Gateway to Rome
I would definitely prefer, if I had to, to live in British archaeology rather than British history. In archaeology things seem to have been reasonably pleasant and well-ordered. There is not much evidence of anyone having been poorly treated and when hideous deaths are found - throttled victims in bogs for example - evidence suggests they may have volunteered for the honour.
The weather doesn't seem to have been that bad. The Bronze Age in particular must have been very nice on the beach, and pleasant in the uplands with lots of people leaning over the reeves or boundary banks, or whatever they called them, chewing straw and chatting at heights occupied today only by sheep. Occasionally excavations appear to demonstrate violence, burnt-down houses or forced abandonment, but ghoulish interims are soon replaced by more measured final reports. Violence and horror are poorly represented even on attested battlefields.
In history, on the other hand, accounts of our late prehistory like Caesar's or Tacitus's hardly charm, and the stories of Roman behaviour in general demand that their period be passed by. After the Romans had gone, Gildas records a population entirely composed of tormented Jobs, and as the Middle Ages proceed you can hardly look at the accounts of, say, the treatment of heretics with anything but horror. Later still we move on from the torture of individuals, through the destruction of ways of life by the enclosures and the Industrial Revolution, and so on to the recent century of world wars.
A strange paradox then. No one could possibly want to go back to pretty well any period in history; nor does anthropology paint a warming picture of what prehistory might have been like. And yet the archaeological record is really very attractive.
Who might not have enjoyed the Neolithic with all those ceremonies and rituals? From the burial record, it seems forefathers were thoroughly respected, which is always a nice thing - especially as you get older - while in history elders were Lear-like figures wandering around moaning about how times had changed. The percentage of excavated bodies with any sign of an unasked-for death is very small, yet judging from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle or Shakespeare's history plays it's amazing that anyone at all died from natural causes. Life in an excavated medieval village looks not too bad, yet historians say the murder rate there was worse than in modern LA. From the industrial archaeology perspective, those satanic mills are full of an interest that their real occupants may not have appreciated.
What's going on? Perhaps archaeology demonstrates that we live in a parallel universe. There are two times, one of bloodshed, misery and gloomy dungeons, and a complementary one of laughter in the sunny uplands. Thus if we could find the key, we could switch into archaeological time and leave the present world which seems definitely to have been the product of history rather than archaeology.
Or, alternatively, perhaps history really is bunk and archaeology is a truer reflection of reality. History after all is what someone has decided is the truth (a sure recipe for axe grinding and distortion), while archaeological evidence comes solely from unconscious remains. No one after all intended that their lives would be understood by the contents of their loos.
There is a further and rather worrying possibility: namely that it is archaeology that is a delusion. Without all the people about anywhere looks good. Imagine what one could read into the grimmer venues of modern life - a department store or a bus station or Alton Towers - were they totally empty. How touched one might be by all those signs of co-operation and shared pursuits; what theories of social organisation could be erected.
It looks as though archaeology is the life of things, history the life of people. Every prospect is sublime only in those brave new worlds that have no people in them.