Material prepared as part of Leicester University's M.A. Programme in Historical Archaeology

by Stephen Wass

Assigment 2.7 Interpreting Assemblages. Just 400 words were called for in this assignment, but there was so much to say in just over 2,500 ....

A Set of Julian Goodacre’s English Great Pipes

In November of 2010 I purchased a set of English Great Pipes from an individual in Bath; because of his personal circumstances he was unable to provide much information about the pipes except that they had not been played for around 8 years. The components of the pipes were supplied disassembled so the initial task was to examine each component in order to assess its function within the assemblage as a first step towards putting them once again in paying condition. (Fig.1)

Goodacre Bagpipes
Fig1. Assemblage as first unpacked

The essential structural elements of a set of bagpipes are the mouth piece, the bag, the chanter, and the drone  or drones. The basic construction and relationships between these elements is explained in detail by Baines (1995: 12 - 23) but even a cursory inspection of the assemblage reveals a situation in which there seem to be more parts  than necessary for a single set of pipes, a further reason for detailed study. Because sizing is a vital element in bagpipe construction and tuning a comprehensive set of measurements are included within the text. (See Appendix 1 for discussion of wood types.)

The Mouthpiece
This is cylindrically bored ( diameter 7mm ) with a tapering outline from 14mm exterior diameter at the top to 40 mm towards the base (Fig. 2). The diameter is further reduced to 28mm in order to slot into the socketed end of the stock. The upper end of the mouth piece is capped by a dark wood cylinder 35mm long. This has considerable wear as a result of being gripped in the musician’s mouth and brings the overall length of the piece to  185mm. The bottom end is closed by a circular brown leather pad supported by a thin metal rod inserted in to the base and bent at right angles. The assembly functions as a rudimentary valve to ensure that air is unable to leak from the bag

Goodacre Bagpipes 
Fig. 2 the bag with stock for chanter to left, mouthpiece and oval stock for drones to right

The Bag
The bag is made from a single heart shaped piece of leather which has been folded in half and seamed along the curving edge (Fig. 2). It appears that before finishing the sewn bag was turned inside out so as to leave the polished ( or outside) side on the inside and the soft (inside ) side outside, Three wooden socketed stocks have been incorporated into the bag. At the ‘neck’ or pointed end of the bag is the stock for the chanter with an external diameter of 36mm and a total length of 72mm of which just 20mm projects beyond the bag. Unlike the other stocks the joint with the leather appears to be a simple glued lap joint.

Approximately 150mm along the fold is the stock for the mouthpiece, the stock being 40mm in diameter and 64 mm long. The base is grooved to facilitate the fixing to the bag, in this case the hole in the leather has been given a serrated edge, folded out and then glued before being bound round with heavy gauge waxed thread which draws the leather into the groove mentioned earlier.

Finally the largest opening in the bag, 80mm beyond the mouthpiece is a double stock to accommodate two drones. This stock whilst joined to the leather in the same way as the one for the mouthpiece is roughly oval in section (major diameter 74 mm, minor diameter 57 mm.  The stock which is 104mm long can be felt to taper within the bag possibly to avoid undue wear to the bag from sharp edges. The top face of the stock has three small screw holes at 10mm spacing which were presumably  the point at which the wood would have been fastened to the faceplate of the lathe on which it was turned. In addition two larger holes have been bored,  with diameters of 16mm and  2mm to act as sockets for the two drones. There is an oval stamp on the side of the stock which gives the maker’s name as Julian Goodacre and his place of work as Edinburgh.

The Chanters
The assemblage included two chanters with split stocks, these consist of additional socketed caps which fit over the reed and can be inserted into the stock mounted on the bag. This arrangement facilitates removal and replacement of the chanters without risking damage to the reed. Both stocks are conically bored. This is typical of western European folk instruments. Middle eastern and eastern European models tend to have a cylindrical bore. One of the advantages of a conical bore is that in skilled hands the reed can be overblown with additional pressure on the bag to extend the upper range of the instrument by 2 or 3 notes (Munrow 1976: 10).

