The lively debate over standards has certainly brought up a number of key
points for modern archaeological practice. At times it has also
demonstrated the divisiveness that exists between different specialisms in
the discipline which may be related to the obvious lack of knowledge of the
working conditions of different sections. What has been positive has been
the development of the discussion from comments on Time Team (I think) to
the whole structure of modern archaeology within the planning process.
Obviously there appears to be a number of problems with archaeology today
which need addressing and the need for a forum such as Britarch for
dialogue between the different areas of archaeology to come to a better
understanding of the discipline as a whole. Bitter acrimony - where one
blames another for the failings of archaeology won't get us anywhere else
but down while dialogue can put us into a position to effectively fight for
the cause of archaeology.
Archaeology does not get included in the planning process by a given right,
it is there because it is valued by society as a whole and this is put into
legislative practice by national and local government. This is where public
interpretation is essential to develop public support and pressure on
politicians and local authorities. It also shows the need for current
planning legislation to be improved, and the desperate need for the value
we place on our environment as whole to be re-evaluatated through the
acceptance of the principles of sustainability. This basically means
looking after our environment and society to sustain our quality of life
for the long-term future and not rip-it-off for short-term maximum profit.
There are some fundamental areas to archaeological practice which the
discussion has demonstrated need addressing:
The effective resourcing and support for curators to make sure that
archaeology is properly dealt with through the planning process and that
contract work is properly conducted to accepted professional standards.
The need for an effective professional body to maintain and monitor
professional standards and working conditions. Such a body will never be
perfect, as neither will all the individuals who work in archaeology - some
organisations being lumbered with real unfortunates, but the worth of such
a body is proved through its results and its ability to include all
archaeologists within its umbrella.
National bodies can provide some of this support, and EH's plans for
regionalisation in England (with inspectors, scientific advisors, etc.)
could become crucial here. As one curator said the writing of detailed
technical briefs is difficult due to lack of resources. If this was
undertaken at a regional level, as Jacqui Mulville of EH has commented, it
could help to take off some pressure from individuals working in local
There is also the need in some areas to step back and remember why we feel
archaeology is important to modern society. It is easy in the present
structures we operate to reduce this to the recording of physical
structures and artefacts and to get the job out of the way. But I don't
think that is why many people 'do' archaeology, we generally have a deeper
intrinsic belief in the importance of understanding and conserving cultural
heritage. The values we place on it require the interpretation of past
societies to be a fundamental element for the importance of sites and finds
in the present to be assessed and placed in context.
And finally to echo others we should, within the limited time we may have,
try and respond to the Engllish Heritage-led Historic Environment Review
as it is our future it is addressing.
The above opinions were just about strung together in some sort of cohesive
ramble of my own accord and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my
employers or any of my pets (though the gerbil feigned some interest