we colonise other people's disciplines very readily and easily, so that we're doing things that overlap and break down those rigid disciplinary boundaries, and it's normally us jumping over the other side and footling around in someone else's territory. Now I think that's terribly important that we're always looking at those boundaries because (as we talked about) I think boundaries between disciplines are very important places.
Do other people do the same? It's very rare to find such an interdisciplinary approach.
I think one of the great things about symbolic, structural archaeology and everything that it tends to be called afterwards, is that people were no longer afraid of interdisciplinary boundaries, and it was all part of that realisation that we were studying material culture and yes, it was of the past but it was also of the present. And we were also studying reflexively the whole meta-narrative of archaeology, the ways of doing archaeology in the present as a social practice in its own right. That's fine. I ain't got any problems with that!
So where to now?
I think we've got to be a lot better at writing integrated narratives of the past, that just like the promises of processual archaeology, we still haven't come up with the stories and showing how it can work when applied. And I think there's still an enormous amount of work to be done on that. And it is still one of the areas where we are still wide open for criticism, just as the new archaeology had very few good substantive studies, so we are still, we're what 17 years on, and there aren't that many post-processual stories of the past, that we can say, "Look, these were brilliant, this was really good.". There's a huge amount to be done on that.
How do we get there?
It's basically re-acquainting ourselves with the material culture of past societies and I think we've also got a problem in that it's led us down the path of particularism, which it has to because of the emphasis on context, that all meaning derives from context, but at the same time we have to work out a way of moving between the different scales which no-one has done satisfactorily. What's still very problematic is just how we actually work at those different scales. And I think the other main thing is how do we move it out from being a rather esoteric part of archaeology into a wider acceptance and understanding amongst the public and everyone else. I think where we've probably got things on our side is that it means reinstating archaeology as detective story. We shied away very much from that with the New Archaeology and with the beginnings of the post-processual things. So that there was a sort of dislike of these terms that came from culture-history of being detectives, but I think it is the way to play on things in that, it's interesting that the BBC have called their new programme "The House Detectives", because that's what people enjoy, is the mystery and the sense of finding out. I think we need to play up the fact that there is mystery that needs sorting out. And that the exciting ways that we can actually not just rewrite what happened, so rewrite post-processual texts where there were processual ones and that sort of thing, but also just get carried away into new discoveries, which are also, by looking at everything that we've already done, and thought we knew what that meant. There should be more of that.
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I think that's how a lot of people got into archaeology in the first place, from whatever you read, saw on TV. How did you get into archaeology?
I was four years old....
At the age of four, well, my parents lived in a place called Wantage, which was in Berkshire, now in Oxfordshire, and of course it was only a stone's-throw to the Ridgeway and the Uffington hill-fort and the figure and there were barrows. And I can remember seeing barrows and thinking "Oh I wonder what those are?". Of course the big break at four came through fossils because someone had dumped a load of gravel in the front lawn to be spread over the driveway, and there were all these fossils in there, and I started picking them all up and thinking about what they were, and then a bit later I found out that my grandfather had collected archaeological things and ethnographic things from all over the place, so he had a little collection and the clincher I think came when I was fourteen going on my first dig. And I thought, "This is how I want to spend the rest of my life".
Who were you digging with?
With someone called Roger Leach initially, with a group of school kids from Bristol, one of whom is now senior archaeologist at York, a guy called Richard Kemp, and then with Peter Leach and Anne Ellison, and that was it! And even though they told me at school I couldn't do it because 'nobody got jobs in archaeology...'
People are saying that now!
Yeah, I know they are. It just made me more determined. So I think the crucial moment was going on that excavation.
Do you remember what you were digging?
Oh yes, we were digging up a Roman linear settlement at place called Catsgore. We found lots of stuff and I think within a year or two of that, I'd realised that it wasn't the stuff we found that mattered, it was things like looking at buildings and their layouts.. The other thing was that the local library actually stocked David Clarke's Models in Archaeology and Analytical Archaeology, and they were really good, because I realised from reading Analytical Archaeology and not understanding very much of it, that archaeology was a lot more difficult than it had first appeared, there was a totally new dimension, and the other funny thing was that in Models in Archaeology, the edited volume, I came across a paper on the spatial patterning of Roman towns in Britain. By this time I had already done my sixth form project on the Romans in Somerset, and of course I'd been applying all these ideas from the new geography because we had a very good geography teacher, so I was looking at central place theory and all the rest of it, I was sixteen, and so then I came across Models in Archaeology, I was so cross to discover that someone had just done all this, and published it, and you'll never guess who that was, at the time he was a postgraduate at the Institute, called Ian Hodder! Funny eh?! Of course the significance of that didn't strike me until many, many years later after I had started at Cambridge.
