Editorial

By Malone, Caroline; Stoddart, Simon et al. | Antiquity, June 2000 | Go to article overview

Editorial


Malone, Caroline, Stoddart, Simon, Kaner, Simon, Antiquity


* Archaeology should combine practical methods, scientific techniques and a good dose of ideas if it is to achieve its proper aim -- the description and interpretation of the human past. How the balance of these all too easily separated components is determined has long exercised our discipline. Over the years, the statutory bodies like English Heritage, the funding councils, specialist societies and, indeed, even the university departments have colluded in dividing the specialist branches of archaeological practice into theorists, object-art-technology specialists, scientist-technicians and field archaeologists. Such divisions cannot be healthy for a small discipline, which ultimately has one concern -- the discovery and understanding of our past -- achieved by whatever means are available to do this.

Doubtless, examples from most countries can be found to demonstrate this unwelcome intellectual and practical fragmentation, but here we wish to discuss the recent changes seen in English Heritage. Before 1985, `state' archaeology in Britain was attached to the Civil Service via the Department of the Environment and the regional Offices (Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish), and Inspectors of Ancient Monuments and support staff provided a specialist group for Archaeology and Historic Buildings. Since the formation of English Heritage, Historic Scotland and Cadw, there have been massive structural changes in the way that the `heritage' has been organized, funded, and how specialist staff have been deployed. English Heritage, especially, has been redesigned on several occasions in the last 15 years, as new structures to provide regional cover have been put into operation. There are many branches of archaeologists, even within English Heritage, those responsible for statutory advice on Scheduled Ancient Monuments, in the management and interpretation of Guardianship sites, in Education, in the Ancient Monuments Laboratory, in policy and curation, and in the practical matters of excavation, survey and publication.

As we reported last year, the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments for England has been wound up and amalgamated with English Heritage, and its activities and many of its staff combined with the rathi\ different culture of the government organization. This has not happened in the other countries of Britain, but has been pushed ahead in England, ostensibly because it was perceived that the two bodies were achieving similar goals (the recording and presentation of archaeology and historic buildings) and might as well become one. Thus two very different: communities have come together, and much must be done to integrate them successfully into a new type of organization. Alongside this has come regionalization, in tandem with government initiatives to impose regional government and identity across the different areas of England (and more broadly, the British Isles). New regional offices have been opened and staff formerly located in central London are now out in the provinces in teams covering archaeology, monuments, buildings and planning.

The `centre' at the aptly named Fortress House has been dismembered even further, with the aim of building up a new archaeology centre at Portsmouth in the imposing remains of an 18th-19th -century coastal fortress -- Fort Cumberland. For many years this has been the home of what was once called the `Central Unit', then the `Central Archaeological Services' -- a roving and highly effective specialist archaeological unit which has provided the practical means for English Heritage to exercise its statutory duties in rescue work, research excavation, evaluations and post-excavation. Now under the new title of Centre for Archaeology (CFA) a new addition includes the Ancient Monuments Laboratory, which has developed as a major research, monitoring and advisory resource covering archaeology across England. It has specialist staff to deal with conservation, materials and technology, archaeozoology, archaeobotany and all areas of environmental archaeology, curation and artefact studies and information systems.

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