Breaking New Ground: how professional archaeology works has been reviewed in Volume 4 – 2014 of Arqueologia Publica. The full review is at http://www.arqueologiapublica.es/descargas/1418066119.pdf
REVIEWS Doug ROCKS-MACQUEEN
Breaking New Ground: How Professional Archaeology Works [Kenneth Aitchison]
Landward Research 2013 Kindle Edition
The first thing a reader will notice about this book is the lack of a hardcopy or softcopy editions. That is because the author, Kenneth Aitchison, has forgone the slower process of print publication and has jumped into the exciting new world of digital publishing. This piece is completely digital and can be downloaded from Amazon currently at ₤2.87. Though do not let the medium or the price lead you to believe that it is not a quality publication because it is.
The book covers the development of commercial archaeology in the UK, with specific emphasis on the time period between 1990 and 2010. As the author describes, it is an examination of contemporary history or at least some of the readers’ contemporary history—many of the current batches of undergraduate archaeology students in the UK will have been born after 1990, the start date for the contemporary history of the book. However, it is these students who should read this book, as they will be the ones who can get the most value out of it.
After his first chapter, which introduces the book, the author devotes a whole chapter to reviewing the history of archaeology in the UK, leading up to 1990. It plots out the development of Rescue Archaeology and RESCUE. We learn about the first archaeologists with the Council for British Archaeology and how the UK tried to come to grips with the massive loss of cultural heritage because of post-war development—an element of history that is unfortunately lacking in most archaeology programs in UK Universities.
Moreover, because the book covers more contemporary history, it will help new archaeologists understand the current system. The final two chapters of the four-chapter book, covering the periods of 1990-2007 and 2008-2010, are especially important for students to pay attention to as they review Rescue Archaeology in its more recent form: polluter pays Commercial Archaeology. Each chapter has a series of case studies that look at the wider themes on a local level. These case studies cover many of the more famous or infamous Archaeology projects, such as the Rose Theatre or Heathrow Terminal 5. These are projects that new diggers will hear about when entering the profession, but that most will be clueless about. While there is no end to the number of case studies, one could say there is a limit to one’s patience to read about them all, which the author acknowledges by picking some of the more important ones to focus on and reviewing them.
Some of the case studies look at individual organisations that are involved in Commercial Archaeology. It is very helpful for those who might be employed by these organisations to understand how they were formed and their remits. Though these case studies tend to focus on the larger commercial units, such as Oxford, Wessex, York Archaeological Trust and Museum of London Archaeology, case studies of smaller units or self-employed archaeologists are left out. That being said, no book can cover everyone’s needs and the case studies do cover the major employers in Commercial Archaeology.
As someone who has only joined Commercial Archaeology in the UK in the last few years, I found this book incredibly insightful. It fills in the blanks for many of the projects and organisations I have heard about in the site hut. I would personally recommend anyone considering undertaking work in UK Commercial Archaeology to read it, as it will give you a better understanding of why Commercial Archaeology is undertaken and how the system has developed. In my personal opinion, it should be required reading in all Archaeology Courses in the UK.