Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Another year - and a finally-completed project

Another year has passed since the blog has been updated, and it was a year between the last post and the previous one. This is for two reasons.

Firstly I have become less convinced of the value of blogging. Or perhaps more accurately, I am not convinced that my experiences and observations are particularly useful or valuable; at least not in the way that I have been expressing them hitherto. Since I am about to embark on some interesting writing directions which involve a greater level of creativity, I may well return to the blog as the year goes on.

Secondly - and perhaps most importantly - life has been extremely busy. Not just with work at CPAT (and the steep learning curve that comes with being a new entrant into the rapidly-changing world of archaeology in Wales), but also with my work as a non-executive director with the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists and at the Black Country Living Museum. More recently I seem to have found myself involved with the Shrewsbury Civic Society too. All of these extra-curricular activities are extremely interesting, and provide valuable 'professional development', but use up quite a lot of spare time.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to casual blogging has been the completion of my PhD. This was submitted in September 2015, and I had my Viva in January this year. I am pleased to have passed with 'minor corrections', which are now underway.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Escaping fascism: my family's experience

Having recently moved house (again), all sorts of long-forgotten things are surfacing from boxes. This includes some family history. Today (1st February) would have been my late grandmother's 101st birthday. She led a fascinating life as one of four daughters of an expatriate British-Canadian oil prospector, growing up mostly in Romania but with periods of education in Turkey, Germany and Scotland - qualifying as a medical doctor in the 1930s. A remarkable woman; here she is in Romania in 1923 (aged 19).

One of the very interesting recently rediscovered documents is an account by her father (my great-grandfather) of his escape in 1940 from the Nazi invasion of Romania. It is a short typescript, and a remarkable insight into a world that is now completely lost - as well as an interesting journey that would not now be possible.

Leaving Constanta on 23rd October 1940, they travelled by steamer to Istanbul, then by train to Baghdad (via Aleppo and Mosul - 'we arrived in Mosul about 12 in the night where we were received by the British Committee who served us a very nice tea with sandwiches and cigarettes'). After refreshments in Baghdad (provided by 'a gentleman, Mr. Matheson, a bank manager') they took the overnight 'desert sleeper' train to Basrah, where they were hosted by the British Consul. Another steamer took them down the river past miles of date plantations, stopping at Bahrain to collect American oil workers and their families ('and also two very rich Arab pearl merchants'), arriving in Karachi on 21st December.

'Karachi is the capital of the Sind Province of India [it is now of course in Pakistan]. We went on shore and had tea and bought some tobacco. We left Karachi on 22nd December and spent Christmas on board the "Varela".'

Arriving in Bombay on 26th December they were met by the 'Committee of the McKereth Organisation for the Balkan Evacuees'. They stayed there for a couple of weeks and then went to a camp at Satara by train, where they spent the best part of five months, 'during which there were pleasant, but more unpleasant moments ... the food was wholesome and sufficient, but one must get used to the food of India.'

They then went by train and bus - 'a very tedious journey of four days' - to Naini Tal, where they were 'received by Officials and transported by "dandies" (a sort of chair carried by four coolies) to a big bungalow on the top of the hill'. This was one of several temporary accommodations whilst in India, before returning to the UK later in the war.

This is a map of the journey.

I hadn't mapped this before. For me the whole account and episode is very interesting for several reasons.

Firstly: although there were clearly hardships on the journey this appears to have been a well-resourced and at times relatively leisurely middle-class retreat through largely British-held (or at least British-friendly) territory, facilitated by officialdom. Some luggage needed to be left behind at various places, and several aspects of accommodation and transport were evidently distressing; their house in Constanta and possessions left there were subsequently destroyed. Nevertheless it doesn't really compare with so many harrowing accounts of others' escapes from fascism in other parts of Europe at the same time.

Secondly: I am astonished that train/bus travel was sufficiently efficient in 1940 to enable land transport from Istanbul to Basrah in only four days. Would that be possible today?