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Did you go to Ian's session at TAG this year on Catal Huyuk? What did you think? Not just the writing of post-processual archaeology but the doing of it...
I told him so I'll tell you! The problem was, I missed the afternoon which was about what they were finding, and there were two things that struck me, that the whole self-reflexive thing was little bit precious and I thought that he ought to have got away from that by now, partly because I think that a lot of what he is doing is still within an implicit colonial type of set-up that it is Brits and Americans and some Germans who just turn up there, employ some Turkish labourers and do what they always did. I don't know. I mean I think it's really great that Ian's gone back to it, you know taken up from Mellaart, but the difficulty is that when you've got more than half the team apparently not involved in the actual fieldwork, it strikes me as just a little insensitive to the Turkish archaeologists. It's very much a luxury and I suppose he did actually do quite a lot of fieldwork strangely enough in places like Cambridgeshire with Paul Halstead and Pete Rowley-Conwy as his assistants and he actually sacked Pete Rowley-Conwy at one point – he caught him smoking a joint behind the spoil tip! Of course, Paul Halstead their ring-leader got off scot-free!
I recently heard him talk about Catal Huyuk and how they were trying not to make too many subjective decisions in the field; that they were going to use photography, plans, videos, to enable them to make interpretations later on – an endless deferral of meaning, basically. I am not sure how much use that is making of the skills of the people out there. You have to make certain decisions in the field ...
I couldn't possibly comment!
I think there are very real practical impossibilities in what they are trying to do
I'm surprised because he would say, I would say, digging is an interpretive business. You are interpreting all along the line and what I like about digging is that you do know when you are wrong if you are doing it properly. It doesn't always work for everybody, because some people don't want to know when they are wrong, but generally if you do it in the right way you can work when you started to take off the wrong layer because you thought it was above another layer, that kind of thing, you know, "Is there a pit there?" You cut the section, is it there or is it not? There are ways....it's not entirely of one's own making. It is a hermeneutic exercise in Ian's terms and for that reason... these things are real they do have an existence of their own, and how we interpret those I think is a matter of skill and judgement and that's part of what it is to be an archaeologist.
How did it feel to tell your supervisor that you thought he was wrong?
We always did that!
Did he listen?
Yes. Yes he did – you wouldn't catch me listening! Yes, he did listen. I think that was a very important aspect of it. What I think is interesting is also that Hodder has gone down that path of getting back into fieldwork and Chris Tilley's done the same. That's about it, isn't it!!
I don't think that the revelation in terms of a post-processual field methodology is actually going to come from the people who haven't got a huge amount of experience because I think the change has happened much more deeply from within, from the generations that have been trained up both theoretically and practically, and then go out and apply it from a kind of solid basis of knowledge and experience and skill. Oh yeah, I suppose I shouldn't damn it all. I think it's very good the things they are doing with the public and so forth, and that they are opening up different ways of looking – fine, fine – but it almost seems to be at the expense of the stuff itself. And in a way ignoring the skills, what Shanks would call the craft of archaeology, it's as much in the ground as it is also in the head, that it is an engagement, it's our engagement with those past societies and it is a forensic thing, it is an ability to know what you want to find out and seek through the evidence and be prepared when it hits you in the face – Francis Pryor's great quote is that "Every now and then it does turn round and hit you in the face". And I think that's terribly important.
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With most students now having to pay to get field experience, how do you feel about that, that the next generation of archaeologists will be the ones who can afford it?
Well I'm thinking that with the demise of John [Collis] digging in France, we actually need more big projects which are aimed at school children. The thing is I've put my bit into training our students and it's become very clear doing UCAS is that they shouldn't all be rushing off to Castell Henlys paying 120 quid a week - there should also be other possibilities. The difficulty is where do we get the resources to train not only our students but the ones who are going to be students in the future. It's a bad old world. I think it's something that people in English Heritage are becoming more aware of and in the units, and we need to try and work out a situation, we've gone through our professionalism phase, we've established our credentials as a profession equivalent to architects and sewerage and water engineers and so on, and now what's needed is to actually carry people along with us and it means changing our whole attitude towards contract archaeology and particularly government-run, well, English Heritage funded projects, I think initially would be the place to start. But they do have a major volunteer component.
Do you think it will ever change?
Well it might do. They might make the good bits of PPG16 law. We do need a legislative basis for it and of course the Tories would never do that because they want everything to be agreements which have no cost implications for the government. At the same time they don't want to make developers pay. They are prepared, as PPG16 says, to make them 'responsible' but they don't want that to mean that the developers must pay. Now the way that things have gone not only in Europe in terms of the Council of Europe and also the European Union, but also in terms of around the world more generally it becomes effectively a recognised and accepted thing so that the step to make it legislation I don't think is too much of a problem any more. There are a couple of things that need to be sorted out – new legislation on that, the recognition of SMRs as a statutory requirement, again make that law, and that will happen, I think. And those are the important things. But the problem is that we have lost our grass roots, so that archaeological societies are still staffed by the over 60s and there's going to be very keen school children, as there always were, who want something to do, somewhere to go and if they haven't got the money they can't, and the same goes for the undergraduates. So we've just got to open it out a bit more again.
