Thursday 2 December 2010

Nature: British Archaeology in State of Crisis

Nature in an article ( Matt Ford "Archaeology under threat in UK: 'Perfect storm' of proposed cuts throws field into crisis" 26/11/2010) indicates that UK archaeologists are facing a wave of cuts that they say will lead to a loss of skills and take the teaching of the subject "back to the 1950s". Archaeology is expected to be hit particularly hard by the budget cuts because it is "organized" in a somewhat ad hoc manner through a combination of public institutions run by several different government departments that are all seeing simultaneous budget reductions. " Readers can keep up with some of the specific threats facing the British heritage sector via the Rescue online map .

CBA Director Mike Heyworth has recently drafted a short note to summarise the current situation, and asks "is it all gloom? Are there still opportunities to grasp"? The CBA would welcome comments and thoughts on how to face up to the current

Stay positive and look to the future (as well as the past)

The Lord Chancellor (The Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke QC MP) recently stated on behalf of the UK Government that "We recognise the valuable contribution that archaeologists make to the study of human history". Unfortunately that recognition has not prevented a combination of factors linked with the current economic climate giving real cause for concern for the future of the practice of archaeology across the UK.

Current concerns include:
- major cuts in funding for the national heritage bodies
- large scale reductions in funding for universities - with a significant drop in archaeology students last year and further decline predicted in the future
- continuing education provision sharply declining which has traditionally provided essential training and learning for the voluntary sector in archaeology
- crucial local authority services being dramatically cut that are fundamental to ensuring archaeology is properly considered in development planning and the management of the broader historic environment
- the national networks of Historic Environment Records built up over decades are at risk
- an archaeological archives and storage crisis for museums which means many archaeological businesses have nowhere to deposit archaeological material from excavations
- and indeed many archaeological businesses themselves are under threat of folding as the demand for development-led archaeology sharply declines, losing valuable trained professionals (with their skills) to other occupations.

Despite an apparently gloomy picture, the news is by no means all bad and at a time when, across the country, many other activities are being just as severely affected we need to think to the future. We can still point to some real positives for archaeology and the heritage sector:

- funding for the Heritage Lottery Fund will increase in future years
- public awareness of the heritage and membership of key organisations such as English Heritage, the National Trust and the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) continues to grow
- the value of heritage to our vital tourist economy and to regeneration is recognised; people come here for Britain's archaeology and people holiday at home to enjoy it
- the enormous growth in recent years of community and local archaeology
- CBA's research shows an astonishing growth, with over 2000 groups working for the archaeological heritage and as many as 200,000 individuals
- the Coalition government's focus on localism strengthens the value of a local sense of place and people's passion for their heritage
- the Prime Minister's idea of the Big Society, that we are all entrusted with the care of what matters in society and the environment, is one that we wholeheartedly embrace in archaeology and have long worked with
- for the first time this year we have a cross-Governmental vision for the historic environment in England which the new Government has endorsed in principle
- and we have a new policy statement for planning and the historic environment in England with an exceptionally forward-looking objective for archaeology that planning should "contribute to our knowledge and understanding of our past by ensuring that opportunities are taken to capture evidence from the historic environment and to make this publicly available".

The CBA's new strategy, launched in the House of Lords in November, is all about "Making Archaeology Matter". What matters now, more than ever, is that we engage people themselves to safeguard the archaeological interest in their locality. The CBA sees archaeological stewardship and active participation at the heart of what we do with, and through, our members - in education and research, with young people, in community archaeology and in all our advocacy work for archaeology - whether that is safeguarding historic buildings, reforming the Treasure Act, campaigning to protect the rural heritage or deriving maximum public value from development-led archaeology.

The whole archaeological sector needs to work together, with new and innovative collaborations creating stronger future partnerships, to support even greater public involvement and action. We should look ahead to the archaeological discipline of the future and lay the foundations of a strong, appropriately rewarded and highly-skilled profession, working closely with an active community and voluntary sector. The CBA is ready to play a leading role and we look forward to working with a wide range of partners, and our expanding membership, to ensure that the archaeological heritage of the UK is safeguarded and appreciated in the

Mike Heyworth
CBA Director

Please show your support for protecting the UK's archaeological heritage and join the Council for British Archaeology today. Visit
Thankfully no mention of the Portable Antiquities Scheme or metal detectorists, though I suspect that is what is meant by the vague term "an active community and voluntary sector". So if the HERs are in danger of being dismantled, what is the use of compiling a PAS database at vast public expense in order for the information to be fed into them for heritage management purposes?

There is some quite interesting discussion at the moment in this thread - interestingly (and IMO thankfully) free of metal detectorist comment, but my guess is that will not last long...


Anonymous said...

“Thankfully no mention of the Portable Antiquities Scheme or metal detectorists, though I suspect that is what is meant by the vague term "an active community and voluntary sector".”

I’m rather more hopeful.

“What matters now, more than ever, is that we engage people themselves to safeguard the archaeological interest in their locality” sounds fine to me. What matters, he says, is “safeguarding”. Darn right. That word is an antonym of “exploiting” is it not?

And he also says “The CBA sees archaeological stewardship and active participation at the heart of what we do”....

If CBA sees active participation and archaeological stewardship as joined at the hip they have my vote! THAT’s the sort of partnership that has been needed from the start. Hoorah for proper partnership!

Mr Heyworth is already the bête noire of metal detectorists. I warn him, if he carries on with crazy lefty talk like this the US coin dealers will weigh in massively against him as well - once they twig what “archaeological stewardship” means for them!

Paul Barford said...

Yes, I spotted that.

I'd like to see what would happen if Britain asked the United States to sign an MOU about the import of artefacts now that the British heritage protection system is weakened by these cuts.

Would the coin dealers and people like Witschonke still hold up the British system as the pattern for other nations to follow? Would they insist the US tell the Brits to fund the PAS to a level commensurate with the degree of erosion artefact hunting is causing?

Anonymous said...

I'd have thought, to be consistent, they ought to now brand Britain as a source country that is failing to look after mankind's heitage and to claim therefore they had a duty to import and flog off everything they can get their hands on.

Heritage cuts mean exploitative British metal detectorists (who include an unknown percentage of nighthawks) must be given every encouragement by US dealers, that'll be the pitch, bet you.

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