Thirdly: this is a journey I would love to retrace, partly because it passes through so many places of enormous historical and archaeological significance, as well as for its genealogical interest. Sadly there is no longer a ferry from Constanta to Istanbul. This is the least of the problems, however. For, despite the fact that - just like my great-grandfather - I have a passport which declares that 'Her Britannic Majesty requires and requests all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely etc. etc. etc.' I suspect that just at the moment Her Majesty's word is not particularly highly regarded in places such as Aleppo, Mosul, Baghdad and Basrah.

More importantly, the situation in the various regions through which my great-grandfather passed in 1940 is massively and utterly horrific for the millions of people who have been affected - in many cases disastrously and catastrophically so - by the whole sequence of events in the last couple of decades. Certainly some of the outcomes are the result of UK foreign policy (which of course has its origins in the protection of the British interests which my family were helping to pursue at the time), but UK foreign policy is only one of a number of factors here.

The answer is not, of course, a return to British imperialism. I don't know what the answer is. The situation is massively complex. But part of that answer must involve dialogue and mutual respect.

Islam is a beautiful and compassionate religion; so is Christianity. Together with Judaism were are all fruits of the same Abrahamic seed. Fascism can root itself perniciously within any of those religious contexts, and it is to be regretted when it does so - whether it is the Crusades, Nazism, aggressive Zionism, or the 'Islamic State'.

I still hope to be able to retrace this journey in my lifetime. Meanwhile my thoughts are with those in Aleppo, Mosul, Baghdad, Basrah and elsewhere whose hopes and dreams and lives are shattered by fascists from whom there is no avenue for escape.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Tŷ-uchaf: a post-medieval farm complex near Llangynog

I posted about this project last month when it was very much in the early stages. Last week the team finished fieldwork there, and are now busy dealing with post-excavation tasks (when other projects permit!). This very interesting project has revealed a great deal about the evolution of the post-medieval farmhouse and associated complex.

The floor of the byre. Photograph copyright CPAT.
The earliest of the more-or-less extant buildings were known to date from the mid-seventeenth century; the date 1665 had been carved on the stone lintel of one of the upstairs windows. The form of this phase suggested the possibility that this was the remodelling of an earlier house. However we found no evidence for any earlier buildings on the site, despite vigorous investigation beneath the post-medieval floor levels. Instead it appears to have been built new on fairly conservative lines.
The associated complex had its origins in the seventeenth century, but was enlarged and modified in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The byre (shown above) was subdivided and partly repaved at least once. In addition, the surrounding landscape shows evidence of partible inheritance; Tŷ-uchaf was one of three holdings in Cwm Llech whose small fields were divided between several descendants during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The extent of clearance done by the CPAT team over the last four weeks is impressive, and this has of course gone alongside the conservation of the structure itself. Last year the lintel of the main chimney collapsed, and this needed to be at least temporarily repaired before we could begin work. These two photographs show 'before' and 'after', albeit from different angles.
The fireplace in 2013, before consolidation of the structure and rubble clearance.
View looking east. Photograph copyright CPAT.

The cobbled floor in the main house; note the bread oven in the fireplace. View looking south-west.
For another view of the same floor before cleaning, please see the earlier post. Photograph copyright CPAT.
The house is interesting for its association with a local poet, Cadwaladr Roberts, for whom Tŷ-uchaf is said to have been built in the 1660s. Roberts died in 1708/9; the photograph below shows his grave marker in the churchyard at Pennant.

Photograph copyright CPAT.

A full report will be posted on the CPAT website shortly, and we hope to be back at this site later in 2014 as the conservation and restoration project continues.

Meanwhile we have just begun another project where below-ground 'archaeology' and above-ground 'buildings' are being dealt with together as part of an ambitious conservation scheme. More about this next week...

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Problematic built heritage and dark tourism: Patarei prison

Patarei is an unusual 'attraction' in the picturesque Baltic city of Tallinn, which raises a number of questions about the presentation of problematic heritage. The story of the building reflects the complex relationships between Estonia and Russia over the last couple of centuries; its survival is delicately balanced between different narratives of the past, and different visions for the future.

