The Role of the Institute of Field Archaeologists

Peter Hinton

Director, Institute of Field Archaeologists

The editors of assemblage have asked me to write a short piece explaining the function of the Institute of Field Archaeologists (IFA), outlining what it does now and what it intends doing in the future.

What is the IFA?

There are many organisations for archaeology in Britain, but the one thing that distinguishes the IFA from the rest is that it is the professional body for archaeology. It is the Institute for archaeologists.

Archaeologists are responsible for the care of a vulnerable and diminishing resource and for promoting understanding and enjoyment of the past. In principle, the heritage belongs (if not always in law) to the public and all archaeologists have a duty to adhere to the highest professional and ethical standards. The IFA Code of conduct articulates these standards and is binding on all its members.

The mission statement of the IFA is:

to advance the practice of archaeology and allied disciplines by promoting professional standards and ethics for the conservation, management and study of the archaeological resource.

The key phrase here is 'to advance the practice of archaeology'. The IFA is primarily concerned with promoting best practice in archaeology. This involves facilitating regulation of the way in which archaeology is conducted and setting standards for those carrying it out. It means ensuring that archaeologists are encouraged and helped to carry out their work to the highest standards.

Who are the members?

Membership is open to practising archaeologists, both professional and amateur. Our members come from universities, contracting units, development control departments, museums, conservation laboratories, environmental consultancies and many other backgrounds. They specialise in fieldwork, academic research and development, maritime archaeology, archaeological resource management, building recording, finds and environmental archaeology, illustration and all the many other branches of the discipline. They are certainly not just 'field' archaeologists in the outmoded sense of the word.

Archaeologists are admitted to corporate membership after a review of their experience and qualifications. They may identify themselves as corporate members by using the designation PIFA (Practitioner), AIFA (Associate) or MIFA (Member), depending on their experience and qualifications.

All members agree to abide by the Institute's Code of conduct.

Practitioner is normally the grade of those who carry out archaeological work and report to a supervisor. Practitioners must have a minimum of six to twelve months experience (depending on qualifications) of that level of work and responsibility.

Associate grade is designed for those exercising significant professional responsibility for archaeological work of whatever nature. This can mean supervising small to medium projects or parts of large projects. Associates will have had a minimum of one to five years of relevant experience, depending on qualifications.

Members (MIFAs) have substantial responsibility. They will have had at least three to seven years of experience at that level, again depending on qualifications and will be validated against one or more recognised specialisms or 'Areas of Competence'. These are:

There are no membership exams, but applications are validated by a committee of peers. Applicants must submit a portfolio of work and references. Joining the IFA as a corporate member is not an easy process and there is more to it than putting a cheque in an envelope -- but then that is the point of having a professional organisation.

Many undergraduates and postgraduates join the IFA at the non-corporate grade of Affiliate. Apart from voting rights and the opportunity to put letters after their names, Affiliate members enjoy all the benefits of corporate members. The most popular of these is the Jobs information service. This service, in return for stamped addressed envelopes, provides members with a weekly collation of all jobs advertised in archaeology and related subjects. Membership fees for Affiliates, like other grades, depend on income. Most Affiliates will pay 12 a year.

Registered archaeological organisations:

As well as individual members, the Institute maintains a register of archaeological organisations. Registered organisations are run by one or more 'responsible post-holders' who are Members of the IFA. The organisations have agreed to adhere to the Code of conduct and will be monitored by a panel of senior Members of the Institute. If the registered organisation is found to have breached the Code, the responsible post-holder may be the subject of disciplinary action by the Institute.

What does the IFA do?

The IFA's mission statement is underpinned by five aims.

1. The IFA influences policy makers.

The first of these five aims is:

to influence and inform actively, through consultation with the legislature, public bodies and others, on matters relating to archaeology.

The IFA intends to become the automatic point of consultation on all professional matters in archaeology, whilst continuing to strengthen its links with bodies representing particular sections of the profession, such as the Association of Local Governments Archaeologists (ALGAO), the Association of Regional and Island Archaeologists (ARIA) and the Standing Conference of Archaeological Unit Managers (SCAUM). The IFA will also comment on broader topics of importance to the profession, but it recognises the pre-eminent role of the Council for British Archaeology (CBA). As a national amenity society the CBA comments on archaeology in the public domain and the IFA will work closely with it to avoid duplication of effort. In all submissions, the IFA will emphasise its role as the professional body, the institute for archaeologists.

2. The IFA provides services to its members.

The IFA's role as the organisation for archaeologists is reflected in the second of its aims:

to promote an active professional organisation, involving and offering appropriate services to its membership.

I have already mentioned the most successful and popular example of this area of activity: the Jobs information service. The IFA has recently introduced a professional indemnity insurance facility via the Royal Sun Alliance, and is about to launch a discounted car hire service for IFA members and registered organisations. Discussions are under way about a range of other financial and travel services.

During 1997/8 the IFA will be working on a dispute resolution service which IFA members -- and others -- may offer to anyone they contract with. The scheme is intended to avoid the costs, delay and pain of litigation and may be offered in association with the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators.

3. The IFA sets standards in archaeology.

As the mission statement indicates, one of the key aims of the IFA is:

to develop proper professional guidelines and standards for the execution of archaeological work, and to establish these guidelines and standards by promoting membership of the Institute to all those practising field archaeology.

