21 May 2021

The CBA is Speaking Out in Response to University Archaeology Department Cuts

We have been made aware of the current threats to archaeology and heritage teaching and research at the University of Sheffield. 

The Department of Archaeology has a very high profile in the archaeological academic world and has contributed substantially to the training and education of many of the UK’s leading archaeologists. In 2020 QS World University Rankings, the Department ranked 29th in the world by subject compared to the Universities overall ranking of 78, underpinning its cutting-edge research, excellent teaching, and world-class facilities.

Since the 1960’s Sheffield alumni have bees setting the benchmark for academic and research approaches in archaeology and heritage management that have been transferred across the UK, Europe and the world, contributing not only to the university’s profile but influencing, developing and delivering the structure of archaeology and heritage management that underpins our discipline today.

The Department is also highly regarded in the local community where its support of local research, institutions and community groups has made an outstanding contribution to the identity and pride of the City of Sheffield. This approach to research, teaching and the local and regional community has fostered an enormous amount of affection and goodwill towards the University. It makes a substantial contribution to the local economy and towards the health and wellbeing of the people of Sheffield. We are writing to express our concern about these proposals on behalf of the wider archaeology community in the UK and to seek assurances that any decision will be based on a sound business plan and the reputational risk to the University and the study of archaeology and heritage in the UK.

The Council for British Archaeology (CBA) is a charity committed to making archaeology accessible to anyone interested in exploring the stories of people and place. As the voice of archaeology in the UK we bring together community groups, commercial units, academics and heritage organisations to create and share opportunities to participate, discover and be inspired by archaeology.

The Department of Archaeology at Sheffield has played a leading role in the discipline nationally and internationally. As well as providing period specialisms across human history from the Palaeolithic to the present, the Sheffield department has been instrumental in materials analysis, theoretical issues and perhaps above all developing a broadly ecological approach to the human past in which people’s relationships with plants, animals and landscapes have been crucial. This knowledge and the skills the department has fostered are critical to commercial archaeology and heritage management in the UK.

Commercial archaeology and heritage management in the UK depends on university degrees and the skill sets they teach. Degree qualified archaeologists help underpin the heritage industry, which through tourism and development generates £31 billion a year to our economy. An archaeology degree course provides grounding in the sciences, scrupulous training in fieldwork and a feeling for the debates embracing our history. This success and reputation for quality is a direct consequence of the fact that the UK has embraced the modern scientific approaches to archaeology and has led in innovative research and development of the discipline’s scientific and high-tech methodologies such as ancient DNA, photogrammetry, and advanced survey techniques.

Furthermore, archaeology graduates are crucial to the sustainability of the UK workforce in development-led archaeology. As a recognised construction skill, archaeology is a part of the supply chain for housing development and infrastructure and is essential to meet planning policy requirements to deliver sustainable development. As such, archaeology is a contributor to this key Government priority area. The development led archaeological sector is reliant upon university training, with over 90% of archaeologist being trained to graduate level. Developers through the planning process contribute in the region of £250m annually to archaeology and heritage that helps safeguard and unlock the history of our country and how it contributes to our wider economy and health and wellbeing.

The importance of trained skilled graduate archaeologists to the development and infrastructure sectors has been recognised by Government with archaeologists being added to the shortage occupation list. Reducing the ability of our university archaeology departments will further increase the strains on the development sector to source skilled graduates.

University of Sheffield archaeologists make an outstanding contributing towards global debates and themes in archaeology and heritage studies. Post-COVID, UK society and economy needs trained archaeologists and heritage professionals like those provided by this department to aid our recovery and support the health and wellbeing of our communities.

We fully appreciate the difficult financial environment in which you operate but would like to emphasis the reputational damage to the University and to Sheffield by the loss of this dedicated and highly valued archaeology department.

We would welcome your assurance that any decision will be robustly tested against an open business plan and a clear understanding of the wider impact of this small but highly regarded department.

Yours Sincerely,

Neil Redfern BA (Hons) MPhil ACIfA FSA, Executive Director CBA

If you would like to also write to the Vice-Chancellor, you can follow our link to find the appropriate addresses.

A petition is also available to sign, which can be found here.

In the meantime please continue to spread the word on social media using the hashtag #SaveSheffieldArchaeology.