General view of the first courtyard of Patarei prison from the entrance.
The original 1830s ‘lunette’ is in the background; to the right are later additions made during the 1860s;
to the right are later additions built by the prisoners in the twentieth century. Photograph copyright Paul Belford.
After almost two centuries as part of the Swedish empire, Estonia came under Russian rule in 1710. Russia planned an ambitious series of fortifications to protect all of its Baltic territories, although little was achieved on the ground in Tallinn in the short term. Grand plans were drawn up in 1791, but it was not until 1829 that work began on one of four intended forts; in the end Patarei was the only one to be completed (Treufeldt 2005). The main building was completed in 1837, with the rest of the complex operational by 1840.

It was a self-contained fortress housing over 2,000 people: there were officers’ apartments, soldiers’ barracks, an infirmary, bakery and kitchens as well as the various magazines and artillery emplacements. Officially called the ‘Defence Barracks’, locals came to call it the ‘Battery Barracks’ (Patarei kasarmud), eventually shortened to ‘Battery’ (Patarei). Problems arose almost immediately. Underlying springs caused damp, although ironically there was insufficient drinking water until a well was completed in 1847; steam and smoke from the ground-floor kitchens also damaged the ordnance (Treufeldt 2005). Consideration was given to abandoning the site altogether, but it proved to be a useful deterrent during the Crimean War. In 1854 and 1855 a joint Anglo-French naval operation attacked the Russian navy (and its forts and supply chain) in the Baltic; the Russian fortress at Suomenlinna (near Helsinki) came under heavy attack and the Russians were forced to retreat to land-based forts, of which Patarei was one of the most important (Greenhill and Giffard 1988). From 1864 Patarei became an ordinary barracks, and improvements were subsequently made to the accommodation. In 1869 the seaward gunports were converted to windows, improving ventilation. In 1892 the main semi-circular range (lunette) was raised to three storeys, and a Russian Orthodox church was established in one of the casemates. In 1899 a new bakery and kitchen range was built (Treufeldt 2005).

The later nineteenth century had seen a ‘national awakening’ in Estonia and other Baltic states, the pace of which increased after the first Russian revolution of 1905. Estonian autonomy was granted after the second Russian revolution in February 1917, but elections were thwarted by the third Russian revolution in October and the subsequent German occupation. The withdrawal of German troops in November 1918 was quickly followed by a Red Army invasion; Estonian troops eventually won the War of Independence, and in 1920 the Treaty of Tartu marked the beginning of the new Republic of Estonia. It was at this time that Patarei was turned into a prison (Kuusi 2008, 109). Extensions were built by the prisoners using limestone blocks and prison-made concrete and roof tiles; these comprised an eastern wing of 48 solitary cells in 1932, and a southern wing accommodating 500 inmates in 1934 (Treufeldt 2005).

Corridor on the third floor of the ‘lunette’ building. Doors give access to former artillery emplacements,
converted to barracks in the 1860s and then used as cells in the twentieth century. Photograph copyright Paul Belford..

Patarei’s most notorious period – and the one with which it is still most closely associated today – began with the first Soviet occupation of Estonia from June 1940. The prison came under the jurisdiction of the Soviet secret police, the NKVD (Hinrikus 2009, 520). Within months 8,000 people had been arrested and deported; a further mass deportation of ‘socially foreign elements’ began in March 1941, and it is estimated that around 100,000 people (nearly 10% of the population) were lost during this period (Rahi-Tamm 2005, 26-28). In June the German Army invaded, beginning a brutal occupation which quickly crushed any initial hopes of liberation. In 1944 the Red Army recaptured Estonia, and so began the second Soviet occupation, which lasted until 1991. There was considerable resistance, including the ‘forest brothers’ – a loose affiliation of up to 30,000 resistance fighters who remained active into the 1950s (Rahi-Tamm 2005, 31).

