Issue 80 - Spring 2024

Published 17 May 2024

TEA 80 Spring Issue
(Adobe PDF File)

Letter from the Editors

Dear Colleagues,

Do you know the origins of the phrase “context is king”? Many of us have heard it used in archaeological settings and may have mentally filed it under a collection of archaeological truisms alongside “the dead do not bury themselves” and “it is always the end of a dig, that the most exciting finds emerge”. Apparently, although people variously credit either Viacom founder Sumner Redstone or Microsoft CEO Bill Gates with having first crowned context, the phrase was in fact coined in 1974 in an article by Click and Baird in Magazine Editing and Production on selecting the ideal spread for the glossies (Karbasfrooshan 2020). However, when archaeologists talk about the supremacy of context, we mean it to encompass multiple packages of reality. Of course, we speak of the importance of context as physical location within a site, but we also talk of ‘context’ in terms of relationality.

As a young archaeologist on her first excavation many years ago in the courtyard of a medieval castle in Cēsis, Latvia one of us (Reiter) very distinctly remembers being delighted at uncovering a portion of a small clay pipe. Her trench companions—who were fellow British archaeology students far more experienced than she at the time—shrugged off her find and advised her to pop it into our surface finds lot. It was only later on when the excavation director had worked his way over to them that they found out just how special tobacco equipment actually was for the period in question within a Latvian setting. While in Britain, such a find would be commonplace (that is, within a different context), in its Latvian context the find was actually more important.

It behoves us to remember that many of the greatest archaeological finds that garner the most ardent public interest were at first discarded, lost or ignored when they entered the record. As Tony Robinson and Mick Aston claimed in their delightfully tongue-in cheek book (2003), archaeology literally is rubbish! Indeed, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. In many cases, it is just a matter of context.

Nevertheless, context also has a more pervasive and less-immediately apparent effect. We are all formed by our national, cultural, political and linguistic backgrounds to think in certain ways. That thinking shapes our research both in terms of the questions we ask and in the ways that results are interpreted. For both of us, reading Wilk (1985) on the ‘The Ancient Maya and the Political Present’ was an ‘Aha!’ moment in our academic lives. In that paper, Wilk showed that researchers essentially find in the past a mirror of the political and socioeconomic circumstances that they themselves experience in the present. While archaeologists may not say that our own individual contexts are ‘king’ in this instance, they do seem to dictate our behaviour to a certain degree.

Part of our remit within TEA is to put those behaviours and the contexts in which they play out into perspective. TEA is also intended to be a reflection of the times and the context in which current research is conducted. In light of that, we include in this issue the recent EAA Statement  condemning the loss of life and cultural heritage due to the Gaza crisis for your reference. Focal points on the European level include a presentation of opportunities to apply for support of scientific research with the E-RIHS platform, a discussion of the EU Benchmarks as a means of gauging past and present political developments relative to heritage and a brief report on the spring CINGO meeting.

In terms of research overviews and hot topics, once again we have a wide spread of material within this issue. These include articles on preserving heritage in wartime Ukraine as well as the current campaign to protect the rock art in Vingen, Norway. Other contributions present a fascinating example of a rare early copper mould from Italy and an overview of the long-standing traditions of chalking the Uffington White Horse in Britain. A final project overview of the Grave Goods project based in the UK is both food for thought as well as comparative context for other studies elsewhere.

Of common thematic interest are our usual highpoints: the EAA Calendar, In Case You Missed It and two interviews over TEA. The first interview is with EAA Member and Polish national now living in London Robert Staniuk. The second is with EAA Official Zena Kamash, who is part of the European Journal of Archaeology publication staff. We are also delighted to announce that we have not one, but two EAA Communities to present in this issue: the Community for Archaeology and Tourism and COMFORT, a group focused on the study of fortifications. Two additional contributions offer the results of a recent survey and workshop on life/work balance for women working in archaeology and palaeoecology and a review of the recent Current Archaeology LIVE! awards, which took place at UCL back in February. Once again, we are delighted to announce TEA’s latest photojournalism competition. Please see our Announcements section for further details. If you need inspiration, you need go no further than Malene R. Beck’s winning photo, which is featured on this issue’s cover—Beck’s image definitely puts working outside the comfort zone in context!

We must end this issue on a sad note. We recently lost a cornerstone of modern archaeological theory; Chris Tilley is memorialized here by Michael Rowlands of UCL and Kristian Kristiansen of Gothenburg University.

Today, we are all faced with a continual panoply of news, ranging from the loss of an influential thinker and colleague to the collapse of the Key Bridge in Baltimore, USA and from ecological disasters in Denmark to the crisis in Gaza. As previously, there is a lot of fake news these days, and there is even more news that is presented in a heavily partisan manner. As archaeologists, we are in a unique position to understand how objects as well as actions, events and political approaches can seem vastly different depending upon how, when and where the decisions are taken and how, when and where those decisions are presented. In a world where differences of opinion are too often ‘fighting words’, archaeology can provide a voice of reason. After all, a big part of what archaeologists do is to cross barriers of time and space in order to uncover what links people together—what makes us who we are. This spring, we urge each of you to take those principles out of their archaeological context and apply them to the living world as well. Together, we can add context where it is so sorely needed.

Best Regards,
Samantha S. Reiter and Matthew J. Walsh

In this issue

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