Contract Archaeology in Scotland
Carter, Stephen, Antiquity
The subject matter for this article is a large one and could be approached in a number of different ways. I have chosen to focus on some of the more distinctive characteristics of contract archaeology as it is currently practised in Scotland. This may encourage comparison with the situation elsewhere but it is not my intention to `compare and contrast'. I will leave it up to the reader, if they wish, to set their own experiences against the Scottish situation. I define contract archaeology as all types of archaeological work undertaken through a commercial contract. Scotland is a small country with a small economy and it has a commercial archaeological sector to scale. The number of commercial archaeological organizations working regularly in Scotland is somewhere between 10 and 20 depending on your point of view. Only five of these organizations have permanent staff numbers in double figures; some of the others are effectively sole traders who may take on staff with project-specific contracts. It is inevitable, therefore, that any aspect of contract archaeology in Scotland can easily become a discussion of individual organizations or even individual archaeologists. This is an important point, because individual events have significantly influenced the development of contract archaeology in Scotland. The role of contingency (chance) provides a useful foil to what can be called environmental and economic determinism and I will return to it later in this article.
A short history of contract archaeology in Scotland
Contract archaeology in Scotland may be small-scale but it has expanded significantly in the past decade and is still growing. This rapid growth lies behind one characteristic of the sector--immaturity; contract archaeology is young and still developing. Very few organizations can be traced back more than 10 years, even if some of the individual players have a longer track record in archaeology. Comparative statistics for 1990 and 2000 (derived from Discovery & Excavation in Scotland, the annual survey of Scottish archaeological fieldwork published by the Council for Scottish Archaeology), can be used to illustrate some these points (TABLE 1). It is important to remember that fieldwork is only one aspect of commercial archaeological work, but it is one area that can be readily quantified.
The figures for 1990 show Scotland at the start of commercial contract archaeology as we know it today. Funding was dominated by the national heritage agency (now named Historic Scotland) and it issued over 70% of the commercial fieldwork contracts. Only two organizations undertook significant numbers of projects, accounting for over 50% of contracts between them, Both of these organizations had their origins in the rise of government-funded rescue archaeology in the 1970s. AOC (then an abbreviation for Archaeological Operations and Conservation) had started life in 1977 as the Central Excavation Unit and in 1990 was still a field archaeological unit within what was to become Historic Scotland. SUAT (the Scottish Urban Archaeological Trust) was actually founded in 1982 but can trace its origins to urban rescue initiatives in the 1970s, including the short-lived Urban Archaeology Unit and the Scottish Burgh Survey project. SUAT was largely funded by national government money through the 1980s but this included a large volume of under-resourced Manpower Services Commission (MSC) Scheme work in Scotland's larger towns. The other contractors in 1990 included a mix of freelance archaeologists and fledgling commercial organizations.
By 2000 commercial contracting was well-established and the number of reported field projects had grown more than three-fold. Almost all of this increase was accounted for by commercial (non-government) clients and Historic Scotland's share had declined to 25% of the total. 80% of contracts were shared between eight organizations, most of which had been founded or at least evolved significantly within the previous decade. …