The smaller of the two chanters (Fig.3) is pierced by a number of apertures. There are seven finger holes on the ‘front’ of the chanter and a single thumb hole at the back near the  reed end. Numbering down from the reed end holes 1, 2 , 3, and 4 are single, hole 5 is double, hole 6 is single and hole 7 is double. The exact size and spacing vary
Goodacre Bagpipes
Fig. 3 D chanter with split stock opened to show reed

considerably presumably in order to obtain the optimum tunings for individual notes. Experimentation with a Korg C4 Chromatic tuner  demonstrates that the key note on hole 6 is D. Fingering is shown in Fig 4

 Goodacre Bagpipes
Fig 4. Fingering chart for D chanter

Use of the split finger holes and other alternate fingering means that the chanter can be played in the key of C as well as D.  The top three holes have been partially filled with a wax-like substance and then redrilled, presumably as part of a tuning or retuning process. There is considerable wear to the wood’s finish around these upper three holes. 50mm below hole 7 are two opposed vent holes. As Baines says, ‘Their function is complex. Partly it is to equalize the tone of the lowest note with that of the others; partly it may be to permit a considerable extension of the tube length to serve the purpose of an acoustic resonator’ (Baines 1995: 19). Sometimes the vent holes may be partially blocked to facilitate the tuning of the lowest note but there is no trace of any such usage in this case. Curiously the ‘Goodacre’ maker’s mark is drilled through by the thumb hole but the place of origin is still able to be read as ‘Edinburgh’. The bore of this chanter begins at 6mm and widens through a length of 285 mm to bore of 16mm, beyond that point the chanter flares out to a flattened bell 95mm in diameter.

The reed  is double and made out of cane, 11mm at its widest and tapering fairly sharply over 24mm to the point where it is bound by thread to the tube or staple which is inserted into the bore of the chanter. The protective element of the split stock fits over the reed and is closed at its top end by a coarse fabric mesh. The top end of the chanter and the stock are marked with what seems to be an indelible black marker pen as an aid to aligning the various components. This convenience is bought at the price of partially disfiguring a well made and expensive instrument. This feature is also present on the mouthpiece and the second chanter and suggests an unusually cavalier attitude to the instrument’s appearance.

 Goodacre Bagpipes
Fig 5. Low G chanter with split stock opened to show reed

The larger of the two chanters is in many ways similar to the one described above (Fig. 5). Apart from its size the most obvious difference is the presence of a lower thumb hole between and behind holes 5 and 6. This is an alternative to the arrangement of double holes at 5 in G. Goodacre comments, ‘the second thumb hole is to play flattened third (i.e. B flat on G chanter). I only supply this for customers who ask for it’ (Goodacre 2010a).  The key note is G. The fingering is shown in Fig. 6. The alternate fingering means that the chanter can play in the keys of G, C or F (Fig. 6). The bore varies from 6mm to 15mm over a length of 420mm and the final bell is 97mm in diameter. The reed in this case is made of plastic and is rather more slender being 9mm at its widest and 33mm in length. The chanter has  a ‘Goodacre’ maker’s mark but this time the place of origin is marked as Peebles. It is also stamped with the number 53. Goodacre remarks, ‘the G chanter was made for Alan Cormack in January 1999. I don’t have any record of him having a high D chanter ‘ (Goodacre 2010a).

 Goodacre Bagpipes
Fig 6. Fingering chart for low G chanter

The Drones
Goodacre is clearly very proud of the drone on his sets of Great English Pipes, he says, ’The D drone is impressive. It is nearly four feet long, in four sections with a large, flared bell. It is tuned to D three octaves below the bottom D of the chanter, a wondrous low note’ (Goodacre 2010b). The base drone within the assemblage came in three sections. The top section including the bell appears to consist of two parts which have jammed at the joint and cannot at present be separated without risking some damage to the instrument. (Fig. 7)
Goodacre Bagpipes
Fig. 7 Top two sections of bass drone

Goodacre Bagpipes 
Fig. 8. Middle section of base drone

Goodacre Bagpipes 
Fig. 9 The bottom section of the base drone with reed

The sections are drilled with a common cylindrical bore of 7mm. Decorative aspects of the turning (Figs. 7, 8 and 9 ) means that the outer diameter varies between 22mm and 38mm with the bell flaring out to 108 mm. There have clearly been issues with the binding on the joints as they all display a variety of different coloured threads: red, black and white, suggesting at least three phases of repair. Uniquely for the assemblage the joint which fits into the stock on the bag is lined with a layer of cork 1.5mm thick. The reed is a single brass strip 6mm wide and approximately 30 mm long which is bound across an opening in a white plastic tube 10mm in diameter and 57 mm long. This is wrapped with a white plastic tape to ensure a tight fit into the bore of the drone. There is an oval mounded deposit of a black wax-like material on the end of the brass reed presumably to correct or control the tuning (Fig. 9).

