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This Fieldwork

  • R. E. M. Wheeler

‘It is better to dig than to dance’, said St. Augustine. This sober choice between two difficult alternatives is one which, I freely confess, had always appealed to me as that of a balanced and discerning mind. Today I am a little shaken in my confidence. It has been brought home to me, with something of a shock, that this obiter dictum might in a certain sense be cited as a justification of the (to my thinking) distorted outlook of the modern archaeologist. At the present moment, for good or for ill, digging has, it seems, become to a large extent the basis of archaeological research. I say ‘ for good or for ill ’ advisedly. To those of us who may be classed as Antiquaries of the Older Generation, there is something indecorous, almost irreverent, in all this hot and untidy pick-and-shovel work. It is so hearty, so vocal, so undergraduate. Besides, it is so easy. Next to committing a murder, the easiest step to fame nowadays is to dig up a potsherd. And the more ignorant the excavator, the greater the kudos. ‘Potsherd dated 543 B.C. found in Kent’ may not be a hundred-per-cent. news-item ; but ‘ Mystery potsherd in Medway midden : experts baffled ’ is a main-page headline, sure thing. It is hardly to be wondered that, in our sound-proof studies, surrounded by our genealogies, our heraldry and our armour, we slippered veterans move uneasily in our chairs. It is as though a fist had been thrust rudely through our window-pane and let a draught of cold, oxygenladen air into our hitherto inviolate sancta.

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1 Published by Alfred Costes, Paris, 1929. 198 small and sometimes obscure illustrations.

2 Published by the Helwingsche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Hannover, 1928. 240 pages, 18 illustrations, mostly small distribution-maps. Mk. 20.50.

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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
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