There is a major problem in South Yorkshire with the production and dissemination of developer-funded archaeological client reports – so-called ‘grey literature’, although this problem is not confined to South Yorkshire (e.g. Holbrook and Morton 2008), nor to commercial reports. Some reports may take years to be submitted to the HER, and these are often interim publications or assessment reports rather than full reports with final detailed specialist analyses. Assessment reports need to be produced much more rapidly after fieldwork has been completed, to ensure that funding remains available and that the further analyses identified can occur. These unpublished reports can be used very effectively in academic research (Chadwick 2008a; Hodgson 2012), and thus should be made as accessible as possible.
Although when finally submitted unpublished client reports may be accessed at the South Yorkshire Archaeology Service (SYAS) Historic Environment Record (HER), the consultation of many such reports by researchers can be a protracted and at times difficult process (Hodgson 2012: 39). Curatorial archaeology staff face increased time and budgetary constraints, and even with GIS-based mapping it is not always obvious how many reports might exist for certain areas. In the future, developer-funded client projects and reports should be available digitally to all researchers, either by supplying copies to the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) or by HERs having digital copies that can be downloaded from a web-based HER, as with the Know Your Place website at Bristol. University-led research projects and the work of independent or ‘amateur’ groups and individuals should also abide by these requirements. Time-lags may be necessary in a minority of cases to consider issues of client confidentiality and commercial sensitivity, but there should still be a clear, unambiguous onus on the wider dissemination of reports. Although on-line publication of full reports should be standard, it must not be a full substitute for academic presentation in monographs or archaeological journals.
Another key consideration concerns long-running projects such as quarries or industrial estates where there are often many different phases of work (aerial photograph analysis and desk-based assessments, geophysical survey, evaluation, excavation and watching briefs) undertaken by more than one archaeological organisation and commissioned by more than one developer. This was the case at Armthorpe, where work was undertaken by SYAU, Archaeological Services WYAS and OA North; and at Balby Carr, with work carried out by BUFAU, ARCUS, Archaeological Services WYAS, AOC Archaeology and Wessex Archaeology. Three of these field units no longer exist. It is obviously desirable to have these different phases integrated into one overall report and final publication on those landscapes, but how would such a synthesis be funded and who would undertake the work? One commercial unit could be selected to write up the results from all the different investigations, including those undertaken by other organisations, but they would need ring-fenced funding in order to undertake this.
Minimum standards of data presentation and publication need to be drawn up by SYAS for developer-funded archaeology reports within South Yorkshire, building on but extending and improving Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA) and Historic England guidelines (e.g. CIfA 2014: 9), although some unit’s reports and publications do not match even these rather minimal standards. Those carrying out research-led projects must also be held accountable to these same standards.
As outlined above, one key area of recent research into the Iron Age and Romano-British periods concerns artefact, animal bone and burnt stone deposition in and around settlements (e.g. Chadwick 2004, 2008a, 2015; Chadwick, Martin and Richardson 2013; Willis 1997). Understanding the spatial patterning of such practices and any changes over time is important to understanding social life within these past communities. Within evaluation and excavation reports, the location of so-called ‘small finds’ such as quernstones, brooches, bracelets, whole or substantially complete pottery vessels, human and animal burials and possible identified placed deposits all need to be shown in relation to recorded features, as distribution plots and volumetric analyses (Chadwick 2009: 142-3; Haselgrove et al. 2001: 10, 15). The use of digital technology both on-site and during post-excavation such as Total Stations, differential GPS and AutoCAD and Illustrator would mean that such two-dimensional distribution plots would take relatively little time to generate. These could form part of more extensive archive reports published on ADS.
