Compiled and edited by Jan Grove and Bob Croft
By Bob Croft
The archaeological resource assessment and research agenda for South West England, edited by Chris Webster, was published in 2008 (Webster 2008). Since its publication it has proved to be a very valuable document summarising what is known about the region and identifying 64 research aims. It has been used in a wide range of research documents across the region and is widely accepted by English Heritage and local authorities to help to influence research priorities and the targeting of increasingly diminishing resources. One of the main objectives of the whole regional research project was to move towards establishing a Research Strategy to demonstrate how the Research Agenda would move forward. It has however taken several years and numerous meetings to formalise a Strategy and to edit this document together. What we have here is a point-in-time document that picks up some of the strategic directions agreed with a wide range of partners and consultees in the region and beyond.
This strategy has identified that delivery of the research agenda over the next five years will require extensive collaboration and partnership working with English Heritage, local authorities, universities, archaeological contractors, local groups and individuals across the region. There is an increasing need to ensure that all research is captured and made available to other researchers and the use of local and sub-regional conferences and meetings is seen as one of the key ways in which the strategy will be promoted and delivered by partners. The promotion of research into museum collections, unpublished excavations and grey literature reports will provide opportunities for increased use of scientific techniques to add to our understanding of sites and landscapes within the region.
In addition to the detailed research there is a continual need to raise public awareness and support for archaeology in the region as pressure grows to reduce government and local authority funding on heritage and cultural services. There is much to do and this report identifies some of the opportunities that are available for the sector to deliver over what will no doubt be a very challenging five-year period for research.
This archaeological Research Strategy for South West England is the final stage of the archaeological research frameworks following the publication of the first two stages of the South West Archaeological Research Framework (SWARF; Webster 2008). The first two stages covered the Resource Assessment (what we know) and the Research Agenda (what we would like to know). The Research Strategy (how we are going to find out) is the third element. There is ongoing research in all areas. The SWARF agenda and strategy are intended to inform applications for research funding from a wide variety of funding bodies as they identify priorities for the region and direct effort, time and study towards the most important issues.
Details of the rich archaeological resource, recorded and potential, are given in the SWARF Resource Assessment (Webster 2008). This assessment demonstrated that South West England is probably the most diverse of the English regions and contains some of its best-known archaeological sites. The caves of Mendip and Torbay contain some of the finest Palaeolithic remains in England whilst later in prehistory sites such as Avebury, Stonehenge and Maiden Castle are of international repute. The Roman period is famous for its spectacular mosaics from sites such as Chedworth and Cirencester which may have remained in contact with the empire into the 5th and 6th centuries AD. Glastonbury is famous for its Abbey and early Christian associations, and the region contains many fine churches and cathedrals, of which Salisbury and Wells are perhaps the best known. Parts of the region have been important for mining, a fact reflected in the recent successful bids for World Heritage Site status in Cornwall and Devon; and there are important urban deposits within the great Medieval and later port of Bristol and other cities and towns.
The quality of landscape and the built environment is high in economic value for the south west. A great deal of the important archaeology of the region lies within designated landscapes such as National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Defence Estates and the National Trust, have aims to conserve, research, manage and to promote public access to the archaeological heritage of their landscapes. There is much archaeology outside these protected landscapes, which does not benefit from the higher level of protection as that within. Much of the region is dominated by its coast which has allowed extensive influence from bordering areas such as Wales, Ireland and Brittany but has also allowed the spread of people and ideas from the region to all corners of the world. The coasts, and the inland areas, present a wide variety of environments: from the rocky cliffs of Cornwall, via the uplands of Bodmin, Exmoor and Dartmoor, the wide alluvial deposits of the Severn Estuary to the chalk downland of Dorset and Wiltshire and the limestone hills of Gloucestershire. This diversity of landscape provides a wealth of avenues for archaeological research.
A number of key issues have been repeated throughout the formulation of the strategy:
Collaboration is an economic necessity. Much of the funding stream for archaeology is through development. Most “research” is through universities and other bodies. Most public funding is to the voluntary sector. Communication between all relevant parties is essential.
There is currently only piecemeal communication between units and researchers. There needs to be a communication link set up between academia, local government and contracting archaeologists; there is already the willingness for this to exist and be acted on.
All archaeologists working in the region should give due regard to SWARF when planning and undertaking projects in the region.
It was agreed that regional conferences and subregional conferences were needed. The Council for British Archaeology and universities are well placed to facilitate this.
