Few people outside the professions are challenging the prevailing attitudes among historians and archaeologists. Consequently we are becoming increasingly constrained by their knowledge straightjacket.
In actual fact, the professions are very young (I discount the antiquarians of past centuries whose publications lacked ‘peer-review’ procedures) – and some might say immature. According to Research Report 93-2011 of English Heritage, A Look in the Rear View Mirror: Twentieth Century Road Building and the Development of Professional Archaeology, by Magnus Alexander, in 1973 there were only 200 ‘professional’ archaeologists working in the UK. By 2010 this number had expanded to 6065. A significant factor in this growth was claimed to be the need for ‘rescue archaeology’ associated with the motorway building programme of the seventies, which involved the creation of 1000 miles of motorway in ten years, and the many other highway construction projects since.
But what exactly is a ‘professional’ archaeologist? I have found the most concise indication to be found in the e-magazine Current Archaeology at http://www.archaeology.co.uk/advice/careers-in-archaeology/getting-started/how-to-become-an-archaeologist.htm
Here the advice indicates that there is very little recognition of the need for large numbers of persons with high level qualifications. Supply certainly outstrips demand in terms of the salaries that can be expected and the authors of Current Archaeology recommend a website where people can look at the training requirements for Chartered Accountancy (not a typo). Nevertheless, the subject matter of archaeology (and other history specialisms) still generates enormous interest as a degree and doctorate study. And the profession, in the form of the Council of British Archaeology, appears to welcome input from all quarters – not necessarily degree qualified.
However, the deluge of professional and academic work, and the quantity of literature emanating from it, is intimidating to the would-be enthusiast, who may be too easily duped into thinking that the ‘experts’ know best. More worrying is that, without a body of experienced and wiser seniority who have learned enough to know how little they know, we are all skating on thin ice.
By way of an example: there are several serious publications that hold fast to the wording of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle where it has been interpreted as saying that Guthrum led his army from Cambridge to Wareham in 876. There are even drawings in these publications showing the overland route he took. But this is all supposition – based on a few words in the Anglo-Saxon chronicle which said ‘Here te raiding army stole away from the West Saxon army into Wareham.’ So what Danish army was it and how did it get to Wareham? Whether the Anglo-Saxon chronicler meant Guthrum’s army, or whether he was speaking of ‘an army’, we do not know, and perhaps neither did he. Looking at the interpretation in logistical terms, why would the Danes risk a long journey from Cambridge across Mercia and the whole of Wessex, where their approach could be signalled by beacons, horns and bells, when they could travel much faster and achieve much more surprise by river and sea?