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Professional archaeology in the UK in 2015

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Professional archaeology in the UK in
2015
Kenneth Aitchisona
a Landward Research Ltd, Sheffield, UK
Published online: 25 Jan 2015.
To cite this article: Kenneth Aitchison (2015): Professional archaeology in the UK in 2015, Cultural
Trends, DOI: 10.1080/09548963.2014.1000581
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09548963.2014.1000581
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COMMENTARY
Professional archaeology in the UK in 2015
Kenneth Aitchison*
Landward Research Ltd, Shefeld, UK
To start by contextualising this article, archaeological practice can be dened as the professional
work undertaken to investigate, conserve and curate the physical remains of past human lives and
the environments that they inhabited. Since the early 1990s, this has largely been through the prin-
ciple of sustainable development, whereby potential damage to archaeological remains has been
mitigated through investigation, recording and interpretation. This has been implemented through
the development planning process, managed by local authorities, or for larger projects, through
formal environmental impact assessment. This work is normally delivered by commercial com-
panies working in a competitive matrix, and funded by the polluter”–the developers. Some of
those companies were established in the 1970s as charities, although more recent companies are
typically for-prot. While some archaeological work is undertaken outside the development-led
process including research within universities, and the curation of collections within museums
these models, and the funding models that underpin them, are not representative of the way that
the overwhelming bulk of archaeological work has been undertaken in the last 25 years.
Because archaeology operates on this different economic model, working to the different
construction-led boom and bust economic cycles and stresses from other areas of cultural prac-
tice, it could be argued that cultural policies put in place since the 2010 General Election have had
relatively little effect on it. The policies that have affected archaeological practice have been econ-
omic and environmental.
The most overwhelming factor inuencing archaeological practice in the last decade has been
the national and global economic condition. It could be argued that archaeology experienced 15
years of growth from 1992 to 2007, both in terms of turnover and employment. The 2008 global
recession arising from the US subprime mortgage crisis affected archaeology heavily, in par-
ticular through the slowdown in the construction industry. With most archaeological investi-
gations being initiated in response to the planning process –“In 2007, 93% of all
archaeological reporting [in England] stemmed from projects initiated through the spatial plan-
ning system(Aitchison, 2009, p. 661) when the levels of construction activity, and particularly
speculative housing construction, dramatically declined, the volume of archaeological eldwork
being undertaken fell too.
The numbers of people working in archaeology declined steeply from an estimated peak of
6865 in 20072008 to 4782 in 20122013 (Aitchison & Rocks-Macqueen, 2014, p. 20), a
reduction of 30 per cent. As well as affecting applied archaeological practice, both in the eld
and in cultural resource management (whether delivered by local planning authorities or by
© 2015 Taylor & Francis
*Email: kenneth.aitchison@landward.eu
Cultural Trends, 2015
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09548963.2014.1000581
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private consultancies), the numbers of archaeologists employed by governmental agencies or
QANGOs (Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organisations) also fell, as did the numbers
of professional archaeologists working within universities. Before the crash, many universities
with departments of archaeology also retained eldworking companies, which competed for com-
mercial eldwork. These were integrated to a lesser or greater degree with the teaching and aca-
demic research staff, and in almost every case these were rapidly jettisoned by the universities
when their primary income source (commercial, development-led work) disappeared. Something
similar happened to the smaller number of commercial archaeology arms of local authorities.
Legislatively, in some respects the key legal structures in England are unchanged, as the
Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 remains in operation. But this law
relates to the protection of the relatively small number of Scheduled Ancient Monuments that
are protected as being of national importance. Of far more signicance for archaeological practice
are the processes put in place by the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which are
implemented by local planning authorities whose plans have to fall in line with policies published
at national level. The key document in this regard was PPG 16 (Planning Policy Guidance note
16 Archaeology and Planning [Department of the Environment, 1990]), which established the
need for archaeological matters to be taken into account in planning decisions and placed respon-
sibility for funding the archaeological work that this generated on the developers or applicants for
planning permission.
PPG 16 was the longest-standing unrevised Planning Policy Guidance note when it was sub-
sumed into the short-lived PPS5 Planning Policy Statement 5: Planning for the Historic
Environment (Department of Communities and Local Government [DCLG], 2010), which was
rapidly replaced (together with other Planning Policy Statements) following the 2010 General
Election by the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) (DCLG, 2012). But although
the overriding policy documents changed, the crucial elements of policy did not.
In Scotland, the Ancient Monuments law of 1979 was updated by the Historic Environment
(Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2011. Scottish planning guidance was also updated, as it has also
been in Wales and Northern Ireland. But across the whole of the UK, these developments have
led to very little change in the models of practice. This is in marked contrast to the introduction
of PPG16 in 1990, which was truly revolutionary in its impact on the sector. That document
opened up the potential for archaeology to commercialise, and in so doing, it was both the kick-
starter and then the engine of the boom years.
Overall, following the recession, while commercial archaeological practices have been
involved in a larger number of communityarchaeology projects, there have been no real, sig-
nicant changes to either the model of delivery or their client base.
Elsewhere in Europe, archaeology is delivered in broadly comparable ways, In all European
states, it has been the economic challenges of the past decade, compounded in many cases by
sovereign debt or Eurozone crises, that have affected the volume rather than the nature of archae-
ological practice (Aitchison et al., 2014).