It was agreed that a regional committee should be set up to quantify and prioritise the publication of oldsites. Of relevance will be English Heritage’s backlog strategy expected in 2013. Some synthesis of grey literature is being addressed but a regional policy is needed.
The key role of volunteers is recognised and should be directed according to skill base (or training). There are increasing numbers of community archaeology projects – leading to an expanding skill base, but there is need for direction of this resource, especially with regard to project designs, method statements and the publication of results.
There is a need for the greater use of scientific techniques to address research questions, aims and objectives across the region. This includes scientific dating, geophysics environmental archaeology, ancient technology (eg metal and glass) and applied techniques (eg lipids, proteins, DNA and isotopes).
There is a need to raise public awareness and support for archaeology at the local, county and regional level.
The archaeologists and specialists working in the commercial, university, voluntary and government sector are clearly the major resource in the region. Better partnership working between all these groups will be required to deliver the Research Agenda and use limited resources most effectively. No one resource sector is able to lead on all or even most of the research strands. Most funding bodies now make partnership working an essential condition of their support. These aims also are best developed by working through teams from several bodies. Establishing links between national, regional and local bodies, organisations and individuals will be essential to encourage and facilitate research activity.
The voluntary sector is clearly the largest sector with an interest in archaeology; a recent survey of the region identified almost 9000 members of societies and community groups (CBA Community Archaeology in the UK 2010).
Universities and Colleges, both in the South West and beyond, constitute the academic sector. Those professionally involved are a relatively small number but there are also large numbers of students who could carry out research. Archaeology is taught at Exeter, Plymouth, Bristol and Bournemouth universities, and to A level at numerous colleges in the region. The development of schools outreach programmes, including handling artefacts, cross curricular studies and structured visits to museums and excavations is a strategy that looks to the future.
Commercial archaeology is undertaken by numerous organisations, both large and small, employing a significant number of professional archaeologists. It channels the largest amount of money into archaeology of any of the sectors. As well as developer funded projects, professional archaeologists undertake research and survey for English Heritage, Natural England, local authorities and others.
Local authority staff and other publicly funded historic environment curators includes all those with a responsibility for the curation of the historic environment, including National Park and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty personnel; other local authority staff are also employed in museums (below). They also have a direct influence on the role and performance of commercial units and are also responsible for the maintenance of Historic Environment Records. Other private or public organisations which own or manage historic buildings or landscapes may also exercise a curatorial role, such as diocesan archaeological advisers, the National Trust and Defence Estates.
The principal national organisation is English Heritage, which is the Government’s adviser for the Historic Environment and also owns or curates many monuments on behalf of the nation. Historic Environment staff in other organisations, such as the Heritage Lottery Fund and DEFRA, also influence archaeological research through funding of projects or management.
The region contains numerous museums, although not all of these have archaeological collections, and not all that do have specialist staff to curate them. However, the museums provide a crucial role in access for research and can direct the energies and interests of their volunteers. Most Portable Antiquities Scheme Finds Liaison Officers are based in museums.
Financial resources underpin many of the human resources identified above. The changing economic climate will no doubt have an impact upon research in the region.
English Heritage is the primary channel by which national government funds the conservation of the historic environment. It has for many years been the major source of funds for non-academic archaeological research. The National Heritage Protection Plan (NHPP) identifies its objectives as follows:
English Heritage hopes that delivery of the NHPP will:
Setting the region’s research priorities against these themes will be essential for securing future funding.
The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) “enables communities to celebrate, look after and learn more about our diverse heritage” and funds “the entire spread of heritage including buildings, museums, natural heritage and the heritage of cultural traditions and language”. Local groups should be encouraged to seek funding for projects that include significant research elements. Examples within the South West include the employment of a Community Heritage Officer for three years within the Neroche scheme, visitor improvements at Chedworth Roman villa and development of the Tinners’ Way in Cornwall.
The majority of funding for archaeological fieldwork now comes from the requirement for developers to carry out assessments and mitigation related to their projects. Planning Policy Statement 5 (PPS5), published in March 2010, replaced PPGs 15 and 16 and set out policies and principles of consideration of the historic environment with the planning process and other heritage-related consent regimes. Most of this has been carried forward to the NPPF which replaced PPS5 in 2012 and which reinforces the historic environment as a material consideration within the planning process and advocates an evidence based approach to decision making. It focuses on understanding the effect of a proposal on the significance of a heritage asset (archaeological site, historic building, historic parkland etc) including the asset’s research potential.
