The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 87

Issue 87

March/April 2006



Unique Roman tombstone may leave UK

"No synthesis of British prehistory is right"

Neolithic road is unique

Bottle message is dry

The dead make way for iron age warrior

In Brief


When Rome left Britain: the Bosnian perspective
Buckles and Bosnia - Stuart Laycock has a dark vision of early historic Britain.

Telling the story of the people who made London
Archaeology in London: Peter Rowsome reviews a year of new publications.

Boudica: a queen in search of a husband
Finding Prasutagus: Amanda Chadburn deciphers iron age coins.

on the web

Recommended websites


Views and responses

CBA news

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ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts


Securing the future of London's Past

You see it on television, or you walk past it every day on the way to work: but when an excavation is finished, how do you find out what happened? Peter Rowsome looks back on a year's publishing at one of the country's largest archaeological practices.

In any discipline research has to be published if it is to further understanding, but archaeologists have a special responsibility, as excavation always leads to destruction of unique evidence. Despite this, much work conducted in Britain before the 1980s was not properly analysed or published. This is still a serious problem in some parts of the world, but changes in attitudes and funding arrangements mean that publication here is now a standard part of fieldwork.

The big question is how to do it? There are now huge numbers of excavations taking place, several on a very large scale. It would be impossible to put everything into print. Debate about publishing at varied levels of detail and in different formats has barely kept up with developments in technology (not long ago the proposed solution was microfiche: who now has a reader in their office or home?). Much work is archived ("grey literature") and difficult to find or even understand.

The Council for British Archaeology recently conducted a major survey, From the Ground Up, which looked at users' needs ( This revealed a continuing wish for conventional, well-produced printed books and articles.

It has been said that London, archaeologically, is the most-published city in Europe, if not the world (last year the Museum of London Archaeology Service launched a dozen new books, on topics ranging from Roman waterfront development to Tudor and Stuart metalwork). Claims of this sort are hard to verify – even trickier would be identifying whose archaeology is best-published. Much important material was published before the 1990s, and aside from MoLAS there are other organisations who are also publishing London's archaeology now. However, this article will highlight some of the recent work coming out of London as part of the MoLAS programme, and look at how and why publication is developing in the way it is.

Archaeological publication in London, as anywhere, can be broadly defined as "the generation, checking and production of an appropriate report for public consumption". The MoLAS publication programme began in the early 1990s in response to two incentives: the requirements of Planning Policy Guidance Note 16: Archaeology and Planning (PPG16), and English Heritage support for the publication of important "backlog" projects as part of the Greater London publication programme. The results began to appear in 1997, reflecting the long gestation period of many large archaeological projects.

Since then MoLAS has produced over 50 publications. The roll call includes 28 monographs, 14 Archaeology Studies books, 12 popular books and several manuals and conference proceedings. Another 50 or so titles are currently in progress, with many at an advanced stage. The aim is to publish 10 or more titles per year through the rest of the decade. More titles are in development, including collaborations with other contractors and external institutions as well as several types of electronic publication.

To organise a programme that might otherwise seem chaotic, we decided at an early stage to develop several series. The monograph series deals with sites, topics and themes of regional and national significance; they can be of any length, but are generally more than 75,000 words. Archaeology Studies focus on sites of local and regional significance and are usually about 30,000 words – too much for journals. The popular books present archaeological findings to a wider audience, usually in an illustration-led format.

All of these books typically relate to the larger and more complex projects. Small projects, however, make up the majority of archaeological interventions, and these continue to be published in local, regional or national journals. What is most important is to publish in an appropriate manner that satisfies curatorial requirements and the demands of relevant regional assessments and research frameworks.

In-house production has allowed us to develop a recognisable design, style and format for each series. This has fed back into earlier stages of archaeological work, encouraging more thoughtful assessment, focussed analysis and consistent report writing. In-house publication has also proved excellent for staff development: writing, formal technical editing, page layout and design, and internal reading or academic refereeing are all areas where skills are developed. We hope we have been following, or sometimes even foreshadowing, the recommendations of From the Ground Up, which we feel is an important statement of best practice for the sector.

Books in 2005

The books published in 2005 reflect the current variety of work and the range of products designed for different groups of readers, with funding from developers, English Heritage and others. Some of the publications are recent initiatives whilst others are the product of work conducted up to 20 years ago.

