Monday, April 6, 2009

Archaeologists and the Media

The title of this post is from a fascinating Forum in the latest issue of Near Eastern Archaeology, which explores the relationship between archaeologists and the TV media world. Why are archaeology programs on TV so bad? Whose fault is it? What can we do?

Eric Cline blames TV producers for not connecting with the best archaeologists, relying on fakes instead (by fake, I mean actors and others masquerading as archaeologists). If responsible archaeologists can get the attention of producers and directors, we can raise the level of discourse in TV archaeology.

Cline's ideas are countered by Neil Asher Silberman, who notes that "television is certainly not a forum for logical, abstract discussion. It is a delivery system for a rapid-fire succession of images that create stories meant to impress, frighten,arouse, or amuse." The blame lies with archaeologists for failing to rise above our potsherds and deliver the kind of non-technical storytelling that TV requires.

Cornelius Holtorf backs up Silberman's ideas, calling Cline's proposals elitist. "Before complaining that the public does not understand academic archaeology well enough, we should ask oursleves whether we actually understand the public well enough." Public archaeology is storytelling, and archaeologists should embrace this.

Cline closes by proposing a synthesis between the two positions argued in the previous sections. I find myself agreeing with most of the points made by all three commentators. Sometimes I think Cline is correct; we need to try to get more press for rigorous and authoritative archaeology. At other times I sympathize with Silberman and Holtorf—TV is entertainment. Period. Any archaeology that gets included should not be confused with scholarship.

Cline, Eric H., Neil Asher Silberman, and Cornelius J. Holtorf
2008 Forum: Archaeologists and the Media. Near Eastern Archaeology 71(3):172-179.

1 comment:

Michael E. Smith said...

Here is an interesting planned show, about the lives of shovelbums around the world:
"International television company, Off The Fence, is making an exciting new series about the work of field archaeologists involved in CRM/ rescue archaeology around the world. This is will be fast-moving, globe-trotting series that will show not only the fascinating history unearthed at sites around the world, and highlight the need for CRM - it will also show the real life of a Shovelbum! We are looking for
2-3 young, fully-qualified archaeologists with a number of years' experience in field archaeology, to present this exciting new series - archaeologists who can take our audience on a roller-coaster ride through history. If you think you have what it takes to entertain,
inform and excite an audience about the world of archaeology, we would like to hear from you. Please send your resume, a recent photo - and even better, a video clip in which you tell us about yourself, your work and what archaeology means to you - to:"

This is from an email sent out by, forwarded to me by Caitlin Guthrie.