During 2019–20, a working group of the Society of Antiquaries of London convened to develop a response to opportunities and challenges faced by the archaeological sector in England. We wrote against the background of a decade of sustained growth in archaeological activity, reflecting that of the development industry, set alongside retrenchment of the public sector curatorial role in guiding the archaeological response. Parallel constraints on museums have meant that the problem of curating archaeological archives remains, indeed grows with every archaeological intervention.
We developed a manifesto as a contribution to ongoing reflection on these issues, with the aim of further stimulating discussion and practical action across the sector. The initial version was circulated to member organisations of The Archaeology Forum (TAF) and discussed at a session of TAF in 2019, after which the working group was reconstituted on a broader basis. We are most grateful for that wider input, and hope this manifesto provokes a debate about the future of archaeology in England.
In a future post-covid world, the public may have very different expectations of the archaeological sector, the benefits it produces and the ways that they are delivered. We believe that change is necessary, and hope this manifesto provokes a debate about the future of archaeology in England.
On 12 March 2020, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government published a White Paper, Planning for the Future, which set out radical proposals for the reinvention and simplification of spatial planning in England. Should they be implemented these proposals will make significant changes to the present structure for managing the historic environment and the archaeological resource. The view of a working group of the Society of Antiquaries is that this major reform presents the opportunity to improve the structural provision for archaeology in England.
The full manifesto, which can be read here proposes a new model which, we believe, offers a mechanism that will encourage collaborative working across all sectors of the profession, enhancing archaeological research and providing information that will more effectively inform planning decisions. Underpinning this model is the principle that all archaeological work should ultimately be focused on public benefit, broadening participation, expanding knowledge and promoting social cohesion, and making a positive contribution to the lives of communities.
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The Future of Archaeology in England [.pdf – single page view – printer friendly version]