Anglo-Saxon Cross

Archaeology in the UK Today

Where should it go?


The practice of archaeology in England has now entered a new stage. English Heritage has developed a system for managing / protecting the archaeological resource that centres on the legal protection of certain sites and the management of others. Legal protection is offered to sites of national importance with the updating of the schedule to account for the small size of the sample and the period and area biases of the past through the Monuments Protection Programme. They have also led to the introduction of a mechanism for protection of non-scheduled sites that is based on the planning process, which includes the protection of sites of national Importance (not scheduled) sites of regional and local importance. In all cases, where possible, some effort will be made to mitigate likely damage to the archaeological resource, if necessary. Both of these processes have advantages, as noted before, and disadvantages, noted below. Just as importantly, there is now considerable debate about how archaeological research can be undertaken within this new management framework in which emphasis is given to preservation of the archaeological record - preferably in situ.

The Management Interests

With the introduction of PPG16, the archaeological record is protected in consideration with other legitimate interests in the planning process. Sites of national importance (not necessarily all scheduled) are noted on local plans and there is presumption in favour of preservation in situ. Other sites compete with other non-archaeological interests. The evaluation process will determine the damage to these sites and, in light of potential mitigation options, will weigh up competing interests in planning proposals. Both processes result in sites competing against each other to be preserved or not. Preservation is ensured by knowledge and assessment of the resource. The MPP system is the most appropriate means of achieving this. Explicit criteria that can be evaluated by experts (survival, potential, diversity, etc.). Archaeologists are one of these competing interests; excavations need to be kept in check because they are destroying the pick of the crop of archaeological sites. But we need to keep an archaeologically viable sample for future research. (Startin 1992)

Problems with MPP style preservation

  1. Defines the record on the basis of current classifications - monument class descriptions
  2. Preserves the present state of the record
  3. Cannot cope with changing foci of interest

Problems with PPG16 archaeology

  1. There has been a breakdown of the relationship between regional specialists and their area of work. We cannot guarantee that the person excavating a deposit will understand its research context.
  2. Archaeology is now practised with a view to preserving the record &endash; preferably in situ
  3. County Archaeologists and SMR Officers are snowed under with the assessment of planning applications, and they are judged (by their local authority employers) against this duty. They have little time to develp their own research or research in the local neighbourhood.

Archaeological Interests - Who or What are we Preserving the Record For?

Martin Carver (1997) has recently argued that archaeological legislation is obsessed with monuments - standing sites of obvious visibility and potential public interest. The value of the archaeological record is then based on its comparison to other environmental aspects. Hence the damage done to the archaeological record can be (and often is) investigated as part on an envronmental impact assessment.

But archaeology cannot compete for public sympathy in the same way that amenities, such as hospitals, and roads, or the environment can. It is not 'useful' or 'natural'. For archaeology to compete, we need some other sense of value to give to the archaeological record. Carver suggests thhat the sense of value that we can assign to the archaeological record is based on what we can get out oof it in tgerms of understanding what happened in the past. As archaeologists we are really trying to judge development against not just standing materials but against the unknown research potential of sites. Archaeological Value is about potential 'Research Value'.

If we aim to maximise the value of the archaeological record, we need a preservation policy that says that all deposits should be preserved unless they are suitable for answering archaeological questions. If they are suitable too answer such questions, our management plan should immediately require the proper excavation of these deposits.

In contrast to this approach, Bill Startin (1992) has suggested that in preserving archaeology it is the duty of agencies such as English Heritage to preserve the archaeological remains from archaeologists as well as for them. The archaeological record is finite, and all archaeologists really wannt to do is excavate it. But excavaton is destruction. If we look at major monuments, such as stone circles, henge monuments, hill forts and roman towns, most have already been excavated to sme extent, and a number (such as Danebury - Iron Age hill fort is still being excavated by a notable Professor of Archaeology - Barry Cunliffe, and Silchester Roman Town by the notable Professor of Roman Archaeology - Mike Fulford). On the basis of past form, Startin suggests, academics lose interest (they reach their 'boredom threshold') once they have excavated approximately 1/3 of a site. A minimum viable sample for archaeological research in the future is, therefore, to preserve at least 1/3 of all major sites. This will provide only one more research opportunity.

The Need for Research Frameworks - a Middle Way

From the beginning of the planning approach to archaeological protectiion thhere has been a recognition that the archaeological work done by contractors for developers (and curators) will have a research aspect to it. PPG16 (parag 13) states that curatorial decisions, concerning planing proposals, will be made in the light of local research frameworks. The question that remained from this is who articulates the research framework and where is it 'published'.

English Heritage 1996. Frameworks for our Past.

In 1996, Central Archaeology Service conducted a survey to assess current problems in making preservation decisions in the light of research frameworks (PPG16 parag 13). Olivier consulted curators at local government level, universities, contractors, national societies, special interest groups, etc.. to get a feeling for what they thought of the research problems associated with PG16 led archaeology. The full document is accessible in PDF form from the English Heritage website.