In addition there was a second bell section of similar proportions but with an even larger bell (fig. 10), 116mm in diameter. Presumably this can be fitted to the lower three sections to lower the tone to give a low G drone (see below)

 Goodacre Bagpipes
Fig.10 Additional bell for base drone

The Tenor drone comes in two sections designed to slide over each other to facilitate changes in tuning. The common cylindrical bore is 5mm. The upper section is 320mm long  including the bell which has a diameter of 87mm. The outer diameter varies
between 15mm and 23mm. (fig. 11)
Goodacre Bagpipes
Fig. 11 the tenor drone disassembled

The lower section has a thin cylindrical section, 140mm long and 13mm in diameter which slides easily into the top part. This is roughly marked in green ink. The first mark towards the top end consists of a line around the pipe labeled with an ‘A’ below that by some 45mm are two lines 3mm apart with a capital ‘C’ underneath. Finally towards the bottom of the tube are two further lines 5mm apart but unlabelled. (see Fig. 11) These markings are clearly an aid to tuning. Testing shows that with the present settings the upper A sounds accurately and the middle two marks correspond with C and C sharp . The bottom two marks give  E flat and below that D. This corresponds with Goodacre’s statement, ‘My preferred drone arrangement is a bass G with a tenor D that can be tuned down to C when playing in C’ (Goodacre 2010b).  The reed is similar in construction to the one for the base drone but has a plastic tongue 4mm wide and approximately 36mm long fastened to a plastic tube which is 60mm long. This all fits into the second smaller socket on the stock attached to the bag. 

Julian Goodacre set up as a bagpipe maker in Edinburgh in 1984 and moved his workshop to Peebles in 1990 (Goodacre 2000). Clearly the assemblage represents an original set of pipes made prior to 1990 in the key of D with additional components purchased in 1999 to allow for tunes in G to be played. Although the pipes are in good condition the untidy joint repairs and pen marks indicate a period when they clearly undervalued. An assembled version of the pipes, configured to pay in G with the bass drone tuned to D and the tenor drone to A is pictured below (Fig. 12)
Goodacre Bagpipes
Fig.12 Full set of English Great Pipes set up to play in G

Clearly this is a thoroughly mechanistic approach to the assemblage which as a musical instrument should be studied within a much wider context: ‘several studies have used unusually broad ranges of data (historically, geographically and morphologically – i.e., museum and contemporary instruments, ceremonial and commercial instruments) in order comparatively to explore processes and systems of thinking, classifying and evaluating images and sound’ (Diamond, Cronk & Von Rosen 1994: 10). In addition Buchli reminds us that objectification either in written accounts or museum displays, ‘diminishes the sensual physicality of the object from three rich sensual ones to the two dimensions we typically encounter’ (Buchli 2004: 183 ). As a partial attempt to counter this and to reinvest the assemblage with some semblance of ‘life’ the pipes have been sent back to the maker to be overhauled with a view to playing them out in the summer.

Appendix 1. Woods Used.
Superficial visual examination by eye and with low power lens suggest that the bulk of the wood work is made from fruit wood, possibly apple or pear. The chanters are significantly darker and may be made from plum or cherry wood. Goodacre demonstrates remarkable concern for the material used in his pipes and the role they play in giving an instrument a history. To this end it is his usual practice to photograph and record individual trees felled and  which specific pipes are manufactured from them (Goodacre 2010b).This information is then passed on to purchasers and other users. The forthcoming overhaul should result in a definitive statement as to the origins of the wood used in these pipes.


Baines, A. 1995 Bagpipes, Occasional papers on Technology, 9. Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford

Buchli, V. 2004 ‘Material culture: current problems.’ In Meskell and R.W. Preucel A Companion to Social Archaeology, Oxford, Blackwell.

Diamond, B., Cronk, M.S., Von Rosen, F.  1994 Visions of Sound: musical instruments of First Nation communities in Northeastern America. University of Chicago Press.

