Having sent Ben a (very long) off-list response and mulling over the
question of value further, there is one aspect which I think that is
particularly worth examining much more deeply on-list. Archaeology, besides
the utilitarian value derived from tourism revenue etc which others have
mentioned, is also critically valuable in terms of the way it allows a very
long-term examination of the state of the human condition.
The state of the world in the present (and future) can make no sense without
having reference points to the past, although of course we need to
acknowledge that there is difference between 'the' past (which is what
actually happened), and 'a' past which is the various versions of events we
arrive at clouded by the interepretation of incomplete data.
What archaeology (and history) allows us to do is to scrutinise the accuracy
of those reference points and versions of events and critique the ways in
which they are used and abused. Take for example the current and ongoing
debate in the UK arising from the question of race, ethnicity and culture.
The comments by John Townend, a Conservative backbencher from the East
Yorkshire, that "Commonwealth immigration" is undermining Britain's
"homogenous Anglo-Saxon society" is very fundamentally using reference
points to the past to legitimise views he holds in, and about, the present.
What archaeology should allow us to do (but this is something we all perhaps
fight shy of making big noises about) is to properly unloop what Mr Townend
is saying based on the knowledge we have generated about the long-term
social and cultural evolution in the British Isles, which itself is based on
and interpretation the physical evidence of the archaeological record.
We are all guilty of our own minor and major revisionisms on a day to day
basis (perhaps part of human nature), but archaeology essentially allows an
evidence based approach to examine those things that we take for granted
about the way in which the society and culture in which we live and
participate today has come into being.