Patarei was one of two prisons in Tallinn that served in effect as clearing houses whilst prisoners were investigated before being sent to the Gulag. These investigations could last days, weeks or even months, but were extremely rapid in the early years of the occupation when the lack of accommodation in Estonia meant that it was preferable to send prisoners to Siberia as quickly as possible (Rebassoo 2008, 4). Interrogation mainly took place at the notorious Pagari Street in cramped, dark, filthy and poorly-ventilated cellars, with prisoners subsequently moved to Patarei. Hillar Tassar, a civil engineer, was in Patarei in 1948 and 1949, before being moved to Vorkuta to work in the mines: ‘The difference between Patarei and Pagari prisons was like day and night. In Patarei … the cell was a room with a vaulted ceiling in an old naval [fortress] with a window opening right on to the sea. In stormy weather the wind blew spray into the window’ (cited in Hinrikus 2009, 173).

1840s artillery emplacement subdivided in the 1860s, and then used as a cell –
containing 16 beds in 8 bunks, and typically housing 30 prisoners. Photograph copyright Paul Belford.

Nevertheless conditions were cramped. Cells with 16 bunk beds were often made to accommodate 30 people (Anon 2008, 2). Hilja Lill was in Patarei during the winter of 1945-1946: ‘…up to 25 people were crammed in a cell meant for seven. We slept like herring in a tin, heads against the wall, feet jumbled together. For food we were given 400 grams of bread a day, a teaspoon of sugar, fish-head soup’ (cited in Hinrikus 2009, 49). Another inmate, one of the ‘forest brothers’ recalled that in solitary confinement the daily ration was only 300g of bread and cold water (Hinrikus 2009, 136). Heljut Kapral, a musician in Patarei during 1945, remembered shaving using a piece of glass, and ‘we made needles from a piece of bone salvaged from our soup, also using a piece of glass … After the evening roll-call a regular feature of the daily schedule was mutual delousing’ (cited in Hinrikus 2009, 135).

Despite the conditions, prisoners in this early period had relative autonomy. They tended to be housed together with people from their own areas or groups, and were able to make use of the open yard for exercise (Anon 2008, 5). Kapral recalled how the majority of men in his cell ‘had a university education’ and put together a schedule of lectures and discussions: ‘my assignment was to familiarise my cellmates with the basic principles of making an atomic bomb, since I had just passed my examinations in physics and chemistry’ (cited in Hinrikus 2009, 134).

The death of Stalin saw a change in the climate of the relationship between Estonia and the USSR, with many deportees being allowed to return home. Policy adjusted from mass repression and deportation to more targeted approaches (Rahi-Tamm 2005, 32). For the inhabitants of Paterei the consequence was a hardening of the regime.

The formerly open courtyard, viewed through later twentieth-century guardhouse windows;
the yard below is enclosed and subdivided into small, closely-observed cells. Photograph copyright Paul Belford.

Whilst prisoners in the 1940s were able to say that interrogations there were ‘rather polite’ (Hilja Lill , cited in Hinrikus 2009, 49), or even ‘polite and reasonable’ (Heljut Kapral, cited in Hinrikus 2009, 134), it is clear that later questioning techniques involved psychological and sometimes also physical violence. It is possible that sexual violence was also deployed as an interrogation technique against women (Kurvet-Käosaar 2009, 76). Despite the installation of central heating and flushing toilets in the 1970s, this period also saw the formerly open courtyard partitioned into small cells, and freedom of movement curtailed (Anon 2008, 5).

Tallinn hosted the sailing events for the 1980 Moscow Olympics; the sea-facing windows of Patarei were clad with steel ribbing to prevent eye contact between prisoners and foreign sailors (Treufeldt 2005). Executions were frequent; by shooting and by hanging – the last execution took place in 1991 (Anon 2008, 4).

The hanging room. The trapdoor and stepladder (the hook in the ceiling is out of shot)
provide a grim reminder of the function of this room, last used in 1991.
Photograph copyright Paul Belford.

In 1988 the Estonian Sovereignty Declaration was issued, and the next few years saw a flurry of activity as a new ‘national awakening’ sought to revive the Republic of Estonia. On 20th August 1991 Estonia’s independence from Russia was ‘confirmed’ (the argument that this was a continuation of the 1919-1940 Republic was a powerful tool in avoiding Russian reprisal); and three years later the Russian army withdrew.