This form of post-excavation analysis and presentation was undertaken for the late Iron Age and Romano-British enclosure at Scrooby Top in north Nottinghamshire (Davies et al. 2000). Statistical and spatial analyses revealed that that the majority of Romano-British fine wares by weight and sherd count were deposited in the northern part of the enclosure ditch, whereas most coarse wares, sooted pottery sherds and the greatest quantities of burnt and heat-shattered stone were all found in the south and south-eastern parts of the enclosure ditch (Robbins 2000). This not only indicated a focus of cooking and heating activities in the southern part of the enclosure and a possible domestic emphasis on eating and discard to the north, but also that patterns of deposition varied according to material type and perhaps reflected underlying social attitudes to material culture or even cosmological beliefs of the inhabitants. Generating similar histograms of frequency and weight for excavated ditch segments, pits and other features would be relatively simple. Similarly, discussions of assemblages should be more contextually based and less rigorously divided into specialist categories (Haselgrove et al. 2001: 10).
There are some issues even when sites are fully published. For articles submitted to journals such as the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, there is a tendency to reduce specialist reports to minimal summaries, and to not publish enough photographs or illustrations of excavated features and artefacts. Full artefact and palaeo-environmental data and analyses may also be missing. This is done to save space, when the cost of paying for page numbers is a consideration.
For example, whilst it was excellent that the enclosures and fields excavated at Rossington Bridge Farm were published promptly in the YAJ (Roberts and Weston 2016), there are only illustrations of the Bronze Age cremation urns and two of the seven querns recovered, with no Roman pottery or ‘small finds’ illustrated at all. Although much Roman pottery was standardised and is relatively well-known, photographs and some drawings would still have been useful, especially of the waster vessels. The so-called ‘small finds’ included two whetstones, and a near complete two-link iron snaffle bit (Cool 2016), only the second such item recorded from South Yorkshire – the other has been published and illustrated (Cowgill 2004a: 49-50, fig. 27). The Rossington Bridge example may have formed part of a possible placed deposit but was not even shown as a photograph, either as a conserved item or in situ on-site. The snaffle bit was from a pit that included quern fragments, but only a select list of some quern fragments was included, and no section or detailed plan of the pit. It is thus impossible from the YAJ publication to glean any idea of the depositional context of the snaffle bit and links with other objects and materials. Such quantitative and contextual data is essential, however, in allowing comparisons between finds assemblages and issues of spatial organisation, discard and structured deposition (Haselgrove et al. 2001: 10). More comprehensive reports with full illustrations and photographs could be published online with ADS, and then in more summary form in YAJ and other journals.
There is also an unfortunate problem with archaeology in South Yorkshire concerning university departments, local societies and commercial field units failing to publish their work. In the case of developer-funded projects, in many instances the original project supervisors have now left the companies or retired from archaeology altogether, so they cannot be blamed for any subsequent failure to publish. It is also likely that in many instances, it is the original clients who have withheld or refused funding for full post-excavation and publication, often once planning permission has been granted and on-site excavation work has ceased. Some businesses might subsequently have become insolvent and been liquidated, but several extant firms number amongst the largest and wealthiest developers in Britain, however. Other developers are local authority bodies, which is especially galling.
Key South Yorkshire Iron Age and Romano-British sites that have not yet been fully published or still languish as interim and assessment reports as of 2019 include:
Full publication of all these sites should be an urgent priority. Pressure from the South Yorkshire Archaeology Service, Historic England, CIfA and legal advisers working for SYAS should be brought to bear upon field units or their clients, so that post-excavation analysis and publication can proceed as soon as possible. If the original developer/client has gone into liquidation, then funding should be sought from Historic England to allow these sites to be written up and published as fully as possible and placed on ADS. This dire situation cannot be allowed to continue, especially when the reports from more recent investigations have already been published. The many different phases of work undertaken by ARCUS, AOC Archaeology Ltd, AS WYAS and Wessex Archaeology at Balby Carr need to be fully written up and published as one synthetic volume. A recent useful summary (Daniel and Barclay 2016) nonetheless omitted the results of the ARCUS and AOC Archaeology work. One unit (either AS WYAS or Wessex) should be nominated (or tender) to do this, and funding sought from existing developers and Historic England.
Educational and outreach projects such as the Romans on the Don and Ancestors of the Don Gorge initiatives (Bevan 2006b; Bevan and Ho 2006) should be encouraged and supported. In addition to full academic publication but never a substitute for it, ‘popular’ publication in booklets and on the Internet should also be undertaken to bring the results of work to the attention of a wider, non-specialist readership.