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21st-Century Challenges for Archaeology

During 2017 the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists, in partnership with and funded by Historic England, will be convening discussions and workshops on important issues within the archaeology sector in England.

The main challenges

We have identified six topics for discussion:

  • New models for archive creation, deposition, storage, access and research
  • Professional standards and guidance  - who sets them and what are they for?
  • Designation and management of the archaeological resource in the context of a changing planning system
  • New models for local curatorial services: potential future roles for local authority archaeology services and Historic England
  • Synthesis of information from developer-funded investigation to create new historical narratives
  • Challenges for archaeological publication in a digital age

Planning changes

In 2015 the sector celebrated the 25th anniversary of the introduction of Planning Policy Guidance 16 Archaeology and Planning (1990). PPG16 initiated far-reaching changes, not only in the way that the archaeological resource is protected and managed, but also in the structure of the sector itself.  

Planning Policy Statement 5: Planning for the Historic Environment (2010) subsequently drew together for the first time government policy across the whole of the historic environment, giving a new emphasis to public benefit.

These changes prompted an initative by a group of archaeologists that first met at Southport. The Southport Group’s report, Realising The Benefits Of Planning-Led Investigation In The Historic Environment: A Framework For Delivery (2011), represented a first review of professional practice post-PPG16 and looked forward to a new policy context, one that was soon superseded by the National Planning Policy Framework which provides the current overarching policy context for much archaeological work.

Detail of an excavated skeleton buried in a chariot
Detail of the Holmfield chariot burial, West Yorkshire, one of the remarkable discoveries that have been made as part of embedding archaeology in the planning proces under PPG16. © Oxford Archaeology

The current backdrop

At a time when the legislative and policy framework is again changing rapidly, and the gains as well as the dis-benefits of post-PPG16 arrangements have become apparent, it is time to look forward to the key challenges of the next 25 years.

Continuing reductions in public sector funding affecting both Historic England and local government, and the challenges arising from the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, provide the current backdrop to our discussions.

Meanwhile, the private sector faces great opportunities as well as challenges in capacity, skills, and training against the anticipated high demand for skilled professional archaeologists generated by planned large infrastructure projects and other development.

View looking down a vertical concrete shaft to archaeologists excavating skeletons.
Graves of Black Death victims, found deep in a shaft dug for London Crossrail. © Crossrail

A brief review of progress on the initiatives proposed by Southport and of the changed context since that optimistic time is being carried out and we will make this available to start the debate.

We are facilitating discussions on the topics above through on-line discussions and in workshop settings.

How to get involved

Before each workshop we will hold wider discussions on the Historic England LinkedIn discussion group.

Next online discussion

The next online discussion in the 21st-century Challenges for Archaeology series will be about "the challenges of archaeological Publication in a digital age: who are we writing this stuff for anyway?" It will take place on the Historic England LinkedIn group on 29-30 November 2017. Discussion will focus on how we can secure and enhance the public and academic benefits of archaeological publication at a time when most archaeological fieldwork is carried out by the commercial sector and when digital technologies are challenging traditional models of dissemination. Please see a background briefing paper produced by CIfA

We will be addressing the following questions:

  1. How much do we know about our profession’s usage of publications? Do the findings and recommendations of the 2001 From the Ground Up report still apply? Have they been implemented?
  2. Do we need a new and more prescriptive professional standard and guidance for grey literature reports and for our academic publication channels?
  3. Is our profession clear when and why we publish reports as grey literature; on-line; as journal articles or as monographs? Who decides and on what basis?
  4. Are we clear on the boundary between ‘publication’ and ‘archive’ and does this need to change? And do we know how to create a usable digital documentary archive and have we adequate professional standards and guidance in place?
  5. If we can access most information on line, what should the ‘main’ report on an archaeological intervention comprise? Evidence, synthesis or a popular account? Should any of it be in hard copy?
  6. Does professional or popular hard copy publication derived from excavation reporting still have a role to play? If so, what, why and how?
  7. How can we improve public engagement with what we are writing without neglecting our professional and academic responsibilities to publish?
  8. If we were to start again what would be our ideal form(s) of archaeological publication?

Please note that on Thursdsay 30 November 2017 there may be some neccessary downtime for the CIfA website. 

If you are not already on LinkedIn you will need to join LinkedIn to take part in the discussions.

Join LinkedIn

If you are not yet a group member you will also need to ask to join the Historic England discussion group by clicking the "join" button on the group page. If you are an archaeologist, planner, curator, or other interested party, please do join in the conversation!

Join the Historic England LinkedIn Group

Project Leads


Jan Wills

Jan Wills

Jan Wills BA, MCIfA, FSA, has worked in archaeology for over 35 years, initially as a field archaeologist before moving into project and service management in local government. She is now a freelance consultant, and is currently focused on advisory and advocacy work with the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists of which she is Chair. She is a member of the Historic England Advisory Committee.

Portrait photograph of Historic England's Research Director, Steve Trow.

Steve Trow

Steve Trow, BSc, MCIfA, FSA is Director of Research at Historic England and a member of its Executive Team. Since joining English Heritage in 1987, Steve has worked in its designation department, as an Inspector of Ancient Monuments and as its Head of Rural and Environmental Policy. He is an archaeologist with research interests in the Roman period and has previously worked for the Museum of London and The British Museum.

Further reading

The Chartered Institute for Archaeologists are adding further information about the project, including timings of future workshops and online discussions, to their dedicated project page on the CIfA website.

The notes, summary and draft actions list from the Archives workshop  and the Standards and Guidance workshop are now also available.


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