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BRITARCH  March 2001

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Subject:

Re: Archaeological research in Museums

From:

Chris Cumberpatch <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

British archaeology discussion list <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 13 Mar 2001 20:03:51 -0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

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text/plain (47 lines)

Ann Brundle writes: I agree with Malcolm Watkins that there should be more
research on Local Authority collections, not only by their own curators but
by all sorts of people working in archaeology - and the reality (at least
across Scotland) is that very little is being done. Why do we make
collections if so few people want to use them? (And why do so few use them?)

    I have spent a considerable part of my working life using museum
collections and part of the rest creating what I hope are usable collections
from fieldwork for curation in museums.  This began with my PhD research and
contiunued more recently as a way of acquiring an understanding of the
medieval pottery of Yorkshire and Derbyshire.  I am currently working my way
through collections in Museums in South Yorkshire and north Derbyshire with
a view to creating a ceramic reference collection for the region. As a
resource they are absolutely vital if we are to make any progress in
archaeology - which is why I have so often expressed my concern about what
is happening to museums and the threats posed by developers who retain
material.  The problem with using collections are several, the principal one
being the availability of money to fund the necessary work.  English
Heritage are funding the current project and a local Trust, the Sheffield
Town Trust Scholarship and the British Council funded my PhD research.  The
reality of contract funding is that is, in practice, impossible to write
more than a day or two into each contract  to look at  material in museums -
while this is useful  in finding  parallels, looking  at material from
unpublished excavations etc, it is not enough to actually fund the full
study and publication of the many many  unpublished sites which lie in
museum stores.  The progressive diminution of funding from central
government to English Heritage seems to be increasingly precluding the
programme of backlog publication and there seem to be few other funding
options available.  I know that with adequate funding I could not only add
significantly to the body of archaeological knowledge concerning medieval
north-east England but could also create several jobs for other people - But
where is the funding to come from?  In the mean time, we can only continue
to create and curate archives in the hope that at least parts of them will
be studied in detail one day and that the information contained in the
reports that I and my colleagues write for the 'grey literature' will one
day be used and reworked by  those who are attempting to put together
broader syntheses and  interpretations.  We must also seize those few
opportunities which are available to use the existing archives to produce
our own syntheses and interpretative books and articles in the hope of
stimulating others to do the same.  It is not a matter of not wanting to use
existing archives, it is a matter of the problem of creating the the
opportunities to do so.  My own interests do not lie in Scotland, but those
of many colleagues do - some of this work will be discussed at the
forthcoming MPRG conference.

Chris Cumberpatch

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