The Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites World Heritage Site comprises two areas of Wessex chalkland some 40 km apart, connected by their distinctive complexes of Neolithic and Bronze Age sites. Both areas have played a central role in the understanding of Britain’s prehistoric past and are among the most iconic and widely-recognised prehistoric landscapes in the world. Their international significance was recognised by their inscription on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1986, and it is particularly apt that this new Research Framework should mark the 30th anniversary of the World Heritage Site’s creation.

These volumes represent the first step towards the production of a fully integrated Research Framework for the Site. The first volume consists of an update to the Resource Assessment for the Stonehenge area, which extends the scope of the original version (Darvill 2005) to 2012. The second contains a new Resource Assessment for the Avebury area which incorporates the 2008 boundary changes. Both of these volumes explicitly expand the focus of the earlier Resource Assessments from archaeology to the wider historic environment. The third volume is a Research Agenda and Strategy for the whole World Heritage Site. The rationale for the form this Framework takes is complex, and is laid out in the Introduction, but it is envisaged as an intermediate stage between the separate documents that were originally produced (AAHRG 2001; Darvill 2005) and a single integrated assessment, agenda and strategy.

The new Framework is the result of consultation across the research community in its broadest definition. Authors were invited to produce resource assessments and technical summaries; workshops and meetings guided the initial drafts of the Research Agenda; the Avebury and Stonehenge Archaeological and Historical Research Group (ASAHRG) provided criticism of both. Drafts of texts were presented for public consultation and comment via the internet. The Research Strategy was formulated based on their content, and the whole circulated for further comment. In consequence, the new Research Framework offers a guide that reflects the priorities and encompasses the views of the widest possible community. It is in every sense a collaborative document, produced by and for the constituency of researchers working within the World Heritage Site.

These documents are intended to guide and inform future research activities in the historic environment and, in turn, its management and interpretation.  The intention is that they will be underpinned by data-management systems that can be actively maintained as project-specific tools into the future. This new Framework, therefore, fulfils a number of objectives. It provides revisions (redrafting and updating) of the existing Avebury and Stonehenge resource assessments; it starts the process of harmonising and integrating the earlier separate research documents with the production for the first time of a single, combined research agenda and strategy for the whole World Heritage Site; and it develops a method to facilitate future review and revision. In future, this task will be undertaken by ASAHRG, which replaces the Avebury Archaeological and Historical Research Group to promote and disseminate historical and archaeological research in the World Heritage Site as a whole.

Recent Research in the Stonehenge Landscape 2005–2012 consists of summaries of development- prompted research and problem-orientated research, followed by a section looking at recently changed and changing aspects of research: dating, long-distance connections, landscape structure, and the relevance of other monuments. The Avebury Resource Assessment provides both cross-period assessments of the resource based on a number of specific research methods which have been used to develop our understanding of the archaeology in the Avebury area, and a series of period-based assessments, from the Palaeolithic to the modern period. The Research Agenda articulates the significant gaps in our understanding, by posing some of the outstanding questions in a form that is relevant to a number of chronological periods and major thematic subjects of relevance to the unique character of the World Heritage Site. The Research Strategy sets out a framework of principles under which research should be carried out in the World Heritage Site, and identifies practical means by which such programmes of investigation can be facilitated, co-ordinated, resourced, sustained and communicated, and by which the Research Framework as a whole can be reviewed and updated.

The continuing nature of archaeological research inevitably means that many discoveries – some of considerable significance – were made during the period of the writing of these volumes. In order to bring the years of work which have gone into these documents to fruition, a line had to be drawn. That the Research Framework is not absolutely up-to-date is not a failing, but rather an indication of the need for a planned approach to investigation in an area which still, after centuries of investigation, has not given up all of its secrets.