I want you all to be honest with yourselves!
Can you hand on heart say that you have ever read cover to cover all those archaeological reports that you have accumulated on your bookshelves over the years, all those shiny volumes bought enthusiastically at your local society events, dayschool’s and conferences. Are they essential bedtime reading, or simply gathering dust between the Book on National Trust Houses and the RSPB Book on British birds.
I am probably being a slightly unfair. Of course you have probably looked at the colour pictures of the key finds, probably read the introduction to the site, and even perhaps the conclusions, but have you really read the chapter that has 50 drawings of assorted shaped post-holes, have you really read the wordy analysis of those three cruddy pottery finds, or the section on that xrayed lump of corrosion deposit that once might have been a nail . I hope not, or I fear for your sanity.
An archaeological report published at great expense in both money and time for a production run of 250 or so, is perhaps the most pointless use of resources imaginable. Months and months of work, numerous peer reviews, some specialist reports that are nothing more than an exercise in printed verbiage, all simply to produce a monumental tome to sit aside the equally unread monumental tomes that are so full of if’s but’s and maybe’s that any conclusions they may have arrived at, are out of date practically before the ink is dry.
Nothing more than a massive exercise of ego and profligacy over common sense, especially when the core information could be put into the public domain at a fraction of the cost.
It is at this point that I arrive at the title of this essay… POST-HOLES
Post-holes are the bread and butter of archaeology, to the active imagination they create circles, alignments, ritual activity, all on the basis of a hole in the ground. If you look at any report hours and hours of work is put into drawing them in minute detail, as if millimetre recording will somehow explain their purpose, when the only thing all the hours of work reveals is that it is still just a hole in the ground.
Draw it on a plan , record its width and depth, make a note of any packing stone, take a picture and analyse the deposits if you have the money within it, but why on earth do we need a sectional drawing of a hole probably dug without any particular care, just like holes have been dug in the ground for ever by a man with a shovel.
The reality is post-holes as evidence of a structure are 5% evidence and 95% guesswork. I could plant 4 x 300mm posts to form an 8m square, and build a modern detached house on it, which on having disappeared in a thousand years time would be simply four post- holes in the ground for future archaeologists to wax lyrically over..
The fact is archaeology in the modern world of technology and instant imagery is still clinging to the techniques of the 19th century antiquarians. We live in an information age, it is time we abandoned the cleft stick in the form of large and incredibly expensive publications full of outdated recording techniques that nobody reads, and begin thinning them out to a more readable form, and we could start with leaving out the reams of post-hole drawings, stick to the facts, and dump the generally speculative pie in the sky analysis of their purpose.