Fieldwalking has declined in importance as a strategy for evaluation during developer-led projects and it would be beneficial to consider methods of sampling ploughsoil artefact scatters during evaluation trenching to allow significant ploughsoil scatters to be identified. Fieldwalking needs to be brought back into the development management process, but not necessarily as part of evaluation. Think about how surface scatters might relate to adjacent sites – potential for in situ remains. Consider potential of material in sub-soil. Bear in mind that some lithic scatters recorded by antiquarians or in the earlier 20th century may now be long gone. Reintroduction of fieldwalking for development sites of all periods would be beneficial. Where fieldwalking is routinely used, for example on large linear schemes (e.g. roads and pipelines), this helps identify ‘hotspots’ for this period, e.g. Boston pipeline. Surface collection can be misleading.
Many new findspots have been identified through amateur fieldwork and are recorded on the PAS database. Particularly notable is the number of finds of putatively Upper Palaeolithic date, which presumably partly reflects the visibility of large and distinctive blade-based products of this period. It would be very valuable to carry out further investigations of some of these locations where the potential to recover substantial assemblages and/or locate well-preserved sites seems high.
While a key purpose of research frameworks is to ensure development-led fieldwork contributes to research objectives, the location of development is not determined by those objectives, so there is always a geographical imbalance in the distribution of fieldwork and a high degree of serendipity in what is encountered. We need academic and community projects that will actively research the landscapes, places and monuments that are not going to be touched by development.
Any research agenda needs to balance objectives that reflect both what we already know (i.e. identifying focussed questions that build on current knowledge) and what we do not know (i.e. encouraging research in areas or on types of site that have seen little work). In this context we could develop more specific research agendas for known development ‘hot-spots’ within the region, such as the area around Cambridge.
Need a means of highlighting sites with research potential – might OASIS help with this? These get ‘lost’ in the grey literature. Greater consideration needs to be given to significance when writing about material from this period. Online forum to raise awareness of ongoing research is being developed by CIfA Research and Impact Group to enable information exchange.
It has been suggested that the investigation of a sample of sites discovered by aerial mapping projects would be beneficial to our understanding not only of individual sites and categories of site, but also of how aerial mapping methodologies and their limitations influence our understanding of this period. The results of the National Mapping Programme have contributed significantly to our understanding of the Neolithic period in the region, but there are still many sites for which the air photo transcription is the only archaeological assessment. More consideration is also needed of biases in the evidence such as differential visibility of cropmarks. The potential of new technologies to map landforms and deposits where Neolithic evidence is more likely to be preserved could also be explored.
There is huge potential for the reassessment of old data in the light of new understandings and expanded datasets. Can we identify genuine gaps in the record? Or apply new scientific techniques to material held in archives? The potential of backlog sites and unpublished material to contribute to research objectives needs further assessment and prioritisation.
The region has also lacked systematic landscape projects since the Fenland Survey. We are currently failing to fully utilise the high archaeological potential of the Fens to inform our understanding of this period. This is due in part to a lack of development and is further exacerbated by poor visibility of Fenland Neolithic sites on aerial photographs. However, excavations in the deep fen offer the opportunity to glean new environmental information and the potential to investigate preserved ancient land surfaces.
Preservation is a key issue, whether of unexcavated evidence in the ground or the excavated archive.
The reburial of human remains limits the potential for future analysis, but care needs to be taken in discussion with the public about this. A majority appear to accept the value of archaeological investigation of human remains, but a minority has objections, some of which can be dispelled by consultation and communication.