A potentially signicant change in the external perception of the archaeological profession is
the awarding of a Royal Charter to the sectors professional association the Institute for Archae-
ologists. The Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA), launched on 9 December 2014, and
the granting of the Royal Charter is seen as ensuring that archaeologistsprofessional credentials
have parity of esteem with those held by fellow professionals in the development sector such as
architects, surveyors and planners.
The future for archaeological practice, like its past, will rely heavily on the economic climate
and what that means in terms of development. In the 1990s and the rst decade of the twenty-rst
century, archaeological practice was enormously stimulated both in terms of applied
2K. Aitchison
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methodology and the volume of work available by signicant infrastructure projects, such as the
Channel Tunnel Rail Link, Heathrow Terminal Five or the M6 Toll.
At the start of 2015, preparations are being laid for new projects that will potentially have an
enormous effect again on archaeology specically, the Thames Tideway Tunnel, for which
enabling works will begin in 2015 (Thames Tideway Tunnel Ltd, 2014) and HS2, the high-
speed rail link from London to Birmingham (and then beyond). HS2, while still politically con-
tentious, is getting shovel-ready”–the recruitment of heritage consultants to assess the impact of
the route line took place in September 2014 (Institute for Archaeologists, 2014).
There is a real potential for there to be insufcient trained archaeologists to work on these pro-
jects. At the time of the previous megaprojects, hundreds of practitioners were involved during
the eldwork phases, which were handled by the largest archaeological practices. Smaller practices
were able to pick up those projects that the larger players werent competing as vigorously for. This
led to rapid, but sustainable growth across the sector. Following the job losses after 2008, the pro-
fession of archaeology is now about a third smaller than it was at that time. With large infrastructure
projects looming, which will almost certainly need large numbers of experienced eldworkers very
soon, there is real potential for a shortage of sectoral capacity. Structurally, these will not be the
kinds of projects that large numbers of relatively inexperienced practitioners can be rapidly intro-
duced to, and the potential to recruit experienced archaeologists from other countries as happened
in Ireland in the years before the crash (Eogan & Sullivan, 2009)is now limited by the reductions
in the numbers of archaeologists across Europe.
Administratively, the forms of national heritage agencies, which advise the Westminster and
devolved governments, on archaeological matters are changing. English Heritage, which advises
the government on the historic environment in England, will be split in April 2015 into two bodies
a charity, which will retain the name English Heritagewith responsibility for managing heri-
tage properties, and a non-departmental public body, Historic England, which will continue to
provide advice to government (English Heritage, 2014).
Simultaneously, in Scotland, two bodies Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission on
the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland will merge to form Historic Environment
Scotland. This is expected to be fully operational by October 2015 (Scottish Government, 2014).
It is estimated, from stafng costs and planning application data, that £119.3 m was spent on
applied archaeology in England in 2000, 57 per cent of which (£68.3 m) was considered to come
directly from private sector developers (Aitchison, 2001). Using the same methodology, it was
estimated that spending on archaeology in England increased by 79 per cent over the next four
years, to £213 m, with funding from developers increasing proportionately even more rapidly,
to £144 m in 2004 (an increase of 110 per cent over four years) (reported in Hinton & Jennings,
2007). This suggests that archaeology grew rapidly, in an organic and unplanned way, from 1992
to 2008 during the long construction boom.
By 20122013, it was estimated that £222.6 million (273 million) was being spent on
archaeological practice in the UK (Aitchison et al., 2014, pp. 4142) more than a quarter of
the total amount of 1billion being spent on archaeology in the 21 countries examined by the
Discovering the Archaeologists of Europe 2014 project.
Professional archaeology in the UK is now facing new challenges. These include the particu-
larly of possibly not being able to keep up with demand, alongside the potential to use Chartered
status to increase the fees charged to clients. Both have the potential to restructure the sector sig-
nicantly from 2015 onwards.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author.
Cultural Trends 3
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ORCID
Kenneth Aitchison http://orcid.org/0000-0001-6594-1408
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English Heritage is changing
  • London
  • Hmso
  • English
London: HMSO. English Heritage. 2014. English Heritage is changing. Retrieved from http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/ about/who-we-are/english-heritage-is-changing/
Archaeology and the demise of the 'Celtic Tiger'. The Archaeologist
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Eogan, J., & Sullivan, E. (2009). Archaeology and the demise of the 'Celtic Tiger'. The Archaeologist, 72, 26-27.
Quality management of archaeology in Great Britain: Present practice and future challenges
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Hinton, P., & Jennings, D. (2007). Quality management of archaeology in Great Britain: Present practice and future challenges. In W. J. H. Willems & M. Van den Dries (Eds.), Quality management in archaeology (pp. 100-112). Oxford: Oxbow Books.
English Heritage is changing
  • English Heritage
English Heritage. 2014. English Heritage is changing. Retrieved from http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/ about/who-we-are/english-heritage-is-changing/
If A Jobs Information Service Bulletin
  • Institute For Archaeologists
Institute for Archaeologists. (2014, September 22). If A Jobs Information Service Bulletin. Retrieved from http://www.archaeologists.net/jis/online Scottish Government. (2014). Historic environment legislation. Retrieved from http://www.scotland.gov.uk/ Topics/ArtsCultureSport/arts/Historic-environment/HistoricEnvironmentLegislation
Timeline. Retrieved from http
  • Thames Tideway
  • Tunnel Ltd
Thames Tideway Tunnel Ltd. (2014). Timeline. Retrieved from http://www.thamestidewaytunnel.co.uk/theproject/timeline