If you could take a place and a way of doing it, how would it go?
I think we need to start a nice big project somewhere near Sheffield, where we can get hold of a lot of outside funding, and I suppose I've got my eye on one at the moment and I've had my eye on it ever since I've been here, it's dear old Sutton Common, it's not ideal because it's in a depressed part of South Yorkshire and you know there's a lot of "disaffected youth", I suppose you might call it, people who aren't going to take kindly to a bunch of middle-class University students all descending and taking over their town. But it's probably one place where it really could be good if it worked right, it would be a place to train lots of people to develop a local involvement and pride in what they've got which is very special.
What would it take to get it off the ground?
Me doing some work! We'd need half a million pounds from English Heritage. Hmm...
Do you reckon you have it?
I don't know. It's cursed but I'm going to have to try. I think it has to be one of the places. So although the Hebrides are wonderful, we shouldn't have to keep going up there because it's terribly expensive. It's a wonderful place to work and I just learnt so much from working there, it spoilt me. I wouldn't like to...in a way, it made me realise how impoverished most of the archaeological resource of England is – lots of cracking stuff there. We can answer a lot of really interesting questions....and I mean they need us too. They need us to develop reasons for other people going to the island because they are facing a very lean time and it looks like sadly that tourism is the only way out at the moment. It's not going to be ultimately in their interests I suppose but they've got to decide and that's what they want. The other thing is you have to live each day as it comes! Oh yes, it would be nice to have a 'grand plan', vision is always crucial but then things are always unexpected and there are always surprises. Sadly it's often the money that dictates what happens. I suppose there's more money in archaeology than there ever was before. Shouldn't be too unhappy about it. And not a week goes by without something being on the radio, on the TV or in the papers. I think we're actually sitting pretty in a way. And I think we have to say more about why archaeology is good for people.
Do you think there's a place, again taking that post-processualist perspective, for a change in archaeological communication?
Yes, but I don't think that's a problem. Do you fancy buying some more beers Judith if that's all right? I'll have a pint of 6X!
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Mike on North American Archaeology...
The thing I find it hardest to understand is why it is in somewhere like North America, where the archaeologists are basically being hit over the head by Native Americans, in a manner which is all too redolent of post-processual archaeology, is why can't they then see that they are political operatives in the present as it were and modify accordingly.
I think a lot of them do.
Yes, I think they do, but I think the difficulty is that they wouldn't see that as post-processual, they see that as being pragmatically political.
Yes, because of the inherent prejudice against the term, against being identified with certain ideologies. Don't under-estimate either the fear of anything left-wing.
The one bit of explicit post-processual theory that I think has actually taken root is feminism and gender archaeology because that is already a kind of accepted thing throughout say, most of the US. How could it not be?
Yes, it's not an option.
I'll tell you what I think is the big problem that has to be sorted out, and it is basically the philosophical business of relativism, that I don't think at any point we ever felt until then, that we are relativists, any of us. A few badly chosen phrases probably by Shanks and Tilley were enough to set the cat amongst the pigeons on that, but I think all post-processualists would feel that they are trying to find out what happened rather than simply saying well anything goes, and that unfortunately has fixed in the American mind and you can understand why because of the role of creationism in American life. And to my mind that's the most important thing I think that has to get sorted out, is that as detectives of the past we do want to know what happened. You know, when the chips are down, we still want answers. We are more aware of our limitations than ever before, and more aware of the role that our own context plays in understanding what happened.
Yes, I think that's very unfortunate because people take specific works and they don't take any of the fall-out that surrounds them. They don't take on board any of the debates. They are bred in the isolation of archaeology theory courses!