The principles within the NPPF enshrine the concept of conservation and the recording of any loss of significance to a heritage asset in order to enhance understanding of the asset. Therefore, the NPPF represents an opportunity to ensure archaeological sites and historic buildings/areas are understood if they are to be impacted by development. Sites excavated as part of the planning process offer research potential to address a range of questions in all subject areas in all chronological periods.
The nature of developer-led investigations means that the availability of sites is dictated by factors other than research questions; an opportunistic approach must be adopted that enables the rapid recognition of a site’s potential in terms of research priorities.
Universities and colleges have access to funds of their own and are also able to attract grants from education funding bodies, principally the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and specific funding may be available from one of the science funding councils.
Many local authorities, national parks and AONBs have small budgets for archaeological work and may be able to tap into or direct larger funds as part of other projects. Most of the larger archaeological societies are charities with a requirement to use their funds for archaeological purposes but which can make a significant contribution with modest financing. There are also larger charitable bodies (for example, the Leverhume Trust) that make awards for archaeological projects.
The Arts Council is now responsible for funding museum collections and future research bids may well require collaboration working across the region.
There are other, occasional or temporary sources of funding, that can bring benefits and challenges. For example, the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund which injected significant amounts of money into archaeological projects between 2002 and March 2011. Because of the origins of the fund, the money has had to be used within narrow terms of reference; some projects have made a significant contribution to archaeological research in the region.
The interaction between settlement and landscape is one of the key research areas highlighted by the research framework. The South West has always been predominantly rural and the changing patterns of land use and settlement form a key component of any study of the past. In particular the transition between periods should be addressed by emphasis during excavation on rigorous dating strategies from appropriate contexts: collection of geomorphological data from Neolithic natural features, OSL dating on Early Medieval linear monuments, archaeomagnetic dating on later Roman deposits. An understanding and awareness of the issues is one of the responsibilities of local authority staff and contractors, so that relevant sites can be treated appropriately.
The use of geophysical survey on non-villa Roman settlements would reap rewards, especially in relation to cropmark enclosures. Both English Heritage and local authorities should consider targeting aerial survey and fieldwork to improve understanding of this area.
For the Early Medieval period, there is a need for liaison between the Archaeological advisers to the Diocesan Advisory Committees (DACs), Cathedral archaeologists and Local Authority archaeologists over buildings, monuments and their landscape; a reassessment of source material often generates results. Villages often see piecemeal and small scale development which goes below the planning radar; to widen understanding of the origins of villages an assessment of the effectiveness of development monitoring by EH would be beneficial. Villages lend themselves to volunteer involvement through parish survey, community archaeology, co-ordination, and training. The Shapwick Project is a good example of how this can be done (Gerrard and Aston 2007).
A strategy for publication of important early Roman urban excavations, together with an assessment of all unpublished material relating to excavation on major sites. The need for a synthesis of theoretical and field evidence is very apparent for the Neolithic and Roman periods.
The Bronze and Iron Ages are the obvious starting point for artefact-based technologies and research, with again a need for a synthesis of work and collaboration between interested parties. For the study of early Medieval technologies, museum collections need reassessment in collaboration with HER content such as the Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment is providing for fish weirs.
There is a growing awareness of the importance of the archaeology of the recent past. The powers of the NPPF have allayed somewhat the concern for undesignated built assets, but the local authorities/conservation officers need a coordination of effort. The late nineteenth and twentieth centuries are seen as a priority, prompted by the realisation of a disappearing and unrecorded asset. There is an English Heritage role here, in partnership with local authorities, to support and encourage appropriate community/volunteer involvement in this area. There is still a need for links between museums and academics, meetings of peer groups for collaboration, and forums, with development control archaeologists seen as the link between researchers and museums.
The South West’s historic urban centres (such as Bristol, Exeter, Truro, Cirencester, Gloucester, Bath, Plymouth, Dorchester), the development of towns, the progression of industry and trade, are all important areas for research, following on from English Heritage’s draft urban research strategy. There are international research implications for the slave trade, cargoes, and the colonial past, with research links established for American and West Indies universities.
Mineral acquisition and processing needs its own strategy linking to local mining history associations, geological societies and historians. English Heritage has recently made a start on this review but further work is needed in the South West.
