New Historian

Is British Archaeology Getting Buried?

Richard III

<![CDATA[Between the 12th and 27th of July the Council for British Archaeology will be coordinating the nationwide Festival of Archaeology. This annual celebration includes over a thousand events organised by museums, national parks, heritage organisations and universities to raise awareness across the country about sites of historic importance and interest. Unfortunately, a combination of budget cuts and dwindling interest in archaeology has put the future of the profession in Britain in a precarious position. Archaeological digs in the UK are still unearthing a host of fascinating discoveries that show just how important the profession is. In 2003, an archaeological survey for a road widening scheme in Essex discovered an undisturbed Saxon tomb, believed to be that of one of the Kings of Essex. In 2012, the bones of the last Plantagenet King, Richard III, were found in a car park in Leicester. Such sites are vital to piecing together the UK’s rich and diverse history, but the archaeology sector is coming under increasing pressure. The recession reduced the number of archaeologists in the UK by a third. The number of archaeologists cannot match the rate of development works, raising the prospect of important sites being lost. The situation has reached the point where only 5% of England’s heritage is designated and protected by Law. Despite the extensive level of qualification needed for a professional archaeologist, entry level salaries start at just £17,000, and jobs are often only temporary. For university departments, a vicious cycle is starting. Government funding is decided by the number of top grade students applying for a university. Archaeology departments are beginning to shrink due to the paucity of students that apply to them. In the case of Birmingham University, this led to the closing of the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity in late 2012. At every level, sources of funding are becoming scarce. Local councils and charitable funds such as The Heritage Lottery Fund, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and English Heritage have all reduced their funding over the last few years. Digs are increasingly reliant on the enthusiasm and goodwill of volunteers. Speaking about the exhumation of Richard III, world renowned archaeologist Glenn Foard told The Independent, “We could not have found the battlefield, and surveyed it when we found it, if we had not had this volunteer input.” Other solutions are being explored. DigVentures seeks to use crowd funding techniques to create investment and engagement in sustainable archaeology. It is a self sufficient enterprise that aims to break the reliance on government or local authority grants. DigVentures’ is an innovative approach that also allows donators to take part in digs and excursions, hopefully fostering genuine engagement. It is a truly innovative approach, the only potential criticism being that it relies on choosing sites for their widespread and popular appeal. Elsewhere, the Local Heritage Engagement Network is trying to rekindle local participation in the protection of heritage. By highlighting the consequences local authority cuts can have for the historical environment, they hope to encourage local groups to campaign for the protection of archaeological services. It is vital that there are enough archaeologists to keep pace with the rate of redevelopment and building work in the UK. Unfortunately, the difficulties facing the sector raise the very real prospect of important sites being lost forever. The key seems to be reigniting the general public’s fascination with the past and appreciation of archaeology’s value.]]>

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