Anglo-Saxon Cross

Rescue Archaeology and Project Funding


Since the end ofWorld War II there has been a dramatic period of development in the UK. Development in the post war period has included a modernising of the transport infrastructure - essentially road building and especially the production of Britain's motorway network, the building of new towns and the expansion of the major towns and cities, and the obvious replacement of bombed buildings in cities including every type of building from churches to factries. Additionally it is in this post war period that farming has been mechanised with the introduction of tractors and other machines onto most farms. Archaeologists recognised that an unfortunate consequence of this necessary development was the destruction of many archaeological sites.

The Birth of Rescue Archaeology in the 1950s and 1960s

In a bid to mitigate some of the loss to the archaeological record, archaeologists started to undertake 'rescue archaeology'. This involved the saving ('rescuing') of the archaeological record through excavation. In a sense the archaeology was rescued as a record of what was there. In their spare time and supported by an army of volunteers archaeologists undertook rapid rescue excavations on threatened sites across the country. The pressure group 'RESCUE' was founded to make the government and the population at large of the threats to the archaeological record through development. There were a number of significant benefits for archaeology as a result of the rescue boom. The speed with which it was necessary to excavate sites before their subsequent development led to a massive improvement in the consistency and quality of archaeological fieldwork. The current use of standardised context sheets and find sheets and pre-printed plans and section transparencies owes its origin to this time. The development of the Harris Matrix - designed to make it possible to understand and re-interpret complex stratigraphy on sites - was a response to the demands of deep urban rescue excavations. Finally the increased number of archaeological excavations and opportunities for volunteers led t the first boom in the popularity of archaeology. Many (possibly as many as 200) local amateur archaeological societies were founded at this time.

A further development partly brought about by the growth in rescue archaeology was the creation of county archaeologists (who began to be employed from the 1960s onwards), and the creation of local Sites and Monuments Records, designed to provide a local record of sites that might be inadvertantly threatened by development. Whilst the process of rescue excavation of threatened sites in the winter turned archaeological excavatioin into a potentially year-round activity.

The need to constantly keep rescuing sites from development through excavation also sewed the seeds of a major publication problem in archaeology. In simple terms archaeologists did more excavating than publishing, leaving a growing backlog of unpublished sites.

The Development of Local Archaeological Units

In the 1970s local government began the funding of a number of local archaeological units. These units employed a number of full-time archaeologists, often with period specialisations. These local units were tied to particular geographical areas and were charged with the rescue excavatoin of threatened sites. The quality of work by local units was high, and one of the great advantages of a local unit was the presence of individual specialists who were deeply familiar with the precise details of the local archaeological record and also with the research questions that were appropriate to their area. The rate of publication, however, did not greatly improve with the advent of the local units.

The Advent of Project Funding

By the end of the 1970s, the UK and local government were in deep financial trouble. The UK even had to seek loans from the International Monetary Fund to help balance the books. The result of this situation was the election of a government (the Conservative Government of Margaret Thatchher in 1979) with a mission to get the finances in order and to curb the wage demands of many public sector workers.

One of the most far reaching introductions of this time was the advent of 'project funding' across a number of areas of national and local government funding. Project funding ties the funding of any clear activity (a 'project') to a set of stated aims and objectives and a detailed plan and timetable for the implementation of this project. The costs of the project include all the costs associated with the completion of a piece of work, these include the rent and maintenance of any buildings, the salaries of any staff during ther time of the project, and all consumables (paper, pens, etc.) that will be used. Project funding makes all costs transparent accountable. It also makes it possible for potential savings to be made apparent without appearing to damage the overall successful completion of the objectives. Archaeology is eminently suitable to a project funding approach: it involves an episode of fieldwork, with clear objectives, a period of analysis and the completion in the form of the final publication. It is also clear that certain specialists are required and they can be costed into the project budget. Of course a knock on effect of project funding is the possibility that different people might cost the same archaeological project at different costs. If the aims and objectives are the same for both projects the cheaper project will save money. Project funding will facilitate competition.

For local governments, project funding also seemed to offer a way of making local archaeology more efficient. At the end of the 1970s it was estimated that the local units spent more than 80% of their money on staff salaries and building costs. The remaining money paid for archaeological rescue.

Archaeology and Project Funding

If we decide to have permanent facilities abroad, does it not also make sense to have permanent facilities in Britain for archaeological research? Was it such a good idea to disband the regional units with their years of acquired regional expertise in favour of project funding? Is rescue archaeology so different from research archaeology that it can be achieved successfully via project funding?

Internet Resources

The key document for project funding in archaeology today is called The Management of Archaeological Projects 2 (MAP2), published by English Heritage. There is now an online version of MAP2

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