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Urgent Need for More Trained Archaeologists Follows Surge in Infrastructure Projects

  • New report warns there will not be enough trained archaeologists to do excavations required on future major infrastructure projects unless action is taken
  • Historic England to lead action with sector to ensure trained workforce is in place for a new generation of archaeology projects
  • Archaeology field schools, apprenticeships and vocational training offer potential new routes into the profession

The UK is set to see a surge in major infrastructure projects with more than 40 planned across the UK over the next 17 years including HS2, Crossrail 2 and major road upgrades.

A new report from Historic England published today has revealed there will not be enough trained archaeologists to deal with the exploratory excavations that must take place before any infrastructure and development project unless action is taken now.

National Infrastructure Development and Capacity 2015-33: An Assessment

National Infrastructure Development and Capacity 2015-33: An Assessment

Published 16 May 2016

Report warning of current under-capacity in the archaeological workforce to deal with major infrastructure projects, with recommendations.

Three thousand people are currently employed in commercial archaeology in England. This will need to grow by a minimum of 25% over the next six years to meet demand. Existing routes for qualifications are unlikely to deliver enough people in the timescale, so Historic England is working with partners in the sector to put new approaches in place to meet demand.

Plans for training

Historic England will work with universities and others to promote field academies and vocational training. Major archaeological employers are working together to set up apprenticeships in key skills, and archaeological field schools to produce specifically trained graduates, especially as excavators on digs. These schools will follow the model of the Crossrail and HS2 engineering academies.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive at Historic England said: "The pool of trained archaeologists can't grow fast enough to meet this upturn in demand without co-ordinated action from Historic England and partners in the heritage sector. We're addressing the issues found in our foresight report by putting creative, practical and achievable actions in place well ahead of time to fill the gap. Put simply, more spadework is needed, and this calls for us to think hard about how we can offer a new generation routes into the profession."

Excavation of the remains of an extinct elephant
The remains of an extinct elephant butchered with flint knives 420,000 years ago by pre-Neanderthals. This was a very rare find in Ebbsfleet, Kent discovered during works for HS1. © Oxford Archaeology

Projects in the pipeline

The planned infrastructure projects highlighted in the report cover roads, rail, local transport, aviation, ports, energy and communications including the A303/A30/A358 corridor; A14 upgrade in Cambridge, Hinckley Point and the Thames Tideway Tunnel. While most projects will be taking place up to 2021, housing development should provide employment for archaeologists up to at least 2030.

Archaeological requirements became a condition of planning permission for new developments 25 years ago. The policy, which makes archaeology part of the planning and development process, greatly reduces the risks of disruption from unexpected discoveries. It also ensures that remarkable finds and what they reveal about our past are saved from destruction.

Read more about unusual finds from development projects

Building the Future, Transforming our Past

Building the Future, Transforming our Past

Published 23 November 2015

Highlights from 25 years of development-led archaeology.

Reactions from our partners

Nick Shepherd, Chief Executive of Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers, said: "The delivery of new UK housing and infrastructure depends not only on engineers and bricklayers, but also on archaeologists. Archaeological investigation is now a core part of the development process. This report makes clear that the government infrastructure plans over the next decade present a challenge to ensure sufficient archaeological capacity is in place to support construction of the new roads, rail and energy projects vital to economic growth. The report also shows that only a coherent and joined up sector-wide strategy will succeed in meeting this challenge. FAME fully supports the publication of this report and looks forward to working with our partners in the heritage sector, in construction and development and across government, to ensure that enough archaeologists are in place to keep Britain building and at the same time protect our valuable archaeological heritage."

Kate Geary, Standards Development Manager at the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists said: "We welcome the publication of this report which provides an important analysis of the implications of the National Infrastructure Programme for the historic environment sector. We look forward to working with Historic England and sector partners to build on existing initiatives to increase capacity and support the development of a skilled, accredited workforce in order to increase our understanding of the historic environment and maximise the benefits it brings to society."

University Archaeology UK said: "The report provides a strong evidence base that clearly demonstrates the economic relevance of archaeology and the historic environment sector more generally. We especially welcome the acknowledgement of the important role played by universities in educating and training the next generation of archaeologists, and support the engagement of our members with all relevant parties to meet this unprecedented growth in demand for graduate level skilled archaeologists."

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