Last night I watched a TV show called ‘Digging for Britain’; a new show which attempts a new format archaeology magazine and clearly as a replacement for the long running commercial television show ‘Time Team’.
Firstly I think the title of the new show is worth a mention; ‘Digging for Britain’. Just as it puns on titles like ‘Working for….’ or else ‘Rooting for…..’ Britain – the show’s title has some overtones of patriotism; as if the digging, so to speak, is being done in the name of and for the greater glory of Britain?
Now this patriotic flavour in the title you might think is fortuitous or else of no real significance; accidental to the words used. Yet please remember it later on in this essay when I write about some of the digs flagged up by the show as its showcase items.
The show is a gazetteer of current archaeological works going on around the UK in 2016, spending five or ten minutes air time on around half a dozen high-profile digs across – as was yesterday’s show – Southern Britain.
There is a lot I want to say about the show itself and also about the levels of investment and extent of works being made currently in archaeological works in Britain. Both of these issues of concern I want to speak about are political issues. Firstly, the show itself:
First up on the show was an archaeologist on a dig by the River Avon close to Stonehenge. This man who was leading the dig; he was the same man who for twenty or more years had been a leading archaeology presenter in the aforesaid ‘Time Team’ show which this ‘Digging for Britain’ show appears to be an attempt to replace and update. Now this cannot be coincidence that this man shows up on the first airing of the first show, and in pole position – a show which replaces his former show. No reference was made to ‘Time Team’ nor to the man’s former involvement in other TV shows about archaeology. Thus the show began it seems to me in the way it meant to go on; by it failing to be candid and up front; and so failing to give the appropriate context of the show.
The old ‘Time Team’ was presented I believe by a different TV station, and so commercial reasons might be cited by the new show for not acknowledging the man’s 20 or so former years in TV archaeology. In addition it cannot be coincidence that the man was first up on the new show because of the fact that he is a familiar face to the show’s viewers; an emphatic link with past TV archaeology. And yet no mention of such a link was actually stated. The man was introduced by way of his name and occupation and position in life; just as if he were another or a new face on TV. This choice of the new show ‘Digging for Britain’ deciding to ‘cash-in’ and ‘draw off a bit of collateral from’ the former TV show ‘Time Team’, whilst at the same time wholly ignoring the existence of that ‘Time Team’ and so of the man’s long association with that programme; this choice of the presenters of this new show to use this man up front appears to me to have been underhand in its refusal to offer all the facts to viewers; leaving viewers to put two and two together if they were able to.
The fact is they wanted to ‘cash in’ from former programme ‘Time Team’s’ reputation and affectionate following; yet at the same time not to sully their own show by inviting comparisons by introducing outright references to ‘Time Team’.
Now this might seem a little thing and nothing to get upset about; yet it set the tone for the new show, and what followed as you will see follows suit with this approach to its viewers, and in regard to rather more weighty matters.
Now archaeology is not a neutral study politically-speaking. It is done by an immensely privileged social class of persons; it uncovers and celebrates history but usually in such a way that what is dug up is as it were bestowed almost ‘hallowed’ status; and this hallowed status is most hallowed when the story behind the artefacts – and it is a story created by the archaeologists themselves – is about things like buried treasures and a ruins of kings palaces, about what is very sanitarily called by the diggers themselves ‘high-status’ finds and digs.
In this way, and the finding of King Richard III’s grave a couple of years ago in Britain typifies this outlook – archaeology in this light is a bit of a fairytale occupation; something in it is very often present as infantile and puerile. These callow aspects express themselves in the clear display of so much emotional investment and jubilation which is apparent when ‘big finds’ like hoards of trove, caches of jewellery and of kingly and princely goods – usually in graves – are dug up and cleaned off and placed in glass cases for public display.
These finds become public property and are presumed to be owned collectively by the nation; and so are turned into things upon which to focus a pride in nationhood; and a sense of adhesion and community; and a value to being British and so on. This metamorphosis of the objects found when they are placed on public display occurs not across the nation; there are whole droves of persons who have zero interest in these finds and many more who are only casually interested; and others yet still who pay only lip service to their importance. Many Britons, most of us, don’t give much more than a hoot about these finds. They are treasures for only a few of the population; the aspirant would-be educated middle classes who are their dupes; and the toffs who see the political clout and strategic use these things possess for their own use in times of national needs; Agincourt; Magna Carta; Bluff King Hal; Kings Alfred and Arthur; ad infinitum.
These are than the cosy and disingenuous ‘shared heritage’ stories, for we must remember we are all in this together, which are woven around the objects in glass cases and politically-speaking they are vitally important in their use as cement around the bricks in a strongly built house of privilege and in its gerrymanderings.