Patarei prison closed in 2002, although the infirmary remained open until 2005. This period saw considerable debate around a plan to use the building as the future home of the Estonian Academy of Arts – for some an ideal solution, but an expensive one which was politically contentious (Treufeldt 2005). Instead, in September 2005, the complex was opened as a temporary museum by the Museums of Virumaa; however it almost immediately closed after safety concerns, and although re-opened in early 2006 the Museums of Virumaa withdrew from the project in July (Kuusi 2008, 109-110). The site has subsequently been operated under a public-private partnership as a ‘Culture Park’.

Under the ‘Culture Park’ regime the site has been used for music and arts events, with the main building complex largely left untouched. Initially tourists were offered a variety of lurid ‘prison experiences’, but more recently this has been toned down; there is an optional guided tour, but most visitors pay a simple €2 and undertake a self-guided ‘urban exploration’. There is no formal interpretation or guidebook, little in the way of signage, and an almost total absence of any health and safety. In many ways this is a refreshing approach, and results in a haunting and ultimately moving visitor experience. However the emphasis is very much on the ‘Soviet prison’ aspects of the history of the site, with former roles as barracks and fortress very much downplayed.

The long-term future of Patarei remains in the balance. At the moment it offers a unique ‘dark tourism’ experience, providing a brooding and haunting symbol of Soviet occupation and repression which in a way echoes the role of Auschwitz-Birkenau in relation to the Nazi regime. Clearly it cannot remain abandoned and unmaintained forever – it will either fall down, or become unviable as a tourist destination – even if for the very niche ‘dark tourism’ market which it currently attracts.

However development of the site needs to proceed with caution. The authorities are keen to upgrade the area (they have recently built an excellent new maritime museum next door), and are actively trying to sell the site. It failed to attract a buyer earlier this year, and has been withdrawn from the market whilst interest is sought from the public sector (Ilves 2012). Various suggestions for future uses have been put forward, including any or all of a communist crimes museum, an Estonian War Museum, police, security police and firefighting museums; the Defence Minister has also recently suggested that the complex could ‘also include catering services and a creative incubator … it will open up the sea to the city, clean up the urban space and improve the seaside city's image’ (Ilves 2012). However buildings archaeologists should be concerned; already significant elements of the post-1940 complex have been demolished without record to enhance the site’s perceived value to future developers (Roman 2011).

At the moment Patarei remains a unique and largely unexplored document which encapsulates much of the last 200 years of Estonian history. It is a delicate and remarkable testament to some very painful aspects of recent history. It would be a shame to see it lose that patina altogether, but it is also crying out for sensitive and nuanced conservation.

This is a mildly edited version of a short article originally published as: Belford, P. 2013, 'Patarei Prison, Tallinn: problematic built heritage and dark tourism', Institute for Archaeologists Buildings Archaeology Group Newsletter, 35, 49-54.


Anon. 2008, Patarei, Tourist Brochure, Tallinn: Sihtasutus Mänguväljaku Fond.

Greenhill, B. and Giffard, A. 1988, The British Assault on Finland 1854-55: A Forgotten Naval War, London: Conway Maritime Press.

Hinrikus, R. (ed.) 2009, Estonian Life Stories (trans. Kirss, T.), Budapest: Central European University Press.

Ilves, R. 2012, ‘Ministry Envisions Communist Crimes Museum for Patarei Prison’, Estonian Public Broadcasting website:

Kurvet-Käosaar, L. 2009, ‘The Traumatic Impact of the Penal Frameworks of the Soviet Regime: Pathways of Female Remembering’, in Clancy, M. and Pető, A. (eds.), Teaching Empires. Gender and Transnational Citizenship in Europe, Utrecht: Advanced Thematic Network in Women’s Studies in Europe / University of Utrecht, 69-80.

Kuusi, H. 2008, ‘Prison Experiences and Socialist Sculptