Many moons ago (in 2004), I spent a year in Japan and wrote a Japanese-language research paper on the presentation of archaeology in Japanese media and pop culture.

I was reminded of this the other day, when I borrowed Cornelius Holtorf‘s book Archaeology is a Brand, and found my name in the acknowledgements (!!). I had corresponded with him during my research year, as I’d come across his work on archaeology in the media, but I had no idea I’d made it into print.

This nice little surprise somehow reminded me of this article, the Archaeology of No Theory by Leo Aoi Hosoya. Memories of it had been bubbling to the surface anyway as part of (re-)thinking over my literature review – it seems archaeological resource management here shares at least some of the same pressures mentioned by Hosoya in the mid 1990s- pressures of time, funding, management responsibilities, a common ‘rescue excavation’ context, and sometimes not-so-explicit decisions on what to record and what not to. The recent news coverage of possible implications for archaeology and the HS2 and house building projects also brought it to mind.

These decades in Japan, the word ‘excavation’ is almost a synonym of a rescue excavation, as more than enough mentioned in Japanese archaeologists’ conference papers or articles. According to Akira Teshigawara’s “Proceedings of Japanese Archaeology” (1995; p.229), because of the rapid increase of constructions for the economic growth of Japan, the number of rescue excavations increased as remarkably as from 3400 to 8500 for 10 years between 1980 and 1990.

In this situation, research or academic excavations had to be very un-welcomed, because they are supposed to be not in urgent and not worth to spend time, money or people. As the result, not only the number of academic excavations never increases, but also most of archaeologists need to get a job in administrative bodies rather than academic institutions. …

In this background, namely most of excavations are administrative ones and most of archaeologists are administrative ones, the main direction of Japanese archaeology cannot help following administrative policy of the Cultural Property Protection rather than academic criteria.

In my stint as a commercial digger I definitely felt I was at the trowel end of an archaeology of no theory (not to say that the units I worked with weren’t meeting regional research goals with their fieldwork research designs, but rather than as a subcontrator I was not exposed to this part of the process, which was quite frustrating sometimes). I love finding works which draw on the ‘grey’ literature of archaeological resource management to inspire, test, challenge and develop theoretical approaches to the past and as part of this have really enjoyed Craig Cessford’s presentations at CHAT2015 and PMAC2016.

PS The link to Figure 1 in the English language version of Hosoya’s article seems to be broken – here it is from the JapaneseĀ  version.


This is a variant on the “3 blind men investigating an elephant” story…

The banner reads: “Japanese Archaeology. Who am I?”

The annoyed man with the Japanese flag is saying something like “This is why they don’t understand anything!” or “they don’t know anything!”

From left to right, the three people are saying “It’s definitely a rhinoceros”, “This is a hippopotamus!”, and “a cow….?”