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Cover of British Archaeology 114

Issue 114

Sept / Oct 2010


All the latest archaeology news from around the country


MAIN FEATURE: Happisburgh

The project leaders give us the latest findings after six years of research on the earliest humans in Britain.

The obscure ownership of archaeological material

Haggai Mor recently worked in one of the world's largest archaeological store and wondered who all the things dug up actaully belong to?

Finding Boudica's Last Battlefield

With the help of computerised terrain analysis, Steve Kaye has narrowed down the possibilities.

The Lost Anglo-Saxon Church of Westbury-on-Trym

Jon Cannon explores a crypt beneath a Bristol church and is greeted with an amazing find.

Finding Private Mather

A victim of battle in WW1 remembered by his family, is finally laid to rest.

Archaeology: What Is It For?

Martin Carver reflects on how and why archaeologists do what we do.

The Varmints Show

In the Varmints' second exploration of music and archaeology, Breck Parkman is uncovering the 'Whitehouse of Hippiedom' at the Olompali State Historic Park, San Francisco.


The dark secrets of ancient peat, the decaying of Star Carr

on the web

Audio-visual presentations online and the 'Visual Essays' of ArchAtlas.

Mick's travels

Mick and Jon share the wonders of Jersey

CBA Correspondent

From CBA Publications Officer, Catrina Appleby


Your views and responses


THE BIG DIG: Links of Noltland

Eroding sand dunes are revealing an ancient landscape on a windswept and remote Scottish island.

MAIN FEATURE: Digging for (Invisible) People

Eroding sand dunes are revealing an ancient landscape on a windswept and remote Scottish island.

Dig for Shakespeare

Literary critics may wonder if Shakespeare wrote all those plays, but archaeologists know where to find him.

The Varmints Show

An occasional series specifically for the website, showcasing pop music inspired by archaeology or heritage. The first of the series features Air-Raid Shelter (Pillbox) by The Human Cabbages.

More online features to follow


All the latest archaeology news from around the country

on the web

Caroline Wickham-Jones investigates real and reconstructed worlds, and Andy Burnham highlights ancient sites viewable from the roadside, including extra content.


Your views and responses


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts

CBA Correspondent

Campaigns, comment and communications from the CBA

Too much to read? Catrina Appleby asks what matters in archaeological publication.




The CBA published the popular Rural Settlement in Roman Britian in 1966 (top). Penelope Walton Rogers' accessible volume Cloth and Clothing in Early Anglo-Saxon England (middle, CBA RR145). Award-winning Europe's Lost World: Doggerland is the CBA's 160th Research Report.

It was General Pitt-Rivers, way back in the 1890s, who first observed that "A discovery dates only from the time of the record of it…" Since then, the questions of how to publish the results of archaeological investigations, and what to publish, have been frequently discussed, and have in themselves generated numerous publications.

It is now over 10 years since the so-called PUNS report was commissioned by English Heritage from the CBA. From the Ground Up, the Publication of Archaeological Projects: A User Needs Survey (2001) was the first review to consider not what archaeologists should be publishing, but how reports are used. It explored in detail the needs and practices of all sectors of archaeology, from the student to the fieldworker to the museum archaeologist and the metal detectorist.

A traditional excavation report included an introduction, a detailed description of the excavated evidence, the author's interpretation of the site, and numerous specialist studies examining everything recovered. However, in the 1990s, following the explosion in developer-funded archaeological projects, many began to question whether this model should continue.

In the last decade the world has moved on remarkably, not least in the huge growth of internet use. The PUNS report was noticeably prescient in its prediction of the importance of the internet for archaeological archives. But it could not have foreseen the financial crisis of 2008, the full impact of which is only just becoming clear. Nor did it predict the massive expansion of community archaeology (feature, Jul/Aug): while the number of commercial archaeological projects has fallen in the past two years, there has been a significant increase in community archaeology projects of all kinds. So, 2010 seems like a good time to review PUNS, and consider the future of archaeological publishing.

PUNS' recommendations are undoubtedly still valid. It is sometimes disappointing how little progress has been made. OASIS, for example (Online Access to the Index of Archaeological Investigations), is an easy way of recording projects in brief, but is underused; too many archaeological projects remain not just "unpublished" in the broadest sense, but not written up at all.

Who would now question the argument advanced in 2001 for using the internet for archaeological archives and specialist reports? Archives such as Oasis and the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) are sustainable and permanent, accessible to future generations. The priority of archaeological publication today should be the dissemination of key findings in an accessible and meaningful manner, well-supported by online resources.

Yet many organisations have failed to exploit these opportunities. Archaeologists continue to publish reports in a style of 50 years ago. Such publications are inevitably expensive. Exciting archaeological discoveries remain unknown to all but a few – or worse still, completely unpublished.

But people do love books, and despite what Amazon and Steve Jobs of Apple say, most prefer to read hard copy. Yes, good print remains expensive: but so is excavation. Considered against the overall costs of a field project, print is an effective way of presenting the results to the wider community.

At the same time, it is exactly these types of work that appeal to the non-specialists who wish to read for pleasure. Two of the CBA's recent bestsellers have been just such books. Penelope Walton Rogers' masterful Cloth and Clothing in Early Anglo-Saxon England (2007) drew together all the available evidence in a richly illustrated book, supported by an online database that can be updated as new discoveries are made. Europe's Lost World: The Rediscovery of Doggerland (2009), Vince Gaffney's appealing description of the North Sea Palaeolandscapes Project, has been reviewed more widely than probably any other CBA publication in 60 years, bringing archaeology to new audiences around the world. Not surprisingly, it won the prestigious book prize at the British Archaeological Awards in July.

Excavators and researchers need to be encouraged to write these volumes, and to receive not only the funding to do so, but also appropriate recognition from the academic community. Money is infinitely better spent on producing such books than on the publication in hard copy of hundreds of pages of specialist reports which will be read by only a handful of researchers. Sadly academia still frowns upon "popularisers", who have learnt the most important message of communicating archaeology – the need to tell a story.

Community archaeology is an invaluable way for people to engage with their heritage. It advances local research agendas, and as central funds become evermore squeezed, community research will provide a vital means of maintaining the momentum. At the same time, the recent explosion in this field presents professionals with new publication challenges.

Community groups must be provided with advice both on the need to make their results available, and on how to do so. Such skills should be part of community archaeologists' training. While the local historic environment record is the obvious first stop for the results of these projects, groups will need to produce reports in the same way that commercial organisations do.

The internet provides an excellent means of dissemination, either through community or society websites, or national ones such as the CBA's CAF (Community Archaeology Forum). At the same time, local publications provide an effective means of raising awareness of local heritage – sales of my own local history book have been far greater than for most of the monographs I produce for the CBA! For those groups embarking on larger projects and hoping for help from the Heritage Lottery Fund and similar bodies, grant applications should include costs for the production of specialist and final reports.

Pitt Rivers' comment still applies in the 21st century. What has changed is how we record. For archaeologists today, the detailing and dissemination of our discoveries is far easier than it was for our 19th-century predecessors. We have no excuse if we fail to "publish".

Catrina Appleby is Publications Officer here at the CBA.

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