Goodacre, J. 2000 CD Piper Calls Yer Tunes – sleeve notes, White House Musics WHCD03

Goodacre, J. 2010a Email received 25.11.2010

Goodacre, J. 2010b website, accessed 9.12.2010

Munrow, D, 1976 Instruments of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Oxford University Press

Assignment I. This is an expanded version of the paper as submitted with information about the methodology for constructing two charts and some further thoughts about the implications of Sawyer's words.

Historical Archaeology is the most expensive way in the world to learn something we already know.’ Should historian Peter Sawyer’s dismissive comment be refuted? How? Or why not?


A initial brief account of the origins and development of Sawyer’s quote will assist us in understanding something of its context and subsequent impact. In order to consider whether or not it should be refuted we will examine the nature of this ‘historical archaeology’, which he appears to be dismissing, by looking at the efforts which have been made to define it. Definitions aside we will then consider in some detail at one particular published refutation (Deagan 1991) using it as a framework on which to build a more comprehensive discussion. Finally we will touch on two peripheral issues implicit in Sawyer’s comment: is archaeology expensive and is archaeology simply about knowing things?

Part 1 The ‘Archaeology’ of a Quote

All good quotes take on a life of their own and once ‘born’ take wings and are used and adapted in a variety of different contexts. Eleanor Scott reminds us that: “Texts are material culture and like artifacts must be interpreted in relation to the social and symbolic contexts of the times they were produced.” (Scott 1993 cited by Anders 1998: 24) and with this in mind a very brief consideration of the route of this text from origins to its appearance in an M.A. assignment can be instructive. The irony is inescapable that in an exercise to evaluate the  complementary strengths of texts (history) and artefacts (archaeology) the texts start out looking shaky!

At a conference at the University of Sheffield in 1983 Peter Sawyer presented a paper which began, “Archaeologists are naturally, rather upset when it is suggested that their subject amounts to little more than a very expensive demonstration of the obvious, and it is unlikely that I shall be allowed  to forget that I once said as much.” (Sawyer 1983) . Prophetic words indeed. Although we offers a partial recantation over the next couple of paragraphs he nevertheless offers some trenchant criticisms of the state of Archaeology in what can now be seen as the beginning of a ‘post-Rescue’ era in Britain. He particularly comments on the poor record in publication suggesting that oral methods of communication were positively “medieval”. However his final and most significant warning was regarding the uncritical use by archaeologists of historic texts: “Many texts that archaeologists cite are the subject of debate,” (Sawyer 1983: 46 )

Just seven years later the words had become, ‘the old dictum’ and the question implied had been answered, (Hodges1990: 19) “As Dyer in particular has demonstrated, inter-disciplinary research on rural settlement provides the historian with new resources with which to interrogate the written sources. With supreme skill he has finally laid to rest the old dictum that 'archaeology is a very expensive demonstration of the obvious’.”At around the same time, writing in an affectionate tribute to Peter Sawyer, Ian Wood noted that, ‘Were it not for the fact that he pays more attention to their work than do the majority of historians, his provocative quip that archaeology is an expensive way of finding out what we knew already might have gone down like a satanic verse.’ (Wood and Lund 1991: xiv). The rest of the memoire makes it clear that humour was part of Sawyer’s stock in trade and that the provocative quip was entirely in character. Given that we have a different formulation of the expression here and that Sawyer himself said, “said” (Sawyer 1983: 44) it is clear that his original point was made orally and perhaps repeated by him and others in several different forms.

On the other side of the Atlantic, we read that, “Historical archaeology has several definitions. One of the more unfortunate ones – which is certainly not true but should be mentioned – is that historical archeology is the most expensive way in the world to know something we already know.” (Deetz 1991:1) There is no attribution for the definition, although Deetz may have assumed that it was just an ‘old dictum’. The remark is strengthened by the addition of the words ‘in the world’ but feeling for the joke has been lost – it is now ‘unfortunate’. Five years on and we have regained a sense of perspective with, ‘To borrow a tongue-in-cheek definition once offered with dismay by James Deetz,  “. . historical archaeology is the most expensive way in the world to learn something we already know.” ’  (Noble 1996: 81 ). We are now some distance removed from the original quote and the sense begins to grow that it originated with Deetz.