The people who ‘do’ archaeology in this nation are nearly all of them academic educational establishment personnel. Their bread and butter on their dining tables is placed there out of public funds, with some icing on the cake in the shape of top up of fees paid by students and their families. Thus for the academic personnel working in this area their interest is always in serving the persons who pay their wages: no, not the common persons whose taxes their wages are but to obey and make due consideration always to that place where lies the actual power to cut them off at a stroke; that is, with the governments of the day.
Thus last night on the ‘Digging for Britain’ show there was much reverie and astonishment at finds which ‘might be royal’ and from a ‘royal palace’ dug out at Tintagel. Even venerable King Arthur got a mention and was brought close to becoming actually a historical personage by the show’s presenter. Likewise, there were what are termed almost idolatrously ‘high status’ finds displayed as taken from other digs across the land in 2016. And of course the obligatory accompaniment of lauds and hallows about Sir This and Lord That who were we are told ‘very important people’ in their areas in their day in history. The show was very much a fantasy trip down the lane of Merrie Englande.
Who is it who should care about nobles (misnomer) and about royalty (name given to those with sufficient resources and ambition and sheer brute violence who usurped and dominated their ways to the top – same as nowadays) especially those who are long dead and whose lives were spent pursuing their own best interests at large; and at the expense and casualty of the peoples they were able to dominate – no change there.
The only persons who should care about them are those whose lives are led in a CloudCuckooLand of woven romantic glamours about what were in fact past atrocities and historical injustices. Even their descendants in office, the politicians, only care about them because they are useful tools to them. We, the governed and the provided for by our governors, yet today are largely hereabouts doing what we do with most of our lives for their sakes and benefits. They need us to provide them with the power and wealth and sway they so dearly covet – for what good is being king of a kingdom when one has no subjects to move around like little pieces on a board? What good is wealth when there is nothing made which is for sale or able to be pillaged? Without us, life for them is hollow and without attraction. As Dylan sings:
‘You‘re only a pawn in their game’
Thus provision of archaeology programmes, indeed of history programmes for the most part, is offered in formats which under a guise of keeping to historical accuracy are in fact praising to the skies the old raiders and robbers and murderers and killers who took the titles of nobility or royalty to cover their multitudes of sins, and in doing so, in praising them, the presenters of programmes reinforce the fairytale of Good Queen Bess and of The Iron Duke and of all those with ‘chummy’ epithets and attached anecdotes who are now wedded to the national mythology and to their fine names.
These are our Great Men – and a few Great Women – and the archaeological finds and their surrounding mythos and charisma are all at one with these Great Names and with their perfidious deeds, so that as a package we ‘hallow’ it all as a great bunch of hype and make obeisance before its shrine of idolatry.
What took the biscuit in the programme of last evening was a ten minute look at Salisbury Plain, particularly at the large Ministry of Defence sequestrated lands in that area, which are set aside to teach people how to kill other people and not be killed in their doing so. The story is a bit involved but please bear with me – it’s worth the ride.
The Battle of The Somme was fought in France 100 years ago this year 2016: one of a handful of infamous battles in World War 1 which took the lives in total of ten million combatants. The Somme gave to us 60,000 casualties on its first day.
Last night on TV was brought into our living rooms an archaeological dig of what revealed itself to be a WW1 training ground for making British troops ready for battles like The Somme. This was trench warfare. The training ground was duly uncovered, with the aid of a map found to be in the collections of a local museum; a map quite detailed and which imitated in many ways the layout and landscape of trenches and enemy positions etc at The Somme etc. (I apologies for the vagueness of some of this exposition; quite a lot of it is due to a similar vagueness of the detail as given in the programme).
The dig unearthed a detailed training ground. The archaeologist in charge here we were informed was a ‘military archaeologist’; an ambiguous term which might mean he specialised in digging military remains or else that he was a man connected with the military – or both. I believe he was both – a British Army archaeologist – not someone who is going to give a version of The Somme unpleasing to his employer.
From this large, a few hectares, and complex but yet a single training ground unearthed on Salisbury Plain were extrapolated for general consumption by viewers, and extrapolated all in the great tradition of weaving the mythos and in the framing of public responses, were that this training ground’s existence proved that the casualties at The Battle of The Somme were not a case of ‘lambs to the slaughter’ as folk history commonly has it – in the hearts of those who care at all about it in our day; but instead that one single training complex showed that British Army troops were well prepared for the battle; that The Borderers, the regiment known to have trained there (amongst others) achieved all their objectives on the first day of the battle and lost few casualties. The conclusion of this dig sought to turn around the folk view of WW1 history ‘at a stroke’ and so defend the British Army Chiefs of Staff and the Institution itself by attempting – for me in my own opinion – a whitewash of what actually happened.