The South West region is fortunate to contain a wide range of contexts which provide excellent preservation of environmental data, from caves deposits, to extensive lowland and upland waterlogged peats. Some of the analysis is carried out by specialists based in Universities or national institutions but commercial archaeology provides by far the greatest amount of sites, data and financial resources. Archives in Museums also represent a resource that holds significant potential for further research in scientific dating and analysis.
Numerous scientific dates are generated through commercial archaeology every year. The curators and contractors should ensure that project designs include appropriate dating strategies and prioritise key research topics to build on existing research projects (eg Ancient Human Occupation of Britain group (AHOB), Axe valley Palaeolithic, SANHS/Aston Somerset in the Ages of Arthur and Alfred, Whittle and Bayliss Neolithic Monuments). The regional tree-ring chronology requires strengthening by taking appropriate opportunities from standing buildings and archaeological sites.
More work is required to quantify and date peat deposits and assess the risk of wastage. Tufa, soils and colluvial/alluvial sequences have been shown to contain significant information and require incorporation into mainstream development control projects. High resolution dating and analysis of environmental deposits is also required. The MIRE project (Exmoor and Dartmoor) and coastal developments (eg Steart realignment and Hinkley Point power station and associated developments in Somerset) should help to deliver some research priorities in the next five years.
Further analysis is needed on human and animal bone to identify key changes in human diet and the domestication of wild animals. This should include isotope analysis and DNA studies in combination with works of synthesis on existing archive collections. There are several key research topics connected to plant macrofossils, such as understanding the change from growth of hulled to free-threshing wheat.
An improved understanding of the wild and farmed landscape is needed for virtually all periods. The existing research (eg Pleistocene cave deposits, Mesolithic coastal landscapes, Medieval Exmoor and Blackdowns) all require further work as do other topics and periods (eg Early Medieval and upper Palaeolithic landscapes).
Understanding Holocene climate and sea level change are research priorities as the evidence is fragile and vulnerable to erosion and drying out. Some research has been carried out in the Isles of Scilly (Figure 5 and Figure 6), the Severn Estuary, Poole harbour and the Taw estuary. More work will be undertaken as part of major coastal developments but a better proxy-climate model using analysis of a suite of evidence is needed to further understanding of early settlement and land use.
As well as the research agenda, the environmental sections of most of the resource assessment chapters have recommendations for future work and identification of gaps in knowledge
English Heritage’s research themes and priorities for prehistory are set out in its draft research strategy. Priorities which are immediately applicable to the SW strategy include developing integrated approaches to prehistoric landscapes; improving understanding of the spatial, typological and chronological context of prehistoric sites and monuments; and raising awareness of the significance of “sites without structures” through improved understanding of ephemeral sites, especially lithic scatters.
The South West contains a wealth and diversity of Neolithic and Early Bronze Age archaeology, much of it of national and international significance. The Stonehenge Research Framework is currently being updated to produce a unified research framework for the entire World Heritage Site. Away from Stonehenge, projects such as those at Maiden Castle, Stanton Drew, Priddy Circles and South Cadbury are addressing research questions for this time period, with scientific support for research into pottery studies, isotope analysis and stone axe petrology. Ann Woodward is looking at graves in Dorset and the Marden henge ceremonial landscape is being investigated by English Heritage.
Conflict within the prehistoric period would best be addressed by analysis of museum collections of weapons and skeletal remains. A programme of research and analysis is planned for the Ham Hill archive as part of the current research project led by Niall Sharples and Chris Evans.
Prehistoric people’s relationship to plants and animals is best addressed through development control archaeology, unless there is an academic programme of research, with a focus on the collection of data from sites with anoxic/water-logged preservation.
English Heritage’s Roman research strategy is available. The impact of the empire on farming is an under researched topic which could benefit greatly from using existing resources, notably museum collections, previous excavation reports and grey literature. Research into Roman ports is ongoing and opportunistic, the RCZA project is providing new data, and the maritime research strategy by English Heritage is in preparation.
Medieval water meadows and water management structures, such as Medieval weirs and mills, are already a focus for an NHPP water management project through English Heritage/Natural England, integrating plant macrofossil and insect evidence and documentary sources.
English Heritage’s urban research strategy is particularly relevant for the Post Medieval period, with regional emphasis on structures relating to food production – although this can be addressed through the NPPF, there is high potential for integration with the local and voluntary sector and local Industrial archaeological societies and historic farmstead groups. There is considerable scope for greater involvement of local authority conservation officers and planners to help to record and better understand the importance of archaeological methods to record historic buildings.
