Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura Wiki

The Nature of Archaeological Practice is one of the books that can be found in Tarant's University Court Library. It weighs 30 stone.


Being the introductory volume to the third year's fieldwork in the Southeastern District and musings as to the classification of archaeological practice as Science or Art

by Elias Thorn, Director of Excavation, and Published under the Auspices of the Secretary General of the Archaeological Survey of Arcanum

     How far we have come! There are few things which appear to us at the present day so strange as the work of past scholars. Conversely, there are as few things as edifying as examining the progress we have recently made in our understanding of even the most remote and ancient of times. When I think of the scholastic work that was being done not five decades ago even by such noted luminaries as Robert de Carolis or Agnes Festhal I marvel at the strides we have taken since their time. Think of the system proposed by de Carolis for cataloging archaeological finds, whose categories seem so backward and arbitrary to the modern mind. Criteria as disparate as an object's color, its use in agriculture, degree of preservation, whether it contained writing, and suitability for display were all to be considered equal in his schema. And, while admittedly all of these factors are important to some degree, I need not remind the gentle reader that it is a sign of faulty method to heap such diverse elements together into a single rubric. We need only compare these old ways with the modern techniques of comparative stylistic analysis and the systematic techniques now employed to establish relative chronologies in order to feel a, not undeserved, sense of pride.
     However, lest I be accused of thoughtlessly attacking our forebearers let me qualify some of my previous, and somewhat unguarded, statements. For all of their apparent errors or fruitless theorems those past academicians are the giants upon whose shoulders we now stand. In their own day these great thinkers launched our discipline as a formal area of study and called into question the plundering and looting of ancient sites that had been praised as "heroic" for centuries. I shudder when i think of the damage these self-serving, albeit adventurous, treasure-hunters inflicted upon the material records at so many of Arcanum's greatest ancient sites. These "quests" were little more than vandalism perpetrated in the name of personal gain and notoriety. Our diligent predecessors crusaded to raise civic awareness about the precious nature of Arcanum's early sites and inspired a zeal for understanding the past that drives us still. So although we may gently correct the imperfections of those archaeologists who have gone before us we also remain securely in their debt.
     Thus having come to terms with the triumphs and shortcomings of the past, I would turn now to the fractious divisions that confront all of us in the present. We are in no position to rest upon our laurels and must address the recent debates and quarrels that have beset our forum of academic discourse. I refer, of course, to the preface for last year's publication in this same series of fieldwork reports. In that excellent volume my esteemed colleague Lila Margolis-Sen, perhaps inadvisably, suggested that recent developments in the practice of archaeology were due solely to the efforts of those who favor the technological sciences. And, as no doubt the reader is aware, she goes on to claim that archaeology as a field of study should be considered a school of science in itself. As if practitioners of technology alone can lay claim to rational thought and logical analysis! Colleagues, what do such inflammatory claims gain for us in our study of the past? What do they accomplish except to distract us with constant infighting and needless dissension? I urge you to set aside your differences in method and recognize the contributions of all individuals dedicated to furthering our knowledge of the past.
     I will be among the first to laud Ms. Margolis-Sen for her Sub-Aqueous Steam-Pump and Automated Sluicing Grate which have revolutionized the practice of excavation in bogs and other sites previously inaccessible due to high water tables, but I would also claim some small measure of credit for myself in assisting her digs through my judicious application of divinatory incantations designed to determine the nature of particularly troublesome and perplexing pottery shards. Or, indeed, which of us can fail to compliment the work of Phineas Lightfoot, whose command of the art has allowed him to coax secrets out of the ground itself. I am speaking, of course, of his talent in the earthly arts which have allowed him to locate rich sites for excavation that have lain hidden to the naked eye for centuries.
     Can we quantify such contributions? Do not all these efforts guide us forward towards our goal of understanding the past? Even had I the power, I would be loath to eradicate the contributions of any scholar who had contributed even one faltering step on our collective journey towards knowledge. In short, I urge us all to set aside our differences as best we can. For, although we may differ in our approach, we are all ultimately seeking the Truth.
     Therefore, it is in the spirit of reconciliation that I present this humble work. This introductory volume will be followed within a year by an extensive second volume detailing the results of this year's excavations, along with some observations and preliminary conclusions. Together with the second volume a slender third, and final, volume will be printed. This work will primarily contain the maps and figure relevant to the discussion as set forth in the previous work. It is my sincerest hope that they may offer some measure of the truth we all seek.