First humans in Britain
Editor Simon Denison
Mind the furniture' you say as the children start scrapping over who has the remote. Childless visitors go away thinking what heartless brutes parents are - more concerned with things than their own offspring.
In the big world of political priorities, one longs to say 'Mind that archaeological site', but one doesn't dare for fear of being cast as a heartless brute times a million. And when it comes to wars, aerial bombardments, people digging and sitting in trenches dressed in the same clothes as everyone else and then pointing guns at a similar lot in different clothes in the other trench, then we are dealing with the really serious business of life - ie, war - and anyone who questions the military's right to flatten the landscape or to dig up an archaeological site is acting the clown.
But that's not the only problem when archaeology meets politics. It is one of the facts of political life that fretting over the past is what reactionaries do, while gazing into the future is what progressives do. You either deliver hospitals and schools or you look after the heritage - but not both. The progressives are forever going on about not living in a museum and having to break eggs, while archaeologists gaze gloomily at the diggers and dumper trucks that preface the concrete omelette.
All this is written in the archaeological record. The English Revolution took its failure out on stained glass windows and statues in churches, the French one only really got going when it found the Bastille in the way. Nothing apparently stirs up the passions of the mob like a nice ancient monument. This is why if you should happen to find yourself pursued by a baying mob then hole up in a modern structure.
Tom Paine saw freedom in young and vigorous America because there wasn't any heritage there, while Edmund Burke thought the heritage was all that kept us back from the abyss. No revolutionary dreamer, to underline the point, ever set a utopia in the past.
All this colours the language and actions of politics. The reactionary says to the revolutionary, 'What are you going to put in its place?', while for their part revolutionaries are forever blowing things up. To the reactionary anarchy is supposed to be when things fall apart. To the revolutionary it's when things get going at last.
None of this has come about from a proper study of our past, though progressives have always gone on about man's advance from ignorance and disease as though they had been personally present when the first Briton bashed the second one. If they had been, they would surely have been a little surprised. Take comradeship and fraternity and cooperative living, for example - the material of all socialist and communist dreams of the future when the state has withered away. It has already happened! We call it the Mesolithic. Then everyone lived in a communist wonderland caring for children, the environment and each other in a problem-free world. They also got in plenty of leisure time with three hour days more or less the norm.
And in the early Neolithic, what are the first bits of big-time earth moving all about? Why, the first structures known, causewayed camps, are to do with people getting together. These camps do not reach the heights of our ideas of communal places - ie, open areas surrounded by portaloos and carparking and brooded over by CCTV. They are actually clever and sophisticated architectural statements with lots of entrances across each ditch which then don't go straight across the next ditch but mean you have to circulate. Once within the ditches you are in the same boat as anyone else within the ditches. What causewayed camps tell us is that people then already knew all there was to know about fraternity and comradeship.
In other words, Marx and Paine and the rest should have advanced progressively into the past. They should have demanded that we regressed. They should have blazened on the banners of the species the demand that no one shall be free until we have arrived at the prehistoric paradise. Liberty, fraternity and equality came before slavery and feudalism, not afterwards.
CBA web:Jan/Feb 2005