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BRITARCH  October 2009

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Subject:

Re: archaeology / politics

From:

Howard Williams <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

British archaeology discussion list <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 27 Oct 2009 22:36:22 +0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (115 lines)

Two points in response to comments by David Petts and others about race and modern politics.

 

1) The 'melting pot' perception of English history is tainted with innumerable political and racial misuses, bound to and not discrete from, the concept of an island race. Indeed, the two have been intertwined in narrating the history of southern and eastern Britain, in which the landscape itself prevails over, and incorporates multiple waves of settlers. It is the hybridity of the English has been one of the qualities repeatedly used to legitimise their perceived superiority over other peoples inhabiting the British Isles. What worries me is that archaeologists seem willing to embrace this long-established myth as if it were a novelty and worse still, free of political and racial connotations. Lets be criticial of this melting pot myth and wary of banding it about without consideration, even if it may appear superficiailly to cast dispersions on the pitiful exploitation of academic research by far-right extremists who deserve nothing but contempt.

 

2) A book plug. A timely appraisal of the various studies using modern DNA that purport to cast light on the scale and extent of the Anglo-Saxon migration to Britain has just been published by the early medieval archaeologist Dr Catherine Hills of the Dept of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge. Her paper, entitled 'Anglo-Saxon DNA' is included in a collection of research papers on medieval burial archaeology called Mortuary Practices and Social Identities in the Middle Ages, edited by Duncan Sayer and Howard Williams and published by University of Exeter Press. The book also contains a superb paper by Dr David Petts on early medieval burial rites from western Britain

 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mortuary-Practices-Social-Identities-Middle/dp/0859898318/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1256682234&sr=8-1

 

With thanks,

 

Dr Howard Williams
Senior Lecturer in Archaeology
Dept of History & Archaeology
University of Chester
Parkgate Road
Chester, UK
CH1 4BJ
Tel: 01244 512161
Email: [log in to unmask]
Chester website: http://www.chester.ac.uk/departments/history-archaeology/staff/dr-howard-williams
Selected Works website: http://works.bepress.com/howard_williams/





 
> Date: Tue, 27 Oct 2009 13:58:00 +0000
> From: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: [BRITARCH] archaeology / politics
> To: [log in to unmask]
> 
> Interesting piece of comment arising out of last week's Question Time
> in today's Guardian
> http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/oct/26/british-archaeology-
> social-change
> 
> Having been poking around some of the seemier (politically) ends of the
> internet over the weekend, it's interesting to see what use the BNP/Far
> Right is using of archaeology. Particularly, they appear to have picked
> up on the work of the Stephen Oppenheimer who has used genetics to
> suggest that the British population has its origins with pre-Celtic
> populations and was not profoundly influenced by later migrations. (NB:
> that is a very broad characterisation of his more subtle argument; its
> also important to note the Oppenheimer has publically disavowed the
> racist/political spin put on his work by the BNP:
> http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article6887552.ece). It is of
> course possible to make a critique of Oppenheimer on technical grounds
> (though I'm not particularly well-placed to do this); however whether
> accurate or not I am interested in the way in which his work is being
> used.
> 
> Essentially, the BNP are arguing that this means we can clearly
> distinguish an 'indigenous' British (which they often gloss as
> 'English') population which they see as countering the argument put
> forward by many of those who are anti-BNP that Britain has always been
> a melting pot, with great genetic diversity (thanks to 'Celtic', Roman,
> Anglo-Saxon, Viking, Norman etc interbreeding). 
> 
> The problem with the BNP use of Oppenheimer's work is that they elide
> the notion of race as defined by genetics/descent and the notion of a
> people/ethnic group, as defined by cultural practices. So, if we accept
> that Oppenheimer is right, then the BNP have the problem that although
> there is a broadly genetically homegenous indigenous population in the
> UK, its cultural practices have continually been reworked by incoming
> cultural groups. Whatever the current debates about the size of
> Anglo-Saxon migrations, it is pretty clear that the 5th-8th centuries
> saw a profound 'germanicisation' of much of lowland England. The far
> right then have to accept the fact that Anglo-Saxon society (in its
> archaeological sense and in its modern politicised sense) is something
> that has been imposed on an indigenous population. Thus, it makes it
> hard for them to criticise on an a priori basis the notion that
> externally derived cultural change is a 'bad thing'. On the other hand,
> if they reject Oppenheimer's work (or it becomes discredited), they have
> to accept that actually, our 'pure'/'indigenous' population is nothing
> of the sort.
> 
> However, I suspect that detailed exegesis of the current work on
> population genetics and archaeological culture theory is not at the top
> of their minds. However, this is an excellent example of how archaeology
> (in its broadest sense) is being used to fuel pressing current political
> debates.
> 
> 
> 
> Dr David Petts
> Lecturer in Archaeology
> Dept. of Archaeology
> Durham University
> Durham
> DH1 3LE
> 
> Tel: 0191 3341166
> http://www.dur.ac.uk/archaeology/staff/?id=5760
> 
> * For the Binchester project, see http://www.dur.ac.uk/binchester.fort/
> 
> * For the Binchester project blog, see http://binchester.blogspot.com/
> 
> * For the Centre for Roman Culture at the University of Durham, see
> http://www.dur.ac.uk/roman.centre/ 
 		 	   		  
_________________________________________________________________
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