Antiquity Journal

Quick search

Back to Past Antiquity


A Quarter Century of Antiquity

by Jacquetta Hawkes

'I WILL give it ten years'. There must have been many people who would have felt that in allowing a decade for the life-span of the new magazine, ANTIQUITY, Mr Reginald Smith was showing less than his usual caution. Yet the 'realists' and pessimists have been confounded: ANTIQUITY has reached its quarter century, and that in spite of a world depression and a world war, catastrophes hardly to have been foreseen in 1927.

Mr Crawford has written his Editorial Notes quarterly for every one of the twenty-five years except those of the war period (in one eccentric number they are called Varia); in them he has often expressed satisfaction at the prosperity of the paper and has attributed it to the soundness of its policy. This is true enough in a way, but would not all readers agree that even more than to the policy, the success of ANTIQUITY has been due to the personality of the policy maker - that is to say to Mr Crawford himself? Rarely can a paper with a specialized subject have been so strongly marked by a single personality. The Notes are short and not always substantial, yet they have the force to reach out over the entire paper, colouring and informing it.

Readers may like to smile to themselves over the righteous indignation that bursts from so many of these editorials, the severity shown to almost everybody from the State, Dominion and Colonial Governments, Universities and Museums, to tardy reviewers and careless proof-correctors. There are few indeed who have not failed in their duty towards archaeology. Again, readers may shake their heads tolerantly over the confident 9th-century rationalism still reigning unchallenged in ANTIQUITY - and, indeed, underlying much of the indignation. It is so infuriating that men are not perfectly rational. Yet these feelings do no more than tickle the body of one's admiration for the sustained force and character of these comments uttered to us through the years.

It is fortunate indeed to have an editor who can turn an ironical phrase such as 'the coniferous activities of the Woods and Forests Department', who can get away with witticisms like the suggestion that Stonehenge should be guarded against hooligans by 'Alsatians who have had their licences endorsed', but who is also capable of an unselfconscious eloquence rare in our meiotic age. In December 1939 when it had to be decided whether to struggle on with the paper or bring it to an end, Mr Crawford spoke of the need to try to maintain civilized values through the war, and concluded: 'It seems to us right that ANTIQUITY should play its part in this effort so that when Europe breathes freely once more we may continue, with unabated strength, to represent what we consider an essential contribution to Learning and Progress'. These were unabashedly brave, high-sounding words - and their promise was kept.

The origin and early history of the Magazine were described in 1936 when, in spite of Mr Smith, it had flourished for a decade. At that time Mr Crawford told us how the idea of a paper to broadcast the brilliant achievements of archaeology took shape in his mind, and how he was lucky enough to find just the collaborator he needed in Mr Roland Austin. It was Mr Austin who gave ANTIQUITY its name. The advance circular received sufficiently encouraging response to enable the first number to be launched in March 1927. What was boldest in the structure of the enterprise was the omission of a publisher, an arrangement allowing a direct contact between editors and readers and so contributing to the alertness and sensitivity of the direction. It continued unchanged until Mr Austin's retirement in 1948, when Mr Crawford became the sole editor and Mr Edwards his partner and publisher. The absence of a publisher has also demanded a close relationship between editor and printer. Thanks to the faithful collaboration of Mr Austin and Messrs Bellows and their refusal to allow normal human weakness, ANTIQUITY has appeared with extraordinary regularity on its appointed day.

The first editorial of them all defines the scope and purpose: 'ANTIQUITY will attempt to summarize and criticize the work of those who are recreating the past our field is the Earth, our range in time a million years or so, our subject the human race'. Although it proved that ANTIQUITY was to carry more original articles than had been foreseen in this programme for summary and criticism, the broad approach to human history has been maintained. An analysis of the subject matter of published articles (not including the Notes) up to the end of last year gives these figures: Prehistory of the British Isles 67, overseas 80; Roman Britain 27, classical Greece and Rome overseas 30 ; Dark Ages and onwards in the British Isles 75, overseas 30 ; Ancient Civilizations throughout the world 91; Anthropology (including physical anthropology) and Folk Culture 48; Theory and Techniques of History and Archaeology 26 Agriculture, Domestic and other Food Animals 16. Finally, in a miscellaneous category of 67, topics range from the most profound to The Unicorn and More About the Unicorn. These totals show how justly the balance has been kept between the many different interests of readers and contributors. In navigating this vast ocean of interests, ANTIQUITY has always been guided by Mr Crawford's clear appreciation both of the fundamental importance and the difficulty of the successful interpretation of the work of specialists. While he has been determined that he would never produce a 'picture book for the brainless', he has published a characteristically vigorous attack on those who speak of mere popularization's for he sees that the accumulation of detailed knowledge with its esoteric jargon can hardly be justified unless what is truly significant for the understanding of human history is led into the main streams of our culture. His skill in steering between over-simplification and over-specialization has enabled the Magazine to succeed admirably in its rôle as go-between for experts and public.