The basic perceptions of the problems were as follows;

Curators thought that:

University Departments thought that:

Contractors noted that:

Major problems in discipline were identified as:

The Research Framework Model - (English Heritage 1996)

The Research Framework Model

National Research Frameworks

If the Frameworks for our Past document makes a good case for the use of research frammeworks, the problems that remains is one of creation and scale. The two basic scales are nationally and locally. At both of these levels there is funding available. At a national level from English Heritage in the form of project funding, and from the research councils and learned societies in the form of research grants. At a local level there is developer funding tied to briefs for archaeological work drawn up by curators.

National Research Frameworks in England 1991-1998

National Research Framweorks in the UK have been prepared by two organisations in particular, the Council for British Archaeology and from 1991 by English Heritage for England (to an extent). Following the Second World War the CBA published research agendas for archaeology in Britain, on a five yearly cycle.

Since 1991, English Heritage has published a set of research objectives for funding thhat are in some ways similar to a research framework. In 1991, English Heritage published Exploring Our Past, a document that set out (Section 6) the basic academic objectives against which English Heritage would award project funding applied for in the MAP format. This document is not a research framework per se, but it does effectively state whhat they think is of sufficient interest to warrant funding.

Processes of Change

  1. Hunter-Gatherers - Lower Palaeolithic to Post-Glacial
  2. Hunter-Gatherers into Farmers (5000-3200BC)
  3. Change and Diversification in Farming Communities (2500-2200BC)
  4. Communal Monuments into Settlement and Field Systems (1300-300BC)
  5. Briton into Roman (200BC-AD200)
  6. Early Medieval (350-700AD)
  7. Viking Age and Late Saxon
  8. Medieval and Post-Medieval
  9. Industrial Revolution

Landscapes These research themes put the previous academic objectives into a landscape perspective involving site prospection, excavations and environmental reconstruction. Especially:

  1. buried Pleistocene landscapes
  2. undated and unclassified landscape features
  3. towns and their hinterlands
  4. castles and their hinterlands
  5. medieval rural settlement


  1. surveys - the construction of urban databases (Wainwright 1992)
  2. origins of small towns 9th century to14th century

Patterns of Industry and Craftsmanship

  1. sourcing studies
  2. surveys of extraction sites
  3. urban versus rural industrial sites
  4. waste and processes
  5. excavated objects and marks of craftsmanship processes
  6. documentation of selected industrial sites
  7. comparison of extraction/manufacture sites and excavated sites

A New National Research Agenda for the New Millenium

In 1998 English Heritage circulated their new Research Agenda for consultation among the archaeolgical community. This is essentially the draft document that will become the new Exploring our Past. Frameworks are now being articulated into the new Research Agenda. The 1998 Research Agenda is available as a PDF document on the English Heritage website. The new Exploring our Past will apparently be available soon on the EH website.

A section in the document sets out the 'Archaeological Research Priorities'. They are listed as:

The Meaning of Change: transitions

Chronological Periods




Methodological and Technical Development

Managing the Resource

Local Research Frameworks

In addition to the develoment of these broader national frammeworks, English heritage has encouraged archaeologists involved in the archaeology of their regions to develop - for themselves - their own research frameworks. The purpose of this framework is to integrate past, present and future practice together. Local Research Frameworks - the current state of play These frameworks are being organised on a regional basis. Some regions are more advance than others. Eastern Counties: completed in 1999 Yorkshire &endash; completed but somewhat unique London - completed but somewhat unique East and West Midlands: 1 year away from completion North-East and North-West: 2 1/2 years away from completion South-East and South-West: not yet started

Library Resources

Carver, M. 1997. On archaeological value. Antiquity 70: Darvill, T.C. 1993. Valuing Britain's Archaeoological Resource. Inaugural Lecture, Bournemouth University English Heritage 1991. Exploring our past: strategies for the archaeology of England. London English Heritage 1996. Frameworks for our past: a review of research frameworks, strategies and perceptions. London English Heritage 1998. Research Agenda. London Startin, B.1992. Preservation and the archaeologically viable sample. Antiquity. 67 Startin , B. 1993. Assessing field remains. In J. Hunter and I. Ralston Archaeological Resource Management in the UK: an introduction. Stroud, Allan Sutton/IFA Wainwright, G. 1992. The management of change: archaeology and planning. Antiquity 67

Internet Resources

Look at the Research Agenda on English Heritage Archaeology Division homepage for MPP and monument class descriptions, Wroxeter hinterlands project , and for the Frameworks for our Past document Also check the CBA magazine 'British Archaeology', available online from the CBA homepage for discussions of the problems of developer funded archaeology.

Link to the ALGY 399 Sydney Jones Library Reading List.

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