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Wednesday, 6 July 2011

A Crisis in Store?

It was a beautiful sunny Friday in York and over 100 people had gathered for the Federation of Archaeological Managers & Employers (FAME) forum, entitled ‘Trouble in Store: Facing up to the Archaeological Archives Crisis’. The forum had been organised in association with The Society of Museum Archaeologists (SMA).

The location of the event was the splendid and historic 17th Century Merchant Taylor’s Hall.

Merchant Taylors Hall
The first speaker of the day was Roland Smith – Regional Manager for Cotswold Archaeology. He introduced the topic and went into the reasons the forum had been convened. The primary reason being the lack of storage for many archaeological archives, based on a number of varying factors, but the predominant one being storage space. Both archaeological units and museum stores are being overwhelmed by the backlog in number and cost incurred in the up keep/storage of archaeological archives.

The next two speakers, Catherine Hardman – Archaeological Data Service (ADS) and Stuart Campbell – Treasure Trove, brought the issue of digital archiving and the situation in Scotland to the table. David Allen – Keeper of Archaeology for Hampshire County Museums and Chair of the SMA was next up with a history of the problem and how the issues are not new to the archaeological world.

The first speaker after the lunch break was Quinton Carroll – Historic Environment Team Manager for Cambridgeshire County Council and Chair of the Archaeological Archives Forum. He talked about the success of the Archaeological Resource Centre in Cambridgeshire and the role that the Historic Environment Resource (HER) has to play in the management of archaeological archives. He introduced interesting legalities surrounding the planning process that might be used to safeguard the post-excavation process and deposition condition.

Duncan Brown – Head of Archaeological Archives for English Heritage, rounded up the day’s discussions by focusing on the next step forward. He summarised a lot of what had gone before, such as the need to gather qualitative data. He talked about English Heritage’s archaeological regional stores map and the plan to update it and the potential of future projects to evaluate the situation. He was clear in his message that we need to unite and begin to work towards a strategy to combat an infinite problem.

A personal perspective:
Working in a museum, as a museum archaeologist, I see a clear need for evaluation of the current process from pre-planning to post deposition. I would like to see regional working parties created to collect the data needed to start making the case for change and investment based on qualitative data and to raise general awareness of the issues involved. I really hope that this is the beginning of change to the way archaeological material is obtained, researched, displayed and stored, and that we can unite as disciplines to ensure the best provision, access and information is achieved. What are your thoughts?

For more information on the venue:


For background and relevant organisations:

http://www.famearchaeology.co.uk/2011/06/fame-forum-2011-speaker-summaries/ http://www.socmusarch.org.uk/

For relevant accompanying information:


Helen Harman – Collections Assistant


  1. CharlotteJuly 07, 2011

    I agree that something needs to happen regarding the long term storage of archives.
    What really needs to happen is that people need to be more open to the idea of disposal.

    Do we really need to keep 5 boxes of animal bone for example once a specialist has looked at them. Is it entirely necessary to keep a box of tiny ceramic bodysherds?

    Yes it is our heritage, but if it can't tell us anything other than "people were here and they broke a pot" should we really keep it?

  2. Thank you for you thoughts Charlotte, the issue of retention and disposal definitely needs to be looked at. What we retain and what it is used for are and who uses it? Are all very relevant and pertinent questions.