Non-destructive archaeology

One of the ambitions of this blog is to publicize and further discuss the reviews published in the European Journal of Archaeology.

In issue 8 (2) Mark Gillings of the University of Leicester, UK, reviewed this volume:

Martin Gojda (ed.) Ancient Landscape, Settlement Dynamics and Non-Destructive Archaeology. (Prague: Academia, 2004, 484pp., hbk, ISBN 80 200 1215 X). Price: 495 Czech Crowns (circa 16 Euro). Available from the publisher.

Gillings notes generally that

This is a volume that seeks to serve simultaneously as a research manifesto, methodological review, practical handbook and archaeological resource. And what is more, in so doing assemble, summarise and present an enormous quantity of information ranging from the efficacy of particular geophysical configurations to the nature of enclosure in the eneolithic floodplains of the river Labe. Given this, the fact that it has appeared a mere two years after the completion of the project [Prehistoric Settlement Patterns in Bohemia – the potential of non-destructive archaeology] stands as testament to the enthusiasm of the writers for the approaches tendered and the urgency with which they want them to be more widely adopted.

In sum, Gillings recommends the volume to a wide readership:

In conclusion, although in many ways a compilation, this is one of those volumes that quite literally contain something for everybody. It certainly has the potential to bring the interesting and stimulating work of the Czech school of landscape (spatial) theory to a wider readership and provides those actively working in Bohemia with a rich source of both data and ideas. Students of landscape archaeology, prehistory and the medieval period alike would also benefit greatly from dipping between its covers.

But he also makes one point that I find particular interesting and that perhaps will attract some discussion. That point relates to the strict distinction between destructive and non-destructive archaeology, and the clear preference in this volume for the latter. Gillings outlines the issue as follows:

I was not wholly convinced by the sharp distinction that was drawn between ‘destructive’ and ‘non-destructive’ archaeologies. Such is the enthusiasm for all things non-destructive in the volume that the presence of excavation within the project brief seems to cause (if not embarrassment) then a sense of defeat. Indeed, one could be left with the feeling that the purity of the non-destructive approach was somehow contaminated by excavation and thus required apologia. This may be, in part, a deliberate tactic to distance the studies reported here from preceding norms, however, as researchers such as Gavin Lucas (2001) have demonstrated, categories such as ‘destructive’ and ‘non-destructive’ not only carry baggage but may, ultimately, be unhelpful. One need only look at the results of extensive programmes of test-pitting such as that carried out by the Whittlewood survey to see that supposedly destructive approaches can yield data relevant at a regional scale. Indeed the bulk of Chapters 4 and 5 of the current volume depend in large part upon the results of small-scale excavation.

Any comments, long or short, are welcome!

The full review has been published as: Gillings, Mark (2005) Review of M. Gojda (ed.) Ancient Landscape, Settlement Dynamics and Non-Destructive Archaeology, Prague 2004. European Journal of Archaeology 8 (2), 190-193.

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