This year’s FAME Forum ‘Trouble in Store’ addressed the critical issue of archaeological archives. Given the massive expansion in development-led archaeology in the UK, how are they are to be collected, deposited, stored and used in the future? Over a hundred delegates from FAME, SMA, ALGAO and other organisations attended the event, which was once again held in the magnificent surroundings of the Merchant Taylors Hall in York.
Archaeological practices and the archives crisis – why the time is right for change
Roland Smith, Regional Manager, Cotswold Archaeology
There has been an impending crisis with archaeological archives for several years. For many developer-funded practices that crisis has well and truly arrived. Many now hold substantial volumes of archives with no available museum or store able to receive them. Anecdotally museum storage capacity is worsening, with little prospect of new facilities opening in the foreseeable future. All indicators point to the need for a radical review of all aspects of archive preparation and deposition that does not diminish their importance as valuable assets but accepts the need for significant change. This presentation sets out the perspective of historic environment practices and makes some proposals for change.
Digital Archives: light at the end of the tunnel?
Catherine Hardman Deputy Director (Collections), Archaeology Data service
This paper will describe two recent ADS partnerships in digital archiving. The first, with Southampton Arts and Heritage, requires all fieldwork archives in the city to be deposited with ADS, who then provide long-term archiving and ensure that digital fieldwork data can be made available to the widest possible audience. The second, with Wessex Archaeology and with museums and historic environment services in Hampshire and Wiltshire, has used digital photography as the sole photographic fieldwork record, and led to the creation of an ADS digital photographic archive service, with online access to digital images through OASIS.
Allocation and preservation of archaeological material: a Scottish perspective
Stuart Campbell, Treasure Trove Unit, National Museums Scotland
In Scotland the same laws which deal with chance finds and Treasure Trove also apply to excavation assemblages, with the result that there is a clear procedure which allocates assemblages to museums. Nevertheless, these procedures have simply brought clarity to the same problem that applies elsewhere in the UK, that many museums are reluctant to accept excavated material. The paper will discuss this problem from all perspectives and highlight an increasing dissonance between the requirements of the museums sector and the requirements of applied archaeology and the planning process.
Preservation by broken record
David Allen, Keeper of Archaeology, Hampshire County Museums Service and Chair, SMA
There’s no doubt that the archaeological profession, all corners of it, has a clear idea of what it is trying to achieve in retrieving information and presenting it, at many different levels. There’s less certainty, however, about the archiving process, despite numerous first class surveys and statements which constantly remind us of what we should be doing. This contribution will (once again) look at the issues from a Museum Curator’s perspective and explore yet more ways to liaise, as well as showing that there are jewels to be found in a ‘back catalogue’.
Making archives work: who owns the process?
Quinton Carroll, Historic Environment Team Manager, Cambridgeshire County Council, and Chair, Archaeological Archives Forum
Archaeological archives are in danger of becoming the ‘elephant in the room’ of British archaeology. We all know they are there, and are becoming a problem of increasing proportions. However, there is reluctance in the profession to tackle it, or even sometimes to acknowledge it, although thankfully this is starting to change. The archive is only acknowledged at the very end of a long process that includes many individuals from different parts of the sector. How do we deal with this and, of all the parties in the process, who is best placed to ensure the best outcome?
The historic environment resource in store
Duncan Brown, Head of Archaeological Archives, English Heritage
The Society of Museum Archaeologists, in association with FAME and the AAF, is seeking funding from English Heritage to support a project that will establish the current extent of the crisis facing archaeological archives. The good news is that this initiative is recognised within the National Heritage Protection Programme as an important part of addressing capacity-loss in local authorities. This talk will outline the aims of the project and the NHPP context, while also looking ahead to future issues.