The Tory government has been attacking archaeology on several fronts in recent years – in schools, universities and museums. This is part of the government’s plans to cut funding by 50% for Art and Design courses, of which archaeology is considered part of. These cuts are a clear and rather brutal attack on our education system, and the arts and cultural sector in general.
Three years ago the government scrapped archaeology as an A-level which has had a knock on effect of reducing the number of applicants to study archaeology.
Last year amid these growing issues, Worcester and Sheffield University announced that they would close down their Archaeology departments, both of which are considered the most respected in the country.
To justify the department closures both universities have claimed there is a lack of applicants in archaeology. The closure plans come amid complaints that the profession is facing a growing skills shortage, caused at least in part by Brexit rules which have seen hundreds of European experts who used to work in the UK return home.
Profit over knowledge
However, apart from historic and cultural research, archaeological work is also legally required during construction. This is to preserve important historic discoveries found on site.
But the government is increasingly approving construction projects even when such discoveries are made. An example are the roadworks around Stonehenge, one of our most important historical sites. Despite a judge deeming the scheme unlawful and UNESCO threatening to remove the site’s world heritage status, Highways England still approved the project.
This shows clearly that the capitalist state will always prioritize profits over our history and heritage – even the most important archaeological sites in the country like Stonehenge have, in reality, little state protection.
A key threat by the government which the profession is faced with, is the watering down of legal requirements for archaeological surveys in housing and infrastructure developments. There is concern that current shortages of archaeologists, exacerbated by the demands of mega-projects such as the High Speed 2 rail link, could be used in Whitehall as an excuse to loosen existing rules.
It is thanks to the current rules that major discoveries, including a royal Saxon grave found in Essex and a Roman cemetery filled with decapitated remains, have been made.
These new rules would mean that companies will receive free reign to build on top of and destroy historical sites. This decision could also signal huge job losses in the archeology sector.
Given the current economic climate and with capitalists in total control of construction even the relatively low cost of archaeological work to protect our history is seen as totally unnecessary and is to be done away with to maintain profits. Archaeology by its very nature does not create wealth that capitalists care about.
Capitalism is incapable of preserving our history and heritage – for example it is the fault of cost cutting private contractors that the Notre Dame Cathedral caught fire in 2019. In Italy many important historical sites are administered by private companies with links to the mob and simply can’t be trusted to preserve and protect our history.
This is also reflected in the low wages that workers earn within the archeology sector. An example is the 2019 MOLA strike in London, where workers claimed they are even struggling to earn the London living wage.
The end of austerity has not come about as the government likes to claim, in fact we are merely entering a new stage of it. We need to fight against capitalism itself to stop these attacks and cuts and protect our arts and cultural sectors, and guarantee workers a fair wage! Students must join with lecturers, teachers and unions to fight against further cuts in our universities and society as a whole.
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