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News comes from the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) that they are working closely with other (unspecified) organisations to find out if archaeological sites and monuments in our towns, cities and countryside are being carefully managed within the planning process. They are looking for good and bad examples of cases where archaeology has been (or should have been) considered as part of a development. They are particularly keen to hear about developers that have ‘gone the extra mile’ in helping local communities understand their heritage through excavation or conservation and those developers who seem disinterested.

Dealing sensitively with archaeology through the planning process is a standard requirement of developers and the local planning authority. The National Planning Policy Framework (recently revised) sets out clear requirements for Local Planning Authorities to follow. As a rule, damage or destruction of archaeological sites should be avoided. Where this is not possible, there is usually a requirement to ensure that archaeology is recorded, and the results made publicly available.

The CBA is working with the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA) on a project that will collect information on how the current planning system is – or isn’t working – for archaeology, and they’d like to hear from you.

  • Have you ever felt frustrated or angry that your local heritage has been treated poorly?
  • Have you ever benefited from increased knowledge of your heritage because of development?
  • Have you ever felt that no one is listening, and your community’s views have been ignored?
  • Have you ever felt the opposite?

If you have any examples with a story to tell, then please get in touch with them with outline details and they’ll get back to you.

You can find more information on the CIfA website together with a link to a survey that you can use to submit detailed information if you have been or are closely involved with the planning system.

Alternatively, contact the CBA directly with your story by 21 September 2018.

 

pers.

An archaeological dig in Exning (Suffolk)  has just thrown up some surprises, both in archaeological terms and the reaction of local people. Persimmon Homes are building 120 new homes and Archaeological Solutions have been carrying out the site investigation. Many Anglo Saxon and Bronze Age features have been excavated and the day before work was to finish they unearthed their most significant find, a warrior buried with his sword and dagger.

The real surprise though was the proactive response from local people, concerned that the dig may have ended prematurely.  Councillor Simon Cole has written to the planning authority asking if the developer could be asked to extend the archaeological search to more of the site. He commented: “These are really significant finds, and have only been revealed by this excavation as the geophysical survey of the site did not pick up the graves. Who knows what else may be out there we could find Bodicea and her chariot.”

Let’s hope the people of Exning get their way. They may not as investigations are very expensive of course. However, according to Andy Peachey of Archaeological Solutions, “Persimmon has funded the excavation and as a developer they have been most generous and flexible in their approach to archaeology”. So maybe they won’t resist the idea of extending the dig. Building 120 houses presumably nets them a pretty massive amount of money so they can probably afford a bit more generosity!

by Sandy Gerrard

A recent news feature in the Dundee Courier highlights a basic problem with the way that the destruction of heritage is viewed. The story concerns the discovery and excavation of human remains in Stirling. The cemetery is being excavated in advance of a housing and retail development with building work due to commence later in the year. The discovery is variously described as exciting and fascinating and clearly much new and potentially important information will be gleaned.

This much is not in dispute – it is excellent that the archaeology is being looked at and the remains treated with respect. At the end of the process the archaeology will inevitably have been destroyed and all that will remain is the record compiled by the archaeologists and the human remains hopefully reburied with the absolute respect mentioned in the newspaper.  This is the inevitable result of progress and indeed many of our wonderful archaeological palimpsests are a direct result of our understandable need to change our surroundings. So would it not be more honest to admit that sometimes the past must be sacrificed in the interest of the present and future. In Stirling the spin put on the destruction of a small part of the city’s heritage takes some beating. According to one of their councillors:

“The development of this key city centre site is clearly important, but it is also important that we preserve and protect the city’s rich past in the way that is happening now in the excavation phase of the project.”

It is difficult to understand how the complete destruction of heritage can ever be remotely described as preservation and protection. Taking this approach to its logical conclusion Stirling’s rich past would be best served by destroying it all but making sure to place the artefacts in a museum and the records in an archive. The idea that destruction can ever be seen as a way of preserving and protecting our heritage is one that needs to be challenged at every opportunity.  Our understanding can certainly be enhanced by destruction, but every time a site is destroyed tangible remains are lost and the chance to learn more using enhanced investigative techniques in future has also vanished. We need to face this reality and stop hiding behind the idea that somehow because we have made a record of what was there that is somehow miraculously preserved and protected – it is NOT, its gone and its gone for ever.

The point of optimum learning

This is destruction not preservation or protection.

It seems that it is. A story has broken this morning that cynics are three times more likely to suffer from dementia. That’s worrying, because today another story broke about the fact that 700 houses are to be built near Purton (and that Swindon is looking for a further 60,000 new houses to be built in the future) and that an Iron Age settlement had been found during the excavations.