I've been very impressed with Alison Wylie, straight away from that conference in Cambridge in 1980, she was one of the people who was very, very clear about how she understood the philosophical issues, and I think has always gone in the right direction and in a sense she is probably more isolated than all of the rest of us because she is constantly bombarded with a relativist issue. And I think one of the ways out of that is to do the kind of applied archaeology, applied theory-practice where it actually works and the more that that happens, the more that people write thoughtful narratives that don't rely on their internal logic, but narratives that really do engage with the archaeological remains, then the better it will be because it can be done, and that's what's needed is to produce that huge body now of substantiated case studies, to say 'Look, this approach really does work and it doesn't fall off the edge of that cliff into utter relativism'. I think that's another problem in that, when it comes down to the whole role of archaeologists, that where there is a temptation to throw up our hands and say well your idea is as good as mine, whether it's Stonehenge related or whatever, ultimately we're there as guides and experts. We do have an awful lot of knowledge and skill, and it means that we're no longer in a solely didactic mode of telling people how it was, but we're in a much better position to let them explore it for themselves and provide the guidance to say, "Well is that a very good idea or is it not?". It's very, very difficult and the problem with archaeology unlike virtually any other discipline, even English literature and English language, where you would have thought that everybody was their own expert, is that everybody likes to think that they know something about archaeology, which is a great strength on one hand but it's a terrible weakness on the other, because it means that people do have their own ideas about things which are very hard to shift and our job is to say "Well, yes of course, everybody shares in it, that's what it's all about but this is how we might look at it.", and you get a lot further by encouraging people rather than putting them down, and I mean that was a big change that we went through, moving out of the culture-history paradigm, when it was all what you couldn't do rather than what you could, and it was very interesting to see New Archaeology start off very optimistic, all the things you could find out, gradually closing itself down and what started off as very exciting stuff – when I was an undergraduate I was very, very moved by Lewis Binford's writing, by David Clarke, it was revolutionary and it was the way things were going. It was the new future without a doubt – but little by little, it became a 'thou shalt not' sort of thing rather than an enabling thing.
Is that something inherent in the body of ideas, or is it something to do with being at the start of a cultural milieu? Do you think that it is an inevitable progression and will that happen to post-processualism?
I don't know. It depends how we play it. It turned out that way partly because if you like the 'forces of darkness' were gathering on all sides. Not only did they have the creationists on one hand but they had this other, this new assault, from the other side of the Atlantic, even though they worked in departments with cultural anthropologists who were well into the sorts of things that we had been talking about for the last fifteen years, but it became fairly threatening I think and when that happened, as any social anthropologist will tell you, you retreat, you know, you put down your heaviest cultural anchors, batten down the hatches, and instead of actually opening up into the new debate, close yourselves down. And it comes back to the whole thing of everyone agrees what happens because archaeology is as much a conversation as discourse. That's terribly important.
Post-processualism is at the same age now as processualism was then, is the same process going to happen again?
It could happen that we all get old and crotchety! But it's not inevitable, no. I think again a lot of it is all to do with the self-perception of the discipline because New Archaeology did happen at that crucial stage of professionalism and aligning with serious science, which meant that you had to be very exclusive if you were to be taken seriously and I don't think we need to do that anymore, we've been through that. The survival of what we call archaeology depends on opening up and bringing people in. And yes, it ended for the New Archaeology and the fiasco with Native American restitution issues, so they should have been smarter than that in a way, fortunately one or two were. And it's grown into a movement, a lot of archaeologists in America feel very comfortable dealing with Native American issues, still a lot who don't. But still, not that many people read archaeology books or look at archaeology on the television compared to most countries in Europe. Places like Denmark, one in eight people subscribe to their popular archaeology magazine. One in eight! Well, it's stuff that goes back to the nineteenth century and they're just well sorted. Yeah, very lucky to go there really and have the privilege of seeing how they did things because it's better than us.
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Do you have mental exercises that you have to do to ward off the old crotchety person in you?!
Yeah. I chill out and have fun! I think the trouble is all of us catch ourselves taking it too seriously and I think the saddest thing I've seen is that for so many archaeologists it has became a series of power games and the whole process of why we were doing it was getting worse. I didn't want that to happen to me and though I think I probably could have sustained it, it's hard work and of course you always succumb to it, the little things you get in the end, you know, "Am I publishing enough?", "Have I got enough research money in this?" and the politics within archaeology and so forth. It was always there, the whole business of 'our department's better than yours'. Of course I can say this because we have a five star department! But it is enormously divisive.
A common suggestion is that that's a boy thing and that's going to start changing as more women start coming up through or is that something that comes with the position?
I think it is. It's a contextual thing. There's a lovely quote from Julia Kristeva who said that "if you sleep with the dogs you pick up fleas". I don't think there is anything innate about being a woman that means that women won't play those games.
So do you think that people at Cambridge took on board their social experience of archaeology to make changes around them?
Yes, and it happened for Sheena and Alice. Henrietta came back into it and she's an academic, so it's quite intriguing at the time but it still panned out that people's ambitions, OK they were modified, but they weren't utterly changed by that experience.
...there's a million things we should be putting more money into in this world. We shouldn't have to have things like, what's nasty old disease where your hands drop off? Leprosy. That shouldn't exist any more! Should have gone! With a tenth of the money, less than that, probably a hundredth of the money that was put into something like CERN, you could have eliminated leprosy. Those little things that can change the world and they don't cost a lot.
Mike in his element at Sutton Common.
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For "official" information on Mike click here.
© Mike Parker Pearson 1997
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