The Greater London publication programme is a joint venture with English Heritage which aims to analyse and publish important pre-PPG16 projects identified in the 1990s London post-excavation review. This work has been augmented by an editorial programme and the inclusion of some newer projects, such as the Poultry excavation in the City of London, and work funded by the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF). The Greater London programme identified several major research themes, including the prehistoric sites of the west London gravel plateau, Roman cemeteries, the Roman and medieval archaeology of Southwark, Shakespearian playhouses, medieval religious houses and several finds-based studies.

To date, MoLAS and English Heritage have published 17 monographs. Additions in 2005 included reports on excavations and research at Winchester Palace, London, Holy Trinity Priory, Aldgate and Beddington, Surrey. Finds studies included Material Culture, the authoritative catalogue of Tudor and Stuart metalwork from Southwark waterfront sites, and the report on John Baker's glasshouse at Vauxhall.

About two thirds of our publications are for a wide variety of clients who fund archaeological work as part of the development process. Whilst the type and extent of publication is largely specified by a curator as part of the planning process, it is important too to be aware of the clients' interests. Publications on site findings can sometimes pick up on wider themes. A good example is the recent work at Northgate House in the City, where excavations uncovered important evidence of Roman pottery industries, allowing a stunning display of the pots in the lobby of the new office building and also leading to a book that should appeal not only to everyone interested in Roman London, but also to many pottery specialists outside the immediate London area.

Many keyhole excavations accompanied the Jubilee Line extension in Westminster, but postexcavation work was able to take a broader view of the archaeology of this world heritage site. The result was a more coherent picture of the area's development.

Archaeology Studies books in 2005 offered integrated narratives on important sites to readers with a particular interest in a locale's archaeological heritage. The latest in the series describes a Doulton stoneware bottle factory in Lambeth that closed in 1926.

We produced two new popular booklets last year. Merton Priory updates an earlier popular book of the same name, and serves as a taster for a monograph about the project scheduled for publication at the end of 2006. The initial findings from the alsf-funded work on the east London gravels are described in From Ice Age to Essex, which synthesises the highlights of many years work at a number of quarry sites.

New initiatives include monographs for external clients, not directly related to our own excavations or research. In 2005 examples were a Jubilee Line extension report on work at Stratford Market for Oxford Archaeology, and Requiem for the University of Reading. For Requiem analysis of 8,000 graves from more than 70 cemeteries in England, Wales and Scotland was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The book is complemented by a fully accessible, web-mounted database archived with the Archaeology Data Service.

The future

Many dozens of projects, some of them very large, continue to progress through analysis and authorship stages. Some people have even suggested that London may one day become "overpublished". This may seem an odd idea, particularly to anyone who worked in archaeology in the drought years of the 1970s and 80s, when opportunities to complete and publish work were few and far between. However, it is certainly true that ideas about the content and focus of publication need not only to move with the times but to reflect the growing literature becoming available.

Recent publications are the shop window for much larger digital archives deposited with the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre (LAARC). The books themselves are evolving towards more synthetic texts, with the use of CD-Roms and website links to present detailed data. Out-of-print titles will be republished as PDFs (Adobe's portable document format files) on the MoLAS website. Plans are also well advanced for the electronic publication of some new titles as pdfs, and we will soon begin work on our first projects designed from inception for web-based dissemination, allowing entirely new approaches to the presentation of results. Book lovers should not get overly worried just yet, as we expect the printed page to continue to make up most of our output for several years.

Overall, recent experience is feeding back into the publication process, as it should, and not just in London. There is a growing consensus in British archaeology that projects benefit from having clearly-defined research questions; successful publications need to reflect this focus. The importance of PPG16 and MAP2 (English Heritage's 1991 recommendations for managing archaeological projects) in setting out the context within which we work is obvious enough. Academic priorities were identified at a national level by English Heritage in Exploring our Past, way back in 1991, and most recently in Discovering the Past, Shaping the Future: Research Strategy 2005–2010, which was circulating for comment till the end of January. Many parts of the country now have specific assessment overviews and research frameworks. In the case of London these are an assessment of archaeological evidence published in 2000, and a research framework in 2003.

Archaeology is enjoying some success in better identifying and delivering results, but we face some big challenges. Producing work within programme and budget remains an ever-present issue, particularly when funds are limited and competition enthusiastic. Moving with the times and keeping up with accelerating technological change is essential. Perhaps most important is making certain that our archaeological work meets the needs of all our many and varied clients, funding bodies and other users. In this area all archaeologists are part of a sales and marketing team. To this end, we invite comments on any of our publications – both those presented here and on our website ( – and would also be interested in ideas about the future direction of archaeological publication in London and beyond.

Peter Rowsome is a senior project manager at the Museum of London Archaeology Service.

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