This March we held the workshop Encouraging Syntheses – Key points arising from ‘How do we Learn’. Part of the discussion involved planning for the future, and listing the issues and suggestions that arose.

The most important conclusion was the possibility of establishing regional research hubs, which would include HEROs, HE, local units, museums and universities, with some input also from local societies and other stakeholders. Possibly under overall organization of HE and institutional bodies (Soc. Ants., British Academy, ALGO and CIFA) and could potentially seek funding from Big-Data initiatives within UKRI and, possibly, Leverhulme.

The following might be aspects of the operation of such hubs:

  • Improve the potential of existing/legacy HER data for research through the creation of meta-data libraries (where, what, when & how) for their numerous (500-1000) thematic and area-based surveys and enhancements.
  • Use overarching archaeology planning conditions to require consistency of practice and a single
    synthesis for strategic developments with multiple archaeological contractors.
  • Review practice through more operational research by (simple) data-gathering, mapping and statistical analysis.
  • Survey and review HER recording practices and encourage HERs towards improved and more consistent practice that will (in future) enhance their usefulness for big-data and conventional research.
  • Use regional and national Zoom/Teams meetings to share practice and learn from experience.
  • Engage also in regular national reviews where people share practices and data, plus raise things/techniques that have gone wrong and have been successful.
  • Potentially engage in regular blogs, etc. to get results/patterns out to wider audience.

Planning Changes

Through potential changes to planning legislation, particularly larger multiple-developer ‘zoneal’ allocations, there may be the potential to insist on their eventually synthetic publication.

Collecting Major Projects Outputs 

The publication of every large-scale project will, in theory, include a substantial level of local/regional synthetic overview component (e.g. major infrastructure or quarry-excavation programmes). These could be collectively presented on county/regional web-sites and, thereby, eventually contribute to more formal synthetic reviews (and, too, inhibit duplication of research effort).

Synthetic Project Legacies

Establish means by which arising synthetic project databases could annually updated and maintained through County HERs.

Prioritization of Research Grants

UKRI to contact major grant bodies (e.g. British Academy, Society of Antiquaries & Leverhulme) to see if they would be willing to potentially be guided in their funding allocations to prioritized overview topics as determined by a committee of academics and senior practioners. In other words, what are the key recognized themes requiring overview at this time? The aim would not be to curtail or in anyway inhibit research, but simply establish what are seen as current pressing needs (the arising themes would themselves require a basis of regular review and update).

Report Procedures

Through CIFA and ALGO promote more standard usage of minimal reportage criteria (e.g. use of national period pottery-fabric types) and, potentially, means of site distributional analyses (e.g. employment of volumetric/cubic-metre finds densities) to facilitate inter-site comparison.

Designated ‘Special’ Investigation Areas (‘DSIA’)

Establish areas of ‘special’ archaeological interest (equivalent to SSSIs), such as cities/towns or suburbs (e.g. Fengate) that are subject to intense development. While previously these used to be largely the exclusive prerogative of single local units, this is no longer the case. Knowing that these areas warrant synthetic presentation (perhaps on a 10-year basis), either require that they see a higher level of immediate journal-paper publication (e.g. robust radiocarbon dating and detailed distributional analyses) to facilitate future broader-format/scope publication, or else have a set-percentage surcharge on budgets therein to enable the area’s eventual synthetic study and publication (to be organized/held by either on county-basis or through regional
research hubs).

Thank you to Christopher Evans & Chris Gosden for compiling these notes.