Meanwhile back in the United Kingdom interest in some quarters the process of refuting Sawyer is less than lukewarm,  “We believe that medieval archaeology has matured to the point where to
refute in detail Peter Sawyer's dictum, that archaeology is an expensive way of telling us what we already know, would be superfluous if not regressive.” (Driscoll and Nieke 1998: iii)  Clearly the authors are very confident in their subject’s standing within the wider archaeological community.

These are just snapshots of some of the ways in which the Sawyer’s words spread through the archaeological community and a more detailed account could do much to  illuminate some of the changing attitudes to historical archaeology over the past three decades. In my mind the quote is a joke on a par with Hooton’s definition of archaeologists as, “senile playboys of science rooting in the rubbish heaps of antiquity” (Hooton 1938 in Trigger 2006: 3). It is a joke but it belongs to that class of discourse where a ‘critical friend’ suggests in a humorous way there is an issue which deserves further examination and debate.

Some of the concerns touched on briefly above are symptomatic of the need that historical archaeologists, in some quarters, have had to justify themselves. Part of this process is the creation of definitions.

Part 2 Definitions

So why do definitions matter? They are useful in delivering a concise answer to a question such as, “What are you doing?”  but they are almost always debatable as they generally only offer a shorthand version of a complex phenomena.  More positively the process of definition is a stimulus to clear thinking and the possession of a definition can enable practitioners to press forward with, “a clear and obvious mission” (Orser  1996: 26). However, as activities evolve the definitions need redefining in order retain their relevance. Indeed too slavish an adhering to defined terms can be a bar to progress – ‘you can’t do that it’s not cricket’. There is also an element of self-justification in the efforts of some in undertaking definition; it is a way of staking out territory almost by way of, ‘hands off’, this is for sociologists, anthropologists, paleontologists or whoever. The past decades have seen archaeologists trying to operate in a milieu where demarcation disputes have been abolished and team based archaeological  investigations are the norm, see, for example, Crossley (1990: 4) Trigger (2006: 513) but in many instances multi-disciplinary alliances remain frail (Isayev 2006). In the United States some of the confusion in identity that all this can result in is memorably described by John Cotter quoted by Orser (Orser 1996:10) as being an “anthropologist-turned historical sites archaeologist or the historian-americanist-turned archaeologist,” all of which returns us to the importance of definition.

Most of the debate has indeed taken place in United States where historical archaeology has developed a strongly defined identity that stands in some ways in opposition to the anthropological prehistoric group (Funari 1999: 2).  Deetz defined historical archaeology as “The archaeology of the spread of European culture throughout the world since the fifteenth century and its impact on indigenous peoples” (Deetz 1997: 5). Orser went on to further extend and codify this view as the study of the modern world which in turn was defined by its economic basis of capitalism, colonialism, euro centrism and modernity (Orser1996). However, Moreland criticises much of the American approach implicit in this definition on the grounds that it is itself quasi-imperialistic (Moreland 2001: 106 )

American thought has in many ways been central to the debate on, “What is historical archaeology?” but a comprehensive and workable definition must take on not only the whole world as its subject matter but the views of an international band of practitioners some of who have views far removed from the American tradition. The European view as analysed by Funari (1999) has different historic roots and is generally  more relaxed and all embracing in terms of what areas of study it will allow into the fold of historical archaeology. If we accept historical archaeology as a global activity we need a global definition. In this, “post modern, multi-vocal and trans-disciplinary” (Schofield 2005: 14) world historical archaeology is possibly now beyond definition in which case I would like to offer an appealingly simple model to pursue. My preference is for a functional and inclusive definition based on the Venn diagram below.

Fig. 1

The central circle represents the set of all those people who consider themselves to be undertaking archaeological activities, in other words the archaeological community. The much larger portion of a circle on the right indicates the set or community of historians, the region where the two circles overlap is the realm of historical archaeology and it consists of a group of people who are sometimes historians employing the techniques of archaeology and sometimes archaeologists employing the techniques of history and very occasionally individuals in whom both disciplines are perfectly balanced and merged. What is interesting is to see where the other related archaeological subsets fit in. Industrial archaeology I suggest is wholly with the history archaeology intersection whilst some elements of classical archaeology are excluded from the historical ‘zone’. On the other hand the students of geology interact with that part of archaeology which is largely non-historical. The boundaries are fuzzy but real in the sense that such boundaries are, “an intrinsic  property of the intellectual architecture necessary for the progress of knowledge.” (Driscoll and Nieke 1998: 162) One could play around endlessly with the exact degree of overlap between different areas and provoke I believe some interesting debates but this overall vision does expose us to something of the ‘bigness’ of historical archaeology. (See appendix 1 for notes on the construction of this chart.)

