Anglo-Saxon Cross

The Organisation of Archaeology in the UK


There are a number of organisations concerned with and have some responsibility for the protection and interpretation of the archaeological record in the UK. These include three government departments, three quasi autonomous non-government organisations (QUANGOs), local government officers, and other non government bodies such as universities, independent contractors and even local societies.

The great number and range of government organisations reflects both the length of time that archaeology has been legally protected in the UK (since 1888) and a number of government reorganisations. In this section, I shall give particular attention to the organisations that relate to England - especially English Heritage, but the same basic structure exists in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The UK also has a long history of amateur, and educational involvement in archaeology, and this is reflected in the existence of such bodies as the Council for British Archaeology, the various university archaeology departments, and the great number of local archaeological societies. Finally as a result of recent changes in the planning process, there is a growing number of independent archaeological contractors (private archaeological companies that research and excavate archaeological sites), and a professional body for archaeologists - the Institute of Field Archaeologists - that aims to represent the interests of full-time archaeologists.

In the following sections there are brief details of each of these organisations in turn and links through to the relevant internet resources that are available.

Government Departments

The UK government exercises responsibility for archaeology and the historic environment in a number of ways. The Department of Local-Government, Transport and the Regions (DLTR) makes and maintains legislation for the protection of ancient monuments and historic buildings. It makes and maintains legislation to control the planning process and the nature of development in the UK (of roads, buildings, etc.) - that may result in the discovery and/or destruction of archaeological and historic sites. It maintains policies for the development and practice of agriculture in the UK that may also affect archaeological sites. Finally the government develops and maintains policies for the funding, presentation and promotion of the UK's heritage to the public, through museum and heritage policies and education policies.

Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

In 1992, the then Conservative Government created the Department of National Heritage to look after all matters concerned with 'culture' in the UK. This included museums, heritage attractions (including archaeology), theatre, etc, as well as the media (including the BBC) and sporting matters. To a certain extent, the creation of this department reflected the importance of 'heritage' to the UK economy, as well as the need to protect a fragile British heritage. Following the election in 1997, the current Labour government transformed the Department of National Heritage into the present Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Some have suggested that this change of name reflected their greater interest in media matters and football. The Minister for Culture, Media and Sport is currently Tessa Jowell.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has policy responsibility for museums, galleries and libraries, the built heritage, the arts, sport, education, broadcasting and the media and tourism, as well as the creative industries, the Millennium and the National Lottery. The activities of all these sectors bring us pleasure and broaden our horizons. Culture and creativity are vital to our national life. DCMS aims to improve the quality of life for all through increased access to and participation in all its areas of responsibility.

The DCMS formulates broad policy for the protection and promotion of heritage, and most importantly it also bids for funding from the treasury for its own areas of interest and allocates a budget to bodies such as English Heritage with which to implement this policy. A key current policy of the DCMS is to promote the widening of access to the heritage (including museums, theatres, etc.). It has long been recognised that the majority of people that visit museums and heritage attractions are largely well educated, middle-class individuals (Merriman 1991). They are also usually white. The DCMS would like to see a greater number of individuals from different educational, class and ethnic backgrounds visiting such attractions. Reasons since such heritage attractions are paid for by the taxes of all people.

A New Cultural Framework - policy document published by the current government's Department of Culture, Media and Sport (available through the Forms and Documents archive page on the DCMS website).

Major policy initiatives include;

There are other key reports that have recently been published by the DCMS. These include The Historic Environment: a force for our future about maximising the potential of the historic environment; People and Places: social inclusion policy for the built and historic environment concerned with the development of policies and practices for the elimination of patterns of social exclusion in relation to the historic environment. The key policy here for archaeology and museums is the promotion of access to individuals and groups who have not traditionally been 'involved' in heritage matters. Finally ther are also reports on the workings of the Treasure Act and the Report of the Advisory Panel on Illicit Trade. These documents are available for downloading in PDF format from the DCMS website.

Office of the Deputy Prime-Minister

The Office of the Deputy Prime-Minister (OPDM) has been very recently acquired these duties from the the old Department of Local Government, Transport and the Regions. The responsibility for transport matters went to a new Department of Transport, whilst responsibility for Local-Government and the Regions was given to the Deputy Prime-Minister (currently John Prescott). From the perspective of archaeology, the primary influence of the Office of the Deputy Prime-Minister is in relation to the making of planning policy and to the responsibility of the Deputy Prime-Minister for providing legal protection through the process of scheduling ancient monuments (including archaeological sites) and listing historic buildings.

The Office of the Deputy Prime-Minister is also responsible for policies on regional development and social exclusion. Both of these areas may affect planning decisions related to archaeology and historic buildings.

Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)

The Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs was created following the general election in 2001. The Minister for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs is currently Margaret Beckett.