As a first step, the Institute intends to re-publish its Standards and guidance in a readily accessible form. So far these documents cover desk-based assessment, field evaluation, excavation, watching briefs and buildings investigation and recording. Two other areas may be covered by Standards and guidance in the next year: finds study and survey.

Many IFA members have suggested that it would be a good idea to produce standards for archaeologists in a curatorial role. The IFA is in discussions about this matter with ALGAO and ARIA, who will take the lead on this initiative, and with SCAUM. The four organisations are initially considering what guidance should be given to curators about drawing up lists of contracting archaeologists for developers to use -- or if there should be lists at all.

There have been even louder calls for the IFA to 'do something' about archaeological employment (see for example Kenny Aitchison's Working in field archaeology and the Institute of Field Archaeologists paper in issue one of assemblage). The main problems are low pay, minimal job security, poor terms and conditions and the lack of a career structure within the profession. The extent to which the Institute can become directly involved is subject to some constitutional limitations, but it is perfectly legitimate for the IFA to promote best employment practice in archaeology. After all, we cannot expect to achieve best practice in archaeology when experienced members of the profession are forced to seek new careers because they find themselves unable to buy a house, raise a family or provide for their retirement.

To 'do something' requires a better understanding of the present situation and to that end the IFA, in partnership with other archaeological bodies, is discussing with English Heritage a two-part survey of employment. The first part is a joint venture between the IFA and the CBA with the support of Rescue (the British Archaeological Trust), and consists of a survey of archaeological employers to be carried out by Kenny Aitchison. It will provide information on the numbers and types of archaeological posts, and on the salaries and benefits of post-holders. The second part is intended to be a joint enterprise between the IFA, IPMS, ALGAO and SCAUM. It will research the purpose and duties of the main types of jobs and the skills and experience required, together with providing information necessary to link training, qualifications, membership grades, jobs, salaries and terms and conditions of service. In fact, it will provide the information which can be used to create the framework for a professional career structure.

In parallel, the IFA is in discussion with SCAUM about a paper on archaeology and employment. This builds on Principle 5 of the IFA Code of conduct, which states that:

the archaeologist shall recognise the aspirations of employees, colleagues and helpers with regard to all matters relating to employment and equality of opportunity.

SCAUM and the IFA will work together to see how the expanded principles of the SCAUM document might best be adopted by the two bodies. This initiative will build on the IFA's policy statements on equal opportunities, health and safety and the use of volunteers. It will complement the Institute's guidance on recommended minimum rates of pay.

4. The IFA promotes training of archaeologists.

The fourth aim of the Institute is:

to promote the training of archaeologists in cooperation with other bodies and to encourage and monitor the provision of archaeological courses in education.

The longer-term objectives are to facilitate the introduction of tertiary education courses which reflect the needs of the profession, IFA membership requirements, and to introduce continuing professional development schemes which ensure archaeologists keep abreast of changing circumstances and techniques. The Career development and training committee, led by John Collis, is preparing a training strategy for the IFA. One of the first objectives of this strategy is to investigate the possibility of a training and placement programme to help recent graduates acquire the skills they need to become Practitioner members and to enter the profession.

5. The IFA helps archaeologists communicate.

The final aim of the IFA is:

to facilitate the exchange of information and ideas about archaeological practice and to communicate these to the profession and more widely.

To this end the IFA's editor, Jenny Moore, will continue to produce The Archaeologist on a regular basis and will maintain a steady supply of Papers. The Editorial board is in discussion with the Theoretical Archaeology Group about producing a journal of theory and practice in archaeology, and an IFA Web page is under construction. Members receive most IFA publications free of charge.

Another popular medium of communication is the IFA's annual Archaeology in Britain Conference. Although this has recently been a September event it will shortly revert to its traditional April slot. The next full conference will be in April 1999, but there will be a two-day symposium on 27/28 March 1998, the details of which are currently being discussed. As ever, there will be discounts for IFA members.


I hope this short article gives some impression of how the IFA promotes best practice in the conservation, management and study of the archaeological resource by:

I hope, too, I have made it apparent that the IFA recognises the need for regulatory mechanisms in archaeology, particularly in maintaining the right balance between commercial pressures, good quality research into our past and a proper career structure with sensible rates of pay. Such mechanisms are not going to be imposed on us by government or public bodies. In the late twentieth century, nearly all regulation means self-regulation. For that to be acceptable and lawful, professional bodies must demonstrate that self-regulation is in the public interest; otherwise all the good work may be swept away by arguments that an organisation's hard-won agreements represent a restriction on competition.

To this end, the Institute of Field Archaeologists is raising its public profile and official recognition. In due course it may seek to achieve chartered status, so that it and its By-laws are recognised by the government. Perhaps, too, the IFA should seek recognition in a revised Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act. I hope that it will be possible to keep assemblage readers abreast of developments like these.

For more information about the IFA or for an application form, please contact us at:

The Institute of Field Archaeologists

University of Reading

2 Earley Gate

PO Box 239

Reading RG6 6AU

Tel/FAX: 0118 931 6446

... And that web site is on its way!

About the Author

Peter Hinton has worked in archaeology since 1973, firstly as a volunteer and then as a professional. He paused for three years to study for a degree in archaeology at Sheffield, along with John Moreland, Jim Symonds and Colin Merrony. In 1991 he was appointed head of specialist services at MoLAS (Museum of London Archaeology Service) and has been director of the Institute of Field Archaeologists since May 1997.

© Peter Hinton 1997

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