Archaeological Collections Areas Database and Map

Secretary of Society of Museum Archaeologists, 2003 (updated 2013)

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Secretary of Society of Museum Archaeologists (2013) Archaeological Collections Areas Database and Map [data-set]. York: Archaeology Data Service [distributor]

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Summary and recommendations from the 2012 report

1.1 The project

1.1.1 The project gathered information on the current position of archaeological archive collecting in England, compiled a report to inform the profession of where things stand, and updated the map and database of museum collecting areas. A range of related issues was investigated concerning the use, storage, and curation of archaeological archives in museums, and the provision of specialist expertise.

1.1.2 The core of the project consisted of a survey of the 161 museums in England that accept, were believed to accept, or have previously accepted, archaeological archives. Curators and staff from 134 museums responded, including 39 who were interviewed by telephone. The questionnaire sought information at four distinct levels, from outline data to a comprehensive account of archaeological collecting history over the past fifty years. Only nineteen respondents completed the survey at all four levels of detail.

1.1.3 Alongside the survey of museums, FAME undertook a survey of archaeological contracting organisations to investigate the issue of completed archives which could not be deposited because there was no store or museum willing or able to accept them. Thirty-one major archaeological contracting organisations based in England responded.

1.2 Findings

1.2.1 Although 120 respondents said that their museum was able to accept archaeological archives, just 84 were able to accept archives without known conditions. Thirty-six respondents mentioned that lack of space might be an issue, or identified specific non-geographical conditions to acceptance.

1.2.2 Gaps in collecting areas: there were no museums collecting from 47 local authorities, plus parts of another four. In two others alternative museums were covering for museums unable to accept archives.

1.2.3 There were specialist archaeological curators in around 30% of museums contacted. The effects of local authority cuts were apparent from survey responses. Staff numbers had been reduced, and curators have taken on additional responsibilities for collections or management.

1.2.4 In some museums archaeological collections took up more space than other collections, but on average local history collections took up 45% of storage space compared with 22% for archaeological collections. More museums appeared to use archaeological collections for loans, teaching collections, and handling packs than other types of collections.

1.2.5 Data from 40 museums suggested that together they receive around 2,000 visits to archaeological collections in store each year, or about 50 visits per museum per year.

1.2.6 Respondents used archaeological collections and archives in many different ways, including contributions to specific exhibitions and projects. A significant number of these would be impossible without specialist archaeological expertise. Archaeological collections, including archaeological archives, have been used by respondents to reach a very wide and diverse range of audiences.

1.2.7 FAME estimated that there were 9,000 undepositable archaeological archives in England. The estimated volume of undepositable archives was 1,1

1.2.8 Taken together both surveys identified a wide range of issues relating to archaeological archives and museums. Whilst general trends can be identified nationally, many of the issues are locally based, influenced by the local history and development of museums in their towns, districts, or counties, and subject to local pressures and political agendas.

1.3 Recommendations

1.3.1 The following eight recommendations were agreed by the Project Board:

  1. Produce a policy statement on the significance of archaeological archives nationally, and their importance as a key resource in the future. It is essential for us all to acknowledge that the results of all archaeological work across the country contribute to an understanding of our national, as well as local, heritage.
    English Heritage, Arts Council England, Archaeological Archives Forum
  2. Promote the potential of archaeological archives as a resource for engaging all communities. The Archaeological Archives Forum, the Society of Museum Archaeologists, and the Institute for Archaeologists should develop a strategy for promoting the use of information held in archaeological archives.
  3. Establish a national strategy for archive completion as a means of providing easy access to the archaeological record. The Archaeological Archives Forum should investigate possible solutions such as a national index of archaeological archives and universal standards for archive creation.
  4. Develop a national strategy for the storage and curation of archaeological archives. For the national resource represented by archives to be accessible, attention needs to be paid to how and where material is stored; what is selected for retention as archives are prepared; what can be discarded from older archives.
    Arts Council England, English Heritage, Archaeological Archives Forum
  5. Ensure that the significance of archives is fully recognised at all stages of planning-led archaeological work. Encourage cooperation between planning teams, museum curators and archive creators to ensure that standards are understood, methodologies are agreed and transfer is straightforward.
    Archaeological Archives Forum, Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers, Society of Museum Archaeologists, Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers
  6. Seek solutions for archive material that currently cannot be transferred to a repository. These may be interim measures but they would alleviate the pressure on contracting organisations while decreasing the risks to the archaeological record.
    Archaeological Archives Forum, English Heritage, Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers, Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers
  7. Develop a framework for the provision of archaeological archive advice to practitioners in planning authorities, contracting organisations, museums, and community groups. A national network of advisors and specialists would help to ensure that standards for the creation and care of the archaeological record are maintained.
    Archaeological Archives Forum, Institute for Archaeologists
  8. Promote and publicise the collecting areas map. The online map of collecting areas is intended as a resource for use by those carrying out archaeological work across England. For the map to be relevant and continue to be useful, contracting archaeologists, museum curators, and all involved need to be aware that it is there, and that they should provide regular updates.
    Society of Museum Archaeologists, Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers