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Title: The barrow diggers
Author: Clarke, David V.
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 1975
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For most archaeologists today, barrow digging represents the archetypal antiquarian activity of the nineteenth century in particular; there has been less appreciation of its place in eighteenth-century work. Yet for all this acceptance of its importance there have been few attempts to understand the work of the barrow diggers in terms of their own aims and society. Fundamentally, then, this work has been undertaken in the hope that it will take us some of the way towards redressing the balance and, to this end, the writings of the barrow diggers have been allowed wherever possible to speak for themselves. Although the prime motivation in most barrow digging was the collection of the objects accompanying the burial it should not be supposed that other, often more overtly academic, aims were thereby excluded. In these other aspirations, we can more clearly determine the relationship of the barrow diggers to the broader intellectual aspirations of their day. A clear watershed is observable in the third, fourth and fifth decades of the nineteenth century when the previously secure links with the topographical tradition several centuries old were severed in favour of a more tenuous association with the newly emerging social sciences. This is particularly reflected in barrow digging by a weakening dependence upon classical sources and consequent increase in the use of ethnographic examples to explain the phenomena observed during barrow digging. Further there was an emphasis on the possibilities of meaningful racial determinations from the human skeletal remains, itself a result of the increasing racial concerns in a society seeking to generate new approaches to alien cultures and peoples with the collapse of the attitudes rooted in the acceptance of slavery. The appeal of racial analyses diminished in the face of the growth of social evolutionary theory which led in the latter years of the nineteenth century to the emergence of typology in archaeological analysis. In general, the approaches to excavation and analysis, though varied, show little innovative intention on the part of the barrow diggers whose aspirations were derived from outside views rather than generated by the demands of the material discovered. An important element in providing these views was the county societies and museums founded in the period after 1840 when antiquarian activities had become respectable in a way not known in the preceding century. The journals and other activities of these institutions both provided a wider diffusion of general aims and aspirations and enable us to determine the increasing tempo of antiquarian studies, including barrow digging, which was altogether less individualistic than it had been in the eighteenth century.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available