Do archaeologists have soul?

1 minute read

Sara Perry has a guest post on Savage Minds, describing the process of developing an archaeological field school focused on heritage studies: “Creativity, Intellectual Freedom & the Field School”. I’m pointing to it because of this paragraph:

The editors of the magazine Current Archaeology (1973:163) once provocatively wrote that Archaeologists have no Soul. I understand them to mean that the moment archaeologists are involved in the public representation of the archaeological record (in this case, its visual representation), they usually suck the life out of it. That is, they tend to dispute every interpretative effort that others attempt to invest in the data; they often work to quash expressive detail from the interpretation owing to a concern for getting it wrong; and they thus reduce the representation to nothing more than vapid accounting. Basically, they obliterate the human from human history, which can then lead their potential audiences to look elsewheree.g., fantastical movies, games, comics, booksfor more inspired representations. As an archaeologist, I feel the need to contest the argument that we have no soul, but I also know that archaeologists can be paralysed by the uncertainty of their datasets, reluctant to take any risks with the interpretations.

That has the ring of truth.

Still, archaeologists have brought to light some incredible finds that give voice to ancient people. Just being able to look beyond the landscape, to see the lost images and ideas behind an artifact, has been a frequent theme of literature and myth. Is it soul-sucking to work toward finding a better explanation?