Combining insights from natural and social sciences, archaeology offers an exceptionally powerful way of understanding many of the most inscrutable aspects of our past – think of the difficulty of interpreting Stonehenge, for example, and what has now been achieved by this kind of sophisticated analysis. Archaeologists have plenty to tell us about the impact of climate change and fuel use, or the rise and decline of complex societies: they give us access, in other words, to a vast store of human experience, which is of direct relevance to some of the greatest challenges we now face.
Despite the value and interest of what they do, archaeology departments up and down the country are now facing difficulty. The reason? Undergraduate demand has fallen, and there is no other way for them to pay their bills.
I’m not familiar with the way the universities work over there, and I’m not sure we’re facing the same problems here. We probably have an overcapacity of students majoring in anthro/archy, part of the wider trend of College For Everybody. OTOH, with costs rising, high unemployment, and lots of student loan defaulting, our universities may soon be ripe for a reckoning as well.