Now this may seem like tautology or circular reasoning: ‘history is what historians do’, but the way to break out of the circle and to make the definition incarnate is simply to talk to  historians or archaeologists. The more  one explores the community the better one’s understanding or definition of what they do becomes. We are moving away from the definition of definition but we need a form of discourse on the subject which is developmental and inclusive rather than narrow and limiting as some definitions have been. The fact that the whole system is a construct may bother some people. After all defined subject areas are little more than islands floating on the sea of knowledge. Because we are not superhuman we have to learn  a range of skills and enjoy a set of experiences which allow us to be to make sense of or immediate epistemological surroundings and so we adopt an ‘–ology’, in Maureen Lipman’s words, “you get an ‘–ology’ and you’re a scientist.” (BT 1987). These notions are  explored by the biologist E.O. Wilson as he develops the concept of consilience (Wilson 2001) intimating that there is only one truth and that is the truth of everything and we can only begin to grasp it by working together.

Given the scope of historical archaeology which in its broadest sense involves the material study of all those people across time who have generated text or have had text generated about them we can return to the question as to whether we need that material study and why the texts cannot be left to tell their own stories.

Part 3 A Defence of Historical Archaeology

Despite some of the criticisms of U.S. based historical archaeology noted above the fact that there has been a great deal of serious thought given to the subject by American archaeologists is inescapable. This can be evidenced by examining the articles in Historical Archaeology – a publication which largely draws on the work of the American community.

Fig. 2

Writing in the context of early encounters between Europeans and indigenous Americans and what Deetz described as the ‘irreversibly global nature of the world society after 1500’, Kathleen Deagan (Deagen 1991: 97 – 112) offers yet another version of Sawyer’s seminal quote, attributed to Deetz, “archaeologists should stop spending large sums of money to learn things that historians already know”. Her refutation is based on the idea that historical archaeology, drawing on many strands of investigation and evidence, comes up with something, “that should add up to more than the sum of their parts.” She further analyses the distinctive contribution that historical archaeology makes into five categories. We shall use and devlop these categories to partially refute Sawyer’s comments.

i) Understanding of the Colonisation Process.
Deagon argues that the dearth of self-critical texts on the part of the colonists and the almost total absence of early texts produced by the colonized only archaeology can tell a ‘truer’ story and she cites ceramic evidence as a means of defining  and contrasting the take up of indigenous culture by colonists in the north and south of the Americas. This approach has created a vast body of literature (around a sixth of archaeological references on Google Scholar include the term colonial or post-colonial.) The development of greater understanding of colonialism has been a valuable analytic tool but one that should be used with care, as Horning ponders, “ The fact that archaeology is a product of western intellectual culture and is conceivable therefore  a colonial exercise in its own right.” (Horning  206: 209)

ii) Understanding of the physical world.
Deagon comments on the inability of texts to reconstruct lost landscapes and particularly commends the work of archaeological reconstruction in rebuilding features such as “the gardens of Monticello, the streets of Williamsburg, Fort Necessity…” (Deagon 1991: 106 ). Although there are many issues surrounding archaeological reconstruction one can hardly doubt the physicality of encountering the excavated trenches of the First World War (Saunders 2007: 155 – 161). There are several War Department manuals on the construction of military fieldworks (for example Solano 1914) but what continues to impress is the sheer creativity of ordinary troops throwing away the manuals and trying to carve out living spaces in extraordinary circumstances. Only the texts of the First World war poets come close to reflecting on this experience. On a more technical note there are many and extensive records and photographs of World War II aircraft but the details of what was actually built and how it was used and modified during wartime can only be recovered by archaeology (Holyoak 2002)

iii) Understanding of disenfranchised groups.
Deagon comments on the very limited histories written for such groups as migrant workers, subsistence farmers and immigrant populations  particularly those of African origin. She particularly mentions Chinese settlers on the west coast of the United States where archaeological work has questioned the ways in which Chinese populations adopted western cultural artefacts, especially ceramics. Praetzellis and Praetzellis extended this debate in a dramatic and entertaining way by dramatising  the contribution made by one Josiah Gallop, a Sacramento merchant who acted as a factor for the Chinese community ( Praetzellis and Praetzellis 1998 ).

