The Future Of Archaeology Has Been Shelved

Posted on August 27, 2015


A video recorded session from the CIfA conference:

The Future Of Archaeology Has Been Shelved

Organiser(s): Gail Boyle, Society for Museum Archaeology, Duncan Brown, CIfA Archaeological Archives Group, Sam Paul, CIfA Archaeological Archives Group and Roy Stephenson, Society of Museum Archaeology

For some, the future of archaeology lies in the huge resource, those records and assemblages, that archaeologists generate. While the same questions continue to be asked of archaeological project archives: what format should they take? what do they need to contain? who are they for and who uses them?; a crisis is looming for the museums that are expected to store this material. There is a danger that museums will be swamped, or that archaeological contractors are becoming de facto substitute museum stores.

An unrefined view is that museums are losing the expertise to recognise the significance of archive material, while contractors work to a commercial imperative framed by the planning system; leading to pressure to be more selective, with accompanying calls for standardization in format, compilation, costs and transfer.

This cannot continue and looking forward it is clear that the solution rests in closer liaison between the various interested parties, with the common aim of securing a future for archaeological project archives, or perhaps museum archaeology collections as a whole.

This session aims to look forward, through case studies, new initiatives and discussion of these central questions; what are archaeologists actually doing? Is the relationship between museums and archaeology threatened with extinction? What happens next?

A glass half empty?

Helen Parslow, Albion Archaeology and CIfA Archaeological Archives Group

The CIfA Archaeological Archives Group (AAG) has spent the last two years holding Good Practice Workshops across England and Wales so that we could gauge the present knowledge amongst those working in archaeological archives, and to raise awareness of some of the problems facing archive workers. These workshops came to a close in July of 2014, and a plenary session was held in September 2014 to look at the results and to try to ascertain where the future of archives lies. This involved all the interested parties – Planning Archaeologists, Consultants, Contractors, Academics, Museums and Community Archaeologists. We looked at the issues that those who are involved with archiving felt were important and came up, after discussions, with the top five issues that we thought the AAG could realistically tackle.

This paper will look at what was learnt from the workshops, whether those who attended will use this knowledge in the future, and what the future might hold for archaeological archives. The AAG feels, as this session suggests, that as the situation stands we could be heading for a bleak future. I aim to show that, by working together, the future is one where the glass is in fact half full.

Future-proofing archaeological archives in Wales

Elizabeth Walker, National Museum of Wales

Wales is no different to other parts of the United Kingdom in having to face up to particular pressures in managing archaeological archives. Perhaps uniquely it has been able to form a panel (National Archaeological Archives Panel for Wales) that reports to the advisory group (HEG) to the Welsh Minister with responsibility for the Historic Environment in Wales. The membership of the panel includes bodies who produce, and control the circumstances of production, of archaeological archives and those who have the long term charge following deposition.

The panel was given two particular remits: to review national practice standards; and to carry out a survey to establish the nature and extent of current problems and issues.

The survey undertaken in 2012-13 made 21 recommendations. These have been agreed and a roadmap designed for their delivery. The roadmap concerns both legacy issues and future-proofing and the priority is to get the future-proofing right. That is not to leave the legacy issues to one side, these will need to be progressed, but better management at point of creation will reduce the risk of the legacy issue worsening in a world where current reductions and future reductions in public funding are putting the ability of museums to receive and curate archives under particular strain.

This paper will outline the roadmap, but will also reflect on how the panel, its constituent elements, and its proximity to policy makers is starting to allow a constructive national approach to the better management of the resource.

Firing up for a productive collaboration: maximising the potential of the Mancetter-Hartshill Roman kilns archive

Jane Evans, Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service

It is widely recognised that the Mancetter-Hartshill Roman pottery industry is of national significance; this has been identified in a series of reviews, research frameworks and strategies. Yet the kilns remain unpublished. Who should take responsibility for tackling this challenge, given the commercial imperatives we all have to work to and the cuts suffered by local and national government services? The regional expertise in Roman pottery and kilns is held by commercial, unit based and freelance specialists, rather than by museums or universities. There are, however, a number of interested parties who could collaborate to secure the future of this important reference resource. Of particular importance at present is the enthusiasm of the local archaeology group and civic society, which it is hoped will provide the vehicle to drive this forward. It is intended that the collaborative approach proposed would meet a wide range of other professional priorities: assisting the planning process, supporting local communities to take pride in their heritage by promoting public enjoyment and knowledge, and building specialist capacity through training, research, and the development of research resources.

Let’s get sorted

Lucy Moore, Leeds Museums and Galleries

In March 2013 I attended the Archaeological Archives Forum meeting in Birmingham for a discussion of ‘Archaeological Archives & Museums 2012’. What stuck in my mind, after the day of stimulating discussion, was how there was not just a responsibility for me to make sure the archives at Leeds Museums were documented, researched and preserved, but more importantly how would I raise and discuss the issues surrounding the archaeological archives and their management to the people of Leeds who own the collections and support our work? The result was the formulation of ‘Let’s Get Sorted’ archaeological archives family workshop.

Issues identified by the SMA survey and progress to date

Gail Boyle, Society for Museum Archaeology

Provocation, honesty and the debate on selection and access

Roy Stephenson, Society of Museum Archaeology

A perspective from those caught between developers and museums

Karen Thomas, MOLA

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