Archaeology : the basics by Clive Gamble

By Clive Gamble

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Brown’s spoil tips were sieved for anything that might have been missed. Parallels to the artefacts were hunted down and everything recorded in three massive volumes completed in 1983. Here was the State reporting on one of its assets. Science-based archaeology played a key role in the second phase and made it possible to realise the goals of accuracy and authenticity. For example, a little bronze stag had originally been thought to come from the top of the helmet. But when the composition of the alloys in the stag, the helmet and the metal surrounding a great whetstone were analysed the match showed that it should be reunited with this last object.

Once available, culture history married up prehistory with the coin- or text-dated classical and historic periods. Conceptually, the majority of archaeologists in all three periods have always agreed over issues of method and explanation. Culture history has also revealed broad patterns which have stood the test of time. We still use terms such as ‘Neolithic’ and ‘Basketmaker’ as shorthands to denote periods and phases, and broad agreement exists on their contents. It is also an adaptable approach that in some areas has continued to develop.

Not surprisingly given his huge output and long career his views changed (McNairn 1980; Trigger 1989; McGuire 1992). His own intellectual evolution is a good example of how Marxism offers an interpretation of a changing world. Childe remains the most widely cited archaeologist outside the discipline because he tackled the big issues of social and economic change. He is the classic exponent of the grand narrative that archaeology can provide. In Man Makes Himself (1936) he began to redefine the three-age model using two socio-economic revolutions that occurred in prehistory but which set in motion the modern world.

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