iv) Understanding of health and nutrition
There are now many studies in print based largely on the study of human remains which nave produced an extensive archive on the health and nutrition issues for vanished populations as for example in the United Kingdom at Spitalfields (Adams and Reeve 1987), in the United States with the New York African burial ground (Mack and Blakey 2004) and synthesised in books such as “The Backbone of History” (Steckel and Rose 2002). In addition Deagan makes reference to the extensive work done on New England privies and the evidence they contain on the links between sanitation practices and internal parasites. Sawyer himself commended the, “biological investigations that are transforming our knowledge of the diet our ancestors enjoyed as well as the pests they suffered.” (Sawyer 1983: 44)

v) Understanding of illicit or illegal behaviours,
The documentation of illegal or illicit activities is limited, partly because much of what was written was either biased in favour of existing legal authorities or sensationalized by the press. In addition the really successful exponents of crime were scarcely documented at all as they had ‘got away with it’. There were extensive allegations of impropriety on the part of  monastic populations in the first half of the sixteenth century (see for example Hughes 1951: 38) but the fact that these were not entirely propaganda is bourn out by the discovery of a die and chicken bones below the choir stalls at Bordesley Abbey. Philip Rahtz (1985: 113) has an unusual interpretation of this. On a more serious note the strongly contested facts about the 1857 Mountain Meadows massacre in Utah were considerably clarified by excavation of a mass grave on the site (Novak S.A. and Kopp, D. 2003). Deagon cites work done in the United States on opium dens, prostitution and smuggling.

Deagon’s justification for the practice of historical archaeology was clearly centred on the American experience but in the last twenty years the debate has moved on as new categories of practice and understanding have developed. Much of the 2001 volume of Historical Archaeology was given over to this and the discussions and justifications continue ( for example Hall and Silliman 2006: 6 - 15 ). Of the many dimensions now being explored I would like to examine just two.

Understanding of contemporary ‘prehistory’
Texts are essentially a form of communication, artefacts created by people to carry a message or store information but, “documents are not neutral epistles… they are not disinterested bearers of information” (Moreland 2001: 31). People not only make mistakes they sometimes go out of their way to lie. Historians of course have a number of techniques to minimize this sort of distortion but occasionally the physical remains and only the physical remains preserve the facts. We see this at its most potent in the field of forensic  archaeology. Here the texts are likely to be distorted, suppressed or simply not exist. In these instances the work of forensic archaeologists at mass grave sites must represent historical archaeology at its most heroic (Hagland, Connor and Scott 2001). This is an instance of what Schofield calls the ‘prehistoric’ (Schofield 2005: 39) where contemporary documentation is absent, ‘covered up’ or has severely restricted access for security reasons. These ‘disabled’ texts mean that only archaeologists can at present make sense of many cold war sites through fieldwork. An instance is the analysis of the remains of the peace camp adjacent to the Nevada atomic test site. Here archaeology was concerned with, “providing a balanced interpretation of events: ensuring that history did not merely recall the test facility  without the material record left by its opponents.”  (Schofield 2005: 32)

Understanding of memory
As historical archaeologists have carved a path for themselves closer and closer to the present moment they inevitably come across those who have experienced the sites they work on as living entities and have committed aspects of those sites to memory. Those memories can be accessed by the sensitive application of those skills developed by oral historians. Yet, as with texts, memories are fragile and selective and archaeology can work both to support and correct them. Many people will be familiar with the way in which artefacts can be used as keys to unlock memory and promote reminiscences but equally archaeology can provide a valuable check on recollections. As  Schofield explained describing the case of World War II bombing decoys in Somerset, “Here field remains and oral historical evidence were compared with documentary records to build an interpretation, one that involved balancing and assessing inconsistencies in the evidence.” (Schofield 2005: 37)

Part 4 Additional Thoughts

In considering Sawyer’s original ‘quip’ a couple of other questions spring to mind which could merit further investigation.