A national overview by English Heritage is needed for Post Medieval and modern transport and communications links, particularly early road, rail, inland and coastal transport. Regionally a survey of associated structures is ideal for voluntary sector and local group projects eg tram and bus depots, civilian airfields, manufacturing sites. Telecommunications is a rapidly changing field and a review of the subject is needed. The Brunel Institute, Bristol, is a major research resource for maritime studies – towns and ports, links to colonialism/immigration/emigration or lateral studies eg social history.
Ours is a sector where the discipline is blessed with high numbers of volunteers, through societies and individuals doing their own research to museum volunteers and National Trust members supporting the heritage sector. Increasing numbers are involved in community history/archaeology projects through HLF support, or projects such as Hinkley Point power station, where outreach is part of the package of development control. Training can be provided at many levels, but enthusing and enabling local people to deliver projects is the way forward.
The provision of works of synthesis is a recurring theme at both a local and regional level. Two examples of good practice are the volunteer led Sea Mills project, Bristol, and the West Penwith project, Cornwall. The establishing of regional and sub regional seminars, for the dissemination of information and collection for subject synthesis, is one suggested solution – the CBA is in an ideal position for coordination across the region.
The Portable Antiquities Scheme has been the source of much positive work, but data exchange needs to be consolidated, along with appropriate resourcing of archaeological responses to PAS. Although there are many museum collection studies taking place within the region, there is scope to improve knowledge by the study of under utilised museum collections; volunteer training especially should be encouraged, along with specialist collaboration and cross-disciplinary work.
Unpublished reports are an acknowledged concern across the region and one that is being addressed – for example 90% of Bristol’s grey literature is being put on-line. While the professional sector is organised now by the HER/DC officers, the scope and location of grey literature produced by the university and voluntary sectors now needs to be addressed. The OASIS project has over 8000 grey literature reports online.
Across the region there are key unpublished excavations – HERs should identify unpublished fieldwork undertaken by universities, local societies, contractors etc. This might best be undertaken collaboratively across the region. Funding should be sourced for publication of key sites. The problem is increasing as some contracting units and developers cease trading – Local Authority archaeologists are aware of this and need to continue acting to mitigate the problem.
Fundamental and cross cutting, this theme is relevant at all levels, from volunteer expenses to extensive survey. It is not a subject that can be addressed through a strategy as each project has individual requirements. Grants access can be signposted but can be on a very local level up to access to national budgets and Heritage Lottery funding. Commercial works are different again as negotiation of budgets and allocation of spend are specific to each application. Increased pressures on resources will impact on research projects over the next five years.
Specialist subject groups have key roles within this theme. Where research methodologies are allied with research priorities, these opportunities need to be supported with regard to areas such as caves and early prehistoric sites, Pleistocene and quaternary deposits, aerial survey and pottery.
Addressing the gaps in knowledge for the Palaeolithic, Neolithic/Bronze Age/Iron Age, mobility, agriculture, Roman villas and temples should be priorities for funding in academia; local authority archaeologists can influence the scope of works required as part of the planning system.
Standards for records need to be agreed across the region, from accessioning and retention for museums and archives to systematic agreed data recording for HERs across the region. Policies for recording the built environment during developments are covered within the NPPF and should be allied to the English Heritage draft urban strategy. The Arts Council and local museums have a key role to play, especially in regard to exhibition and interpretation programmes and as a focus point for outreach.
Research into artefact scatters needs to include assessment of museum grey collections, which could be combined with the training and use of volunteers. There are also opportunities to link in with the information recorded as part of the PAS.
This strategy will require a regular review of progress, perhaps on an annual or biannual basis, in order to celebrate successes and to consider what revisions might be required.
This overarching SWARF strategy will be revisited and debated by SWALGAO and the heritage sector in a seminar to be held in 2013 and a further seminar in 2016 to consider what has been achieved and propose suggestions for the next five year period 2016–2021. The Council for British Archaeology, groups 12 and 13, will be integral to the process.
Local and regional seminars will be encouraged to look at the strategic themes identified in this Strategy. Seminars can be co-ordinated by local groups, local authorities, national organisations or specialist groups.
Officers from SWALGAO will be encouraged to ensure that a research based seminar will be held in their respective areas during the life of this document. Seminars will involve partnership working and collaboration across the sector.
Thanks are due to the steering group members and all who attended the workshop, as well as all those who contributed virtually/remotely throughout the strategy’s progression. Particular thanks are due to Kathy Perrin and Vanessa Straker who supported and monitored this project for English Heritage.