Assessing The Research Potential of Grey Literature in the study of Roman England

Neil Holbrook, Richard Morton, 2008 (updated 2011)

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Project background

Since the adoption of Planning Policy Guidance Note 16 (Archaeology and Planning) in 1990, around 90% of all archaeological work in England has been prompted by the planning process. The product of this work is the ubiquitous typescript report, commonly referred to as the "grey literature" of archaeology. This term reflects the fact that whilst developer-funded typescript reports are well-used through the planning process, the results of this work are predominantly unpublished and commonly not known to the wider archaeological community. This is largely due to the vast size of the resource, and the difficulties in accessing it (although this is being addressed in many ways, such as the online OASIS forum). The need to make the results of this work readily available to both local communities and those with a more specialized interest in the past is recognized as a priority by English Heritage. The Roman Grey Literature Project was developed between Cotswold Archaeology and Reading University as a way to assess the research potential for the Roman period which may currently be hidden within the grey literature. It follows a separate piece of research recently carried out by Richard Bradley of Reading University which highlighted the strong research potential within the grey literature for the prehistoric period.

Project Summary

The 'Roman Grey Literature' project is a three stage project which addresses the research potential of grey literature in the study of Roman England. Stage 1 has been completed and was concerned with a rapid national overview of how much archaeological work on sites with Roman remains had been done between 1990 and 2004, where it was located, and the proportion of grey literature that reached conventional publication and dissemination. The results are also hosted on ADS. The purpose of Stage 2 was to target four pilot areas for a more detailed assessment of the ability of grey literature to enhance academic understanding of specific aspects of Roman Britain. The four areas selected for Stage 2 were Essex, Somerset, Warwickshire and South and West Yorkshire combined, which in aggregate cover 9.5% of England by area. The results of the detailed assessment inform four essays which highlight the research contribution that developer archaeology has made to our understanding of the Romano-British archaeology of the pilot areas. The essays identify topics and themes where much new information has accrued, as well as those subjects where less progress has been made.

The initial project database for Stage 1 of the project was based upon the results of the Archaeological Investigations Project (AIP) carried out by Bournemouth University. The Stage 2 database comprises details of all archaeological interventions which have discovered Roman remains in the four pilot areas, based upon the listings produced in Stage 1 but considerably enhanced. Erroneous entries were removed, and new entries added as a result of the detailed consultation of HER records (all relevant HERs were visited over several weeks), round table meetings with county archaeologists and a review of annual county round-ups and other local and regional publications. A system of scoring of the grey literature reports was then instigated, designed to measure the potential research contribution of individual reports against a set of research themes. The database thus provides details including site location, description, types of remains found and the significance of those remains, and report and publication details.

The Digital Archive

The digital archive is an integral part of the reporting process and comprises all files generated in electronic format generated during the course of the project, and for which permissions have been granted for deposit. The archive currently consists of the following resources

Roman Grey Literature Stage 1 Database:

This is a database containing all of the c. 9400 grey literature entries on the AIP database which recorded Roman remains of some form in the years 1990-2004. It has been enhanced by Cotswold Archaeology (CA) to indicate whether a site has been published or not, and if so, where. The AIP database was predominantly constructed by AIP staff of Bournemouth University retrieving information from archaeological companies, county units, SMRs and HERs, and other sources such as University departments and local societies (usually through an actual visit). The CA publications enhancement involved the use of the BIAB online index, and a trawl through the 15 years of Britannia publications for the study period (both articles, and the 'Roman Britain in' county summaries). It should be noted that each entry has a 'Unique Identifier' reference number. The final database was submitted to the ADS in 2008 and can be accessed as a comma separated values (.csv) file from the downloads page; the file contains the following fields:

Field NameDescription
Unique IdentifierProject Unique Identifier
Report TitleFull title of the report
CountyLocation of event - County
Fieldwork YearYear fieldwork took place
Fieldwork TypeFieldwork type e.g. Evaluation
AuthorAuthor of the report
Report IssueYear that the report was issued
Company/OrganisationOrganisation responsible for the report
SummaryText summary of fieldwork - includes SMR/HER identifiers where appropriate
Previously Known Remains?Where there previously known remains? Yes/No
x refEasting co-ordinate (OSGB)
y refNorthing co-ordinate (OSGB)
Published?Was the site published? Yes/No
PublicationName of publication
Pub AuthorPublication author
Publication dateYear of publication
VolumePublished volume identifier
Article TitlePublished volume article title
PagesPublished volume page references
BIAB RefBritish and Irish Archaeological Bibliography (BIAB) Identifier
Britannia IDA unique site ID used by the project
Britannia 'Roman Britain in' yearYear
Britannia County RefBritannia County Reference ID
Note on spatial discrepancies

It was established at early meetings with the AIP team that there is a degree of inaccuracy in an unknown number of grid coordinates attached to sites within the database. Use of the database during the course of the project, especially in its GIS format, suggested that the very large majority of sites are correctly placed, certainly to at least a 100m accuracy, with only a negligible proportion emerging in the wrong location. For the purposes of the current project, looking at the national distribution of investigations, this issue is not considered to have significantly influenced the analytical results. Users may refer to the report for information on the origins and structure of the dataset, and any irregularities.

Roman Grey Literature Stage 1 Shapefile:

The project database was used to generate a GIS layer, presented here as an ESRI shapefile. The database used to generate this file is identical to that described above, apart from one field. This is the 'summary field', which holds a maximum of 255 characters. Thus, the summary field in the GIS table generated from the database is often incomplete. In order to access the whole summary field, if required, the Unique Identifier for the entry may be noted, and accessed in the main database held in csv file.

Roman Grey Literature Stage 2 Database and GIS:

In 2011 the Stage 2 database - detailing archaeological interventions which have discovered Roman remains in the pilot areas of Essex, Somerset, South Yorkshire, Warwickshire and West Yorkshire - was added to the existing archive. In addition, the exported GIS shapefiles were also added.

The Interactive Map

At one time there was an interactive map using the ArcIMS software, however that is a proprietary software package and had unfortunately been discontinued by ESRI. The data previously used within the interactive map is identical to that contained within the ESRI shapefiles available for download.