I ask, The Borderers trained; yes; but did the 60,000 who were killed or wounded on the first day all pass through Salisbury Plain beforehand? Could they have logistically done so – so many? Did all the troops achieve objectives? No. Or else the objectives were rubbish and the battle utterly misconceived utterly.
The guy in charge of the dig was not introduced to viewers as being a British Army archaeologist. And inadequate evidence by far was offered for justifying the huge claims made upon unearthing of the dig and in presenting the conclusions to viewers.
I am not interested in this nefarious attempt to massage history for the sake of ‘getting the record straight’ or else not; and the academic side of the question is, to quote Chaucer ‘nat worth a torde’. The sheer sad and brutal attrition and loss of those young lads and their lives having been mown down at their beginnings of adulthood, at a time of life when we as human beings know very little about life and about what it is able to offer of durability and sureness; these young lads had no chance given them to ‘make their soul’ in the course of their lives – in the words of the poet W B Yeats.
Such a loss is the horrible thing – and nothing justifies it – not especially a single training ground, however complex, on Salisbury Plain. Wilfrid Owen the poet said at the time and in the trenches quite rightly: ‘The poetry is in the pity’; as is the pain and the grief.
I would suggest that the army archaeologist had an agenda– as had others on the show – in presenting their findings in the ways that they did – agendas not military but political.
Our last but one noble and royal government worked very hard in 2014 at the centenary of the outbreak of WW1 to tell the peoples of Britain that the folk history and memory of WW1 was just a fantasy and a travesty of events. They worked hard to rehabilitate WW1 and its carnage and destruction. ‘Socialists’ were blamed for their ‘propaganda’ which had showed the war authorities as stupid men and the troops as a kind of prefiguration of the Jewish terrors of twenty years later.
This was not the truth. The truth was their version. The truth was that a) WW1 did achieve positive things; b) it was not futile and c) it was not a case of sleepwalking into world war and d) Germany was the aggressor and to blame and e) generally these politicians tried hard to mould history into a shape they could find useful and of solace to their minds. The whole assault on the public mind in 2014 was an attempt to rehabilitate their own grandfathers and to absolve them of the responsibility in history which they carry.
Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder so to is that version of events an observer takes. Ideologically, a word which governments in the UK never use today except pejoratively; and a word which describes pretty exactly the stances of most of our governments in recent years; ideologically we see again and again the politicians willing to cut of their own noses in order to spite their faces. But it is not from mere ideology; ideology has a rationale and a body of theory behind it; for these people today who run our country and who do not know the proper use of words; their ideology is nine parts prejudice and class hatred.
I say hatred but it is rather more a disdain and a contempt than it is hatred that they feel for the common person, that person who does not give a monkey’s about their archaeology, and about all the fairy stories they like to weave around their ‘hallowed’ finds, so as to fasten further the mental shackles on their subjects.
They do not hate the lower orders; hatred is a compliment in that one hates one whom one considers an equal. But these guys and their women too despise and think little of common persons other than as chattels and as things of utility to be managed. Resources.
(Speaking of resources I want to lay out for you at a future time the enormity of how much wealth and resources are being squandered here in the UK out of National Income by it being fed into funding for archaeological digs; and thus to become a vital part of the means that weaves the distorting mirror’s magic spells over us)
My next essay is about The Unknown Soldier; that soldier whose body was dug out of Flanders Fields and interred in London at The Cenotaph a few years after the WW1 armistice ended the war. It is a body which betokens ‘everyman’ who fought and died in the French and Belgian trenches and whose life was cut short by that war. The conception of The Unknown Soldier is at once a beautiful one and yet also a dreadful one, according to the spirit in which one admits it into one’s heart.
I shall also be writing about the Germans and about how they took the war and its ending by armistice; and about how men, even those who govern us, maybe especially those who govern us, are driven so as to lose themselves by lurid passions and base thoughts rather than by making any attempt to try to honour The Lord Jesus in their dealings with their fellow men and women.
(I keep referring to men only because at that time and for most of British history it has been all about men. Only in our day have women ‘come out of the closet’ and showed a diabolical wish to become ‘men in skirts’. I am not against women at all. I am against injustice and against unkindness and against any slighting of or disregard shown to The Lord Jesus and his gospel, his life, his mission and His Incarnation. Pintel in the movie ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ cannot read but attempts to read a Bible. Ragetti mocks him; says it’s no use because he doesn’t understand the words – can’t read. Pintel comes back with: ‘Yes, but you get points for trying!’ Indeed one gets points for trying; and none of us can read and understand but all of us need to understand that this doesn’t matter – we still have to try – that is why we have been given our lives.)
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