New Plan to Address England’s Archaeology Archives Challenge

Historic England and Arts Council England, along with a range of archaeology and museum organisations, have developed an action plan to address the challenge of sustainable management of archaeological archives.

Michael Ellis, Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, has endorsed the proposed sector-wide plan which has been created in response to the Mendoza Review of museums in England.

England's archaeological archives are the legacy of excavations and surveys, and include artefacts, samples, drawings, photographs, and documents. They are important resources for research; test-beds for new techniques; sources for new museum displays and interpretations of our past, and materials for lifelong education. They need careful storage and expert support for access.

Person operating a forklift truck to move artefacts stored in tall racks
English Heritage archaeology store, Helmsley © Historic England DP174032

The success of development-led archaeology since the early 1990s has led to a major increase in the quantity of archaeological material in museum stores across the country and many museums are becoming unable to accept new finds.

Key features of the plan include:

  • investigating the potential for national or regional repositories
  • understanding and promoting access and use of the archives
  • clarifying issues of ownership and title transfer
  • exploring sensible charging frameworks
  • increasing the focus on retaining only what is truly significant
  • and exploring new technologies and methods of storage.

Michael Ellis, Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism said: "I welcome this important report from Historic England. Our archives hold some of the greatest treasures unearthed in the country. It is important that we address challenges of how we store and preserve these artefacts so we can bring our past to life for future generations."

Two people examining stone artefacts under a large light
English Heritage Archaeology store (Rievalux Abbey finds) © Historic England DP169481

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said: "Finding a sustainable future for these archives which hold evidence of our everyday past as well as unique national treasures, is vital. We believe that the Government endorsement sends a strong signal to the sector to work together to meet this challenge."

Darren Henley, Chief Executive Arts Council England said: "We're delighted to be working alongside Historic England to seek a more sustainable future for archaeological archives. This sector-wide action plan will help us make positive progress on this long-standing challenge.

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