The first of these is “Is archaeology expensive?” Lest it be thought that this question is a bit of a red herring it is worth noting that Sawyer himself in his original article explored the question in the second paragraph (Sawyer 1983: 44). Of course expensive is a relative term, spending 5,000 on an old banger is expensive while getting a well maintained high specification vehicle at the same price is a bargain. Virtually all archaeological research world wide could be paid for out of the cost of one large hadron collider (around 2.8 billion). There is no doubt that questions of value for money will be becoming increasingly relevant as the latest round of government cuts bite. Most commercial archaeological enterprises in the United Kingdom include somewhere in their on-line advertising the phrase ‘value for money’ but examining exactly what this looks like is more problematic. It is quite difficult to find or even produce comparative costs for programmes of excavation or other archaeological work (Heaton 2006:11) but the 200 a day call out fee for a specialist archaeologist (Mills 2006: 4) looks pretty cheap compared to the 400 or so a cash strapped primary school pay out for an educational advisor. However, even if one had detailed budgets it would not resolve the question of, “What price archaeological knowledge?” Some attempts to link archaeological practice with notions of value have been undertaken (Carver 1996) but it remains an area with many outstanding questions both on the small scale of university or unit budgets and the large scale involving big philosophical questions on the value of knowledge.

Is archaeology just about acquiring knowledge?
Although one might say that the core activity of archaeologists is to advance knowledge, archaeology does more than this albeit in a collateral sense – that is collateral as in collateral damage. Firstly it is, of course, a source of employment, figures are difficult to come by but in the United Kingdom alone the numbers must amount to several thousands. Archaeology can also be viewed as an artistic endeavour or performance (Hamilakis et al. 2001) and increasingly as part of the business of entertaining the public. Finally, to quote our own course director,  “Archaeology, I would argue, is neither particularly useful nor necessary, but it is intellectual fun.” (Pluciennik 209:153)

Part 5 Conclusion

Sawyer’s remark is important because of the thinking it has helped stimulate since its first appearance in 1983. Closer study of comments relating to it could tell us something of the development of attitudes to historical archaeology and the way it is defined. In acting as a gentle goad the quotation has played a part in development of statements which offer a rationale for the study of historic archaeology a debate which continues to unfold as the discipline itself advances.

Appendix 1: Chart 1 – Methodology

During the preparation of this paper the impression has grown on me that there is, in a sense something strangely defensive about some of articles describing the ‘business’ of historical archaeology but I've struggled to really put my finger on it. The implications of the  'all texts are artefacts, all artefacts are texts' concept are quite striking and so I wondered if there was a way I could quantify this impression. What I did next moved away from the original thought but seemed as if it could prove interesting. I looked at the titles and abstracts of all the articles published in 'Historic Archaeology' - a periodical which seems largely U.S. based in terms of content and contributors and then in an entirely unscientific way decided which articles were wholly or partly based on the idea of further defining historic archaeology and setting out its theoretical basis. I then graphed these figures up as a percentage of total articles published in each year. Now I know how far 'off base' this all is but even so - I can't help wondering if there is some significance in the result. In short it seems to be that the peak in theoretical material from 1967 to 1971 represents a comparatively new discipline finding its feet and seeking to justify itself. The comparative dearth of material in the 70s and 80s reflects the need of practitioners to get out there and collect data whilst the surge in the 1990's suggests a more analytic approach. Post 2000 there seemed to be a bit of a falling away, perhaps once again a desire to get back to the practicalities. Beyond that is it even possible to link a preoccupation with matters theoretical with a need for self-justification?

Appendix 2: Chart 2 – Methodology

I wanted a way to portray the idea that any definition should, almost as a ‘moral’ duty take in all possible views of what constituted historical archaeology and the use of a Venn diagram seemed to offer some useful insights. First if all I tried to size each circle to reflect the relative strength of each discipline. As one possible measure I obtained figures of the numbers of undergraduates in U.K. universities for the most recent year available (HERA 2007) and drew the circles so that their area was proportionate to these figures. I was immediately struck by the  fact that history undergraduates outnumber those in archeology by almost 4 to 1. That in itself is grounds for a certain insecurity on the part of archaeologists. The size of the sub-divisions such as industrial archaeology were a little harder to estimate. I came at these by recording the number of hits for the search term ‘archaeology’ on Google Scholar and then repeated the search to get numbers for those archaeology refences which also included the term industry or industrial for example. As a measure of how interest in colonial archaeology compares with say classical archaeology this clearly has some way to go, but it is a start.


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