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Drowning in data? - publication and rescue archaeology in the 1990s

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2015

Roger Thomas*
Affiliation:
English Heritage, Fortress House, 23 Savile Row, London W1X 1AB

Extract

In a characteristically stimulating recent article in ANTIQUITY, Barry Cunliffe has touched on many of the most important issues concerning the publication of ‘rescue’ excavations in Britain in the 1990s (Cunliffe 1990). The purpose of the present article is to follow up some the points which Cunliffe has raised.

Publication, and the dissemination of information, is the lifeblood of any academic discipline, and questions of what is published (and of what is read!), where, how and by whom are of central importance for archaeology. Over the past two decades in Britain, and particularly in England where the volume of work has been greatest, there has been a recurrent concern with the problem of how to publish the results of ‘rescue’ archaeology. Rescue excavations can generate very large quantities of data, collected for reasons which are often largely beyond archaeological control, and the problems (both intellectual and practical) of publishing this material are considerable. In Britain the issues have been the subject of expert examination on two occasions since 1970 -the Frere (1975) and Cunliffe (1983) reports - and now in the 1990s the topic is firmly on the archaeological agenda again. This paper is intended as a contribution to the continuing debate.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Antiquity Publications Ltd 1991

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Footnotes

Roger Thomas, Inspector of Ancient Monuments at English Heritage, is closely concerned with processing and publishing the results of state-funded ‘rescue’ archaeology programmes in London, Winchester, Canterbury and elsewhere. Here he writes in a personal capacity about the problems - and the potential - of publishing excavations in an era of ‘developer-funded’ archaeology, especially when they are in the artefact-stuffed, deep stratigraphies of great European cities.

References

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Cunliffe, B. 1983. The publication of archaeological excavations. Typescript: report of a joint working party of the Council for British Archaeology and the Department of the Environment.Google Scholar
Cunliffe, B. 1990. Publishing in the City, Antiquity 64: 667–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Department of the Environment. 1990. Archaeology and planning. London: HMSO. Planning Policy Guidance Note 16.Google Scholar
English Heritage. 1991. Exploring our past – strategies for the archaeology of England. London: Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England.Google Scholar
Frere, S.S. 1975. Principles of publication in rescue archaeology. London: Department of the Environment.Google Scholar
Heyworth, M. Forthcoming. The British Archaeological Bibliography: a fully computerised service for archaeology, in Proceedings of the 1991 Computer Applications in Archaeology Conference.Google Scholar
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Museum of London. 1987. Museum of London Department of Urban Archaeology archive catalogue. London: Museum of London.Google Scholar
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