Neither of those is the point though. Massive building is going on everywhere and significant archaeology is being discovered and destroyed very frequently. Everyone knows that and has to accept it as mostly inevitable so no danger of dementia there. No, what prompts some of us to be dangerously cynical are some of the things developers say to make the destruction sound OK and something they deserve praise for.

A Taylor Wimpey spokesman said: “We scheduled the archaeological investigation into our programme of work, as it is a vital step of the process….. The work will continue until our contractors are completely satisfied that they have thoroughly investigated and recovered everything which they need for further analysis”

A cynic might say: actually, you didn’t volunteer to do that, you did what the law insisted you do, nothing else. You could equally have admitted that and expressed regret for the destruction and said we’re sorry to do it but it’s about the money, see? That at least would be believable. Big builders rarely do more than the minimum even when there’s scope to do so such as leaving a few plots undeveloped.  But apparently, even to think such a thing would be bad for your health so let’s all say hurrah to Taylor Wimpey for being so caring!

A lot is being made these days of the phrase ‘Preservation by Record’. This phrase usually comes to the fore in Developer-led or Rescue (ha!) archaeology, where a site is deemed to be of major importance, but the economics and politics of the situation overrule the archaeology, which is then destroyed forever, removing any future prospect of learning more from the site. See the Thornborough Henges for a classic example of this where entire settlements have been (some would say needlessly) quarried away (and subsequently flooded) for the sake of short-term profit.

At the same time, there is a current philosophy of moving towards ‘Open Access’ archaeology – however you define that. For many, it means everything (?) available online, preferably for free, but often at a (prohibitive for some) cost and invariably difficult to find. But the main point is that archives are increasingly becoming digital in nature.

So what does this mean for future historians and archaeologists? The source material is being obliterated – archaeology by definition being a destructive process – and the source records are being digitised, thus also eliminating the primary records.

Now talking about digitised records, I recently came across some 5.25″ diskettes in my attic, some labeled ‘personal documents’. I have no idea what is on these disks, which are some 15 years old, possibly older. Brief enquiries among my ‘geekier’ friends for conversion suggestions came up blank – although one did say he could cope with 8″ or 3.5″ diskettes, but not 5.25″! I am now resigned to having lost these digital records, when I don’t know what they contain.

Yes, I had some of these too! Image © Hannes Grobe via Wikimedia Commons

Fast forward not 15, but 50 years. What digital technologies will exist then? More to the point, what technologies will survive to enable today’s digital records to be read? It is extremely unlikely that today’s formats will still be in use. Even today, some of the earliest versions of PDF documents can no longer be read by today’s sophisticated viewers due to incompatibilities and potential security loopholes. Even more to the point, at a time when funding is constantly being squeezed from all sides, who will pay to maintain and convert the existing digital records in a format that will be readable in 10, 50, 100 years time or more?

© Wikimedia Commons

So it would seem that the answer may be to retain the primary source records, in paper format. But this has its own problem set, not the least of which is space. There was an interesting discussion on this topic at the British Archaeological Trust AGM earlier this year. Again, cost is a major factor but there are opportunities to overcome the space issues, by utilising underground caverns and mines. Deepstore  was specifically mentioned as a facility which many archives are currently investigating, though the fact that it uses a salt mine raised environmental concerns for some of those present at the meeting.

So it seems that although the problem is acknowledged, without ongoing funding the future for our archives would appear to be potentially very bleak indeed.

Archaeology – Enjoy it while it lasts?

If this article is of concern to you, please consider joining and supporting the British Archaeological Trust (RESCUE), who campaign and lobby parliament about such matters.  

Back in June, we were excited to see the reports coming out of Monmouth about a potentially unique Bronze Age site built from 3 massive tree trunks chopped in half and laid next to each other. Stories about this discovery were all over the net, see here, here and here for example.

All of which makes the descent into another CADW farce all the more disappointing. Despite carbon dates and well respected archaeologists from Monmouth Archaeology dating the site back to the early bronze age, CADW are refusing to schedule the site as “its date and function remains uncertain, and its full extent unclear.”

Credit: Steve Clarke, Monmouth Archaeology

In a written reply to queries by the Monmouth AM Nick Ramsey, Welsh Heritage Minister Huw Lewis has suggested that the interpretation by the excavating archaeologists could be completely wrong and the site may instead “represent part of a later Roman system of drainage ditches”.

The discovery was made during excavations in advance of a new housing development, and scheduling would clearly scupper at least some of those plans. Not scheduling however will presumably allow the development to continue once the excavations are complete.

We shouldn’t worry about preservation of the site though, as “Parts of the trench system will anyway remain preserved below an adjacent planned green space within the development.” Phew!! And here was us thinking it would just be built over.

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