Trying to understand the past by constructing ‘big picture’ and more detailed narratives is what we, as archaeologists, do in our own varied ways; it’s what we have always tried to do, and it is something that has featured in a major way in this lecturer’s own career as a prehistorian, as a museum curator in one of Britain’s national museums and as a team member in several national and international research projects including the Beaker People Project and Projet JADE. The EAA is a wonderful vehicle for showcasing the diverse intellectual traditions and approaches to narrative construction across Europe. But today, the task of creating these narratives is beset by many challenges. We have to deal with a vast amount of new data, generated by a wide range of disciplines – not least that of human and faunal genetics and isotope studies. Not only do we have to try to stay au courant, we must also develop the critical capability to assess the quality and implications of those data, and to integrate them into our working hypotheses. In Britain, the specific trajectory of interpretative archaeology has passed through various paradigm changes over the past few decades, from the positivism of processual archaeology, through the relativism of post-processual theoretical approaches, to the current confused and confusing diversity of thought, with its contested discourses. As ideas familiar from the archaeology of half a century ago become reinjected into the mix – in the form of geneticists’ arguments for population movement, for example – we see the terms ‘cultural history’, ‘cultural diffusionism’ and ‘revisionism’ being bandied about as terms of abuse. How are we to cut through the fog of misconception and the prairie of straw men in our discourse, to arrive at nuanced set of narratives about the past that actually accord with the data? And, distressingly, how can we continue to incorporate developments in Continental Europe within our narratives for prehistoric Britain during the current febrile political climate, where a big question mark hangs over the future of international funding involving Britain? This presentation considers these issues, illustrating them with examples from the lecturer’s period of specialism (i.e. the Neolithic, Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age).
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