Quasi Autonomous Non-Government Organisations

Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England ('English Heritage') English Heritage is the main organisation responsible for implementing government policy concerning the historic environment - which includes both ancient monuments and historic buildings. It was created in 1983, and repackaged again in 1999.

The Formation and Development of English Heritage

The Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England - more commonly known as English Heritage - was created through the National Heritage Act (1983). It started operation in April 1984. English Heritage incorporates the old Ancient Monuments Board and the Historic Buildings Commission. In 1983, the National Heritage Act set out two basic aims for English Heritage as well as a series of duties that it was given as well as the responsibilities that were to be retained by the Government. Major changes happened in 1999, when English Heritage amalgamated with the Royal Commission for Historic Monuments (England), and the organisation was devolved to a regional structure - North East, North West, Yorkshire, East Midlands, West Midlands, East of England, London, South East, and the South West.

The Structure of English Heritage


13 in all - the great and the good in the Arts


15 specialist committees: each with a chair and approximately 8 members. These committees comprise committees for: finance, audit, historic properties, ancient monuments, historic buildings and areas, cathedrals and churches, London,historic parks and gardens, industrial archaeology, science and conservation, Hadrian's Wall, battlefields, etc.

Senior Staff

chief executive, conservation, historic properties, research and professional services, corporate services.

Chief Executive

The current Chief Executive of English Heritage is Sir Neil Cossons. His background includes a period as head of the Science Museum in London. He also happens to be a Liverpool University Alumni.

Chief Archaeologist

The first Chief Archaeologist of English Heritage (1984-2001) was Geoffrey Wainwright, an archaeologist specialising in British Prehsitory, and with a background in major field excavation projects and local government. The current Chief Archaeologist is David Miles, who is based in the Conservation section of English Heritage. David Miles, like his predecesssor has a background in field archaeology. He used to be the head of the Oxford Archaeological Unit.

Archaeological Staff

archaeology divisional manager, central archaeological services, archaeology commissions manager, Inspectors of ancient monuments - 17 in total. All are now regionally based.

Ancient Monuments Advisory Committee

a number of well-respected archaeologists who advise on and ratify any spending greater than a particular sume (150,000 -1997 figure)

Aims of English Heritage 1983

The main aims of English Heritage were set out in the National Heritage Act (1983). They are to:

  1. to secure, so far as is practicable, the preservation of ancient monuments situated in England
  2. to promote the public's enjoyment of, and advance their knowledge of, ancient monuments in England and their preservation.
Duties of English Heritage Responsibilities retained by the Government English Heritage - Strategic Aims and Core Programmes for 1999 to 2002.

Following regional reorganisation in 1999 and the amalgamation with the Royal Commission, English Heritage has set out a new 5 year plan based on a set of core aims and objectives and the proposed budget allocation. According to English Heritage;

We aim to help people to;

There are 4 core programmes by which this will be achieved.

  1. Conserving and enhancing the historic environment for present and future generations
  2. Encouraging physical and intellectual access to the historic environment
  3. Increasing understanding of the historic environment
  4. Maximising resources where they are most needed for the historic environment

Note that the grant-in-aid to English Heritage is due to decrease every year. If it were increasing by inflation at 2.4% the final grant-in-aid would be £120.48 M. So they are losing a sum greater than that spent on archaeology. Note that the archaeological expenditure is small, and that most of the money given to English Heritage goes on payroll, and running costs.

English Heritage - Archaeology Section - Strategic Objectives 1991- (Exploring our Past 1991). In reality the archaeology section of English Heritage is quite small.

According to Exploring Our Pastthe strategic ais of English Heritage concern;

  1. Sites and Monuments Records - compilation of proper records for future use by planning officers and archaeologists
  2. Monument Selection Procedures - selection of monuments for scheduling should be done within a sampling procedure. Cannot (and should not) schedule all. Must schedule the monuments of national importance - criteria. Must know what is out there
  3. Environmental Evidence - more resources to projects with aim of recovering environmental evidence
  4. Landscape Archaeology - devote resources to the investigation of the historical development of the landscape
  5. Research Designs - all work must be carried out within the framework of a detailed research design to improve the quality and direction of work undertaken.
  6. Project Funding - core activity funding replaced by the funding of specific archaeological projects.
Historic Scotland

Historic Scotland is the equivalent organisation to English Heritage with responsibility for the heritage of Scotland. From their website:

Historic Scotland was created as an agency in 1991 and was attached to the Scottish Executive Education Department, which embraces all aspects of the cultural heritage, in May 1999. As part of the Scottish Executive Historic Scotland is directly accountable to Scottish Ministers for safeguarding the nation's built heritage, and promoting its understanding and enjoyment. Historic Scotland safeguards the nation's built heritage by scheduling monuments of national importance and by listing historic buildings of special architectural or historic interest. Scheduled monuments, listed buildings, and buildings in conservation areas. The agency conserves properties in its care and provides financial assistance to private owners towards the costs of conserving and repairing outstanding monuments and buildings. Historic Scotland has more than 300 properties in its care and welcomes around 2.9 million visitors each year to over 70 properties where admission is charged. The agency has a commitment to encourage knowledge about Scotland's built heritage and provides guidebooks and other publications, and educational material relating to the school curricular guidelines
CADW: Welsh Historic Monuments Executive Agency

CADW, means 'to keep', and this agency is the equivalent organisation to English Heritage and Historic Scotland with responsibility for the heritage of Wales.