It is a pleasant occupation to stray through the volumes of this quarter century with an eye open for various kinds of quarry. For example, one can watch for the first appearance of the names of young men who are now among the leaders of the subject: Richmond, Hawkes, Clark and Piggott make their entrances. Meanwhile those already firmly established in 1927 can be kept in view as they gallop towards their knighthoods, Sir Leonard Woolley and Sir Cyril Fox being among the first home. An early appearance of the present Director of the British Museum is as Mr T. F. Kendrick.

Then one looks out for the articles which have become classics; there is Mr de Navarro on Massilia, my husband on Hill-forts, Mr Kendrick on Hanging Bowls, Dr Clark's Dual Nature and many others. One is delighted, too, by the splendour of the number devoted exclusively to Sutton Hoo. Better sport still is to notice the first slight mention of sites destined for fame - Little Woodbury and the Arminghall circle when first revealed by air photography, the hasty paragraph announcing the Sutton Hoo treasure, the foretaste, in 1942, of the painted cave of Lascaux (consistently disguised as Lescaux).

Perhaps the best reminiscences of all are provided by the great controversies, for warmth is warming, and it is always satisfactory to know that at least one expert is wrong.

In the first number a coat was trailed with the question of the orientation of prehistoric monuments, but this was a nice quiet talk over afternoon tea when compared with the combats between Dr Wheeler and Mr Myres over the state of Saxon London and over Verulamium. There followed the discussion between Mr Hardie and Mr Casson on Homer and the Odyssey and the trial of strength between those who did and did not believe in water clocks and currency bars. But it was l'affaire Glozel which gave ANTIQUITY its greatest scoop. It seems providential that having in his first issue promised his readers to expose all mares-nests, in his second Mr Crawford was able to publish the earliest condemnation of the Glozel forgeries, a publication made possible by his intuition and energy in travelling to France himself to inspect the site. In later numbers this pathetic farce was pursued through all its scenes and despatched with an exultant coup de grâce.

When one turns to wider issues, particularly to the progress of archaeology as revealed in these thousands of pages, the result is interesting but not altogether reassuring. There may perhaps be some slight weakening in the forces of ANTIQUITY itself of recent years, caused by wartime strains, the unavoidable reduction in size and in the number of illustrations, and all the oppressive difficulties of present-day publishing. Yet this is certainly not enough to account for the impression that there has been a decline since the high old times of the late twenties and thirties. When ANTIQUITY was born Sir John Marshall was revealing a new civilization in the Indus valley, the Palace of Minos was in course of publication, there was Kish, and the excavations at Ur, so well reported and so faithfully supported in ANTIQUITY, were soon to produce their astonishing results. Air photography was just realizing the strength of its wings. In the second volume an editorial was able to announce, very much as a matter of course, that among British excavations in progress during 1928 had been those at Creswell Crags, Windmill Hill, Woodhenge, Meare, Lydney, Caerleon, Richborough and Skara Brae; and in the third volume has a fine journalistic opening 'Two important events have taken place since our last number appeared: Stonehenge has been saved; and, under the Royal Tombs of Ur, Mr Leonard Woolley has found The Flood'.

To read this catalogue in 1951 is a startling experience; it would be idiocy not to recognize that archaeology has suffered from the pressure of the times, yet one tends to forget the amazing richness of that early heyday. It is as well to be reminded that although our work is now more coherently directed than it used to be, it is sadly diminished.

At the start of his enterprise, when referring to this abundance of archaeological activity between the wars, Mr Crawford asked 'What is the end of it all? What new idea is to emerge from all the vast accumulations of facts and give them coherence? Has it already happened?' Those questions are still open and can have no final answer, but every one would agree that this Magazine has always played a strenuous part in developing and illuminating them. It is greatly to be hoped that it will long continue to do so: it only remains to wish ANTIQUITY many happy returns of the day.

ANTIQUITY 25 (1951): 171-3

Back to Top
Back to Past Antiquity

Home | Online Archive | Project Gallery | FAQs
Letters to the Editor | Events and Announcements | Reviews | TAG