From their website:

'The full title of the organization is Cadw: Welsh Historic Monuments Executive Agency, and it is a part of the National Assembly for Wales. Created in 1984, Cadw carries out the complete range of responsibilities for the conservation, presentation, and promotion of the built heritage of Wales on behalf of the National Assembly for Wales. These duties include:

CADW defines built heritage as the physical remains of people's activities within the Welsh landscape. The remains include an immense variety of sites, monuments, architectural ruins and historic buildings. Archaeological sites span more than 250,000 years, from caves occupied in early prehistory, right through to industrial works of the Victorian period. The monuments and architectural ruins vary from the sculptured crosses of our early Christian forebears, through the great castles and abbeys of the Middle Ages, and on to features such as coastal defence works of the nineteenth century. The definition of historic buildings includes a vast array of structures from the humblest rural cottage to the grandest country house, as well as bridges, watermills, lighthouses, farm buildings, and even early telephone boxes. Entire towns and villages are all part of the built heritage, as are parks, gardens and much wider areas of the historic landscape'.

The Royal Commissions

Local Government

Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers

A number of individuals are currently employed by local government to look after the archaeological record of their area. These individuals include County Archaeologists (and sometimes deputy County Archaeologists), City Archaeologists, Sites and Monuments Records Officers who update and manage the local Sites and Monuments Records (related to local planning offices). In a small number of cases there are still archaeological units employed by local government.

Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers

The Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers comprises county archaeologists, Sites and Monuments Records Officers and members of local government archaeological services.

Non-Government Organisations

Council for British Archaeology

The Council for British Archaeology was originally created in 1943 to deal with the effects of the war (destruction due to air raids and subsequent redevelopment). Concerned with defining research objectives for British Archaeology, presenting the views of archaeology to the government and educating the public about what archaeologists do (Young Archaeologists Club). See their homepage for a brief history. Pre 1960s - The CBA had a series of period-based research committees; 1960s -96 thematic research committees (Churches, Countryside, Archaeological Science, Aerial Archaeology, Nautical Archaeology, Industrial Archaeology, etc. From 1996 they set up a UK wide Research and Conservation Committee. They link University, Government and Amateur archaeologists. Read their magazine British Archaeology for articles of research and rescue archaeology. The current President of the Council for British Archaeology Dr Phil Dixon - University of Nottingham. There is also a Council for Scottish Archaeology and a Council for Welsh Archaeology with their own web sites.

Rescue Rescue - the British Archaeological Trust was originally created in Institute of Field Archaeologists

The Institute of Field Archaeologists is the professional body for archaeologists. It was created 1982. The IFA sets up membership standards and promotes best practice in field archaeology. It has become an important body in the context of modern developer-funded archaeology. The creation and organisation of the IFA is considered in greater detail in the page on the professionalisation of archaeology in the UK.

University Archaeological Departments

There are now more than 30 Departments of Archaeology in Universities in the UK.

Independent Archaeological Contractors

Independent Archaeological Contractors include both companies and consultancies that advise and work for developers or other bodies in the course of practical archaeological work in the UK.

Local Archaeological Societies

Britain has a huge tradition of local amateur archaeological societies. The names of many can be found through the CBA web page listing of local and regional archaeology societies. A fuller or more specialised listing can be obtained through database search pages of Current Archaeology.

Council for Independent Archaeology

The Council for Independent Archaeology was created in 1989 to ensure that the interests of independent / amateur archaeologists do not get lost in the face of the increasing professionalisation and specialisation of archaeologists and archaeological practice. Their current president is Andrew Selkirk - the editor of Current Archaeology. They hold conferences on an every other year basis, with the most recent held in Sheffield on demystifying field archaeology.

Other Organisations

There are many more organisations to do with specific aspects of archaeological research, such as Church Archaeology or Industrial Archaeology, for example and these can be accessed online where available via the CBA guide to UK archaeology groups and societies

Library Resources

English Heritage. 1991 Exploring Our Past: strategies for the archaeology of England
English Heritage. 1991 Rescue Archaeology Funding: a policy statement
English Heritage. 1991 Management of Archaeological Projects
Link to the ALGY 399 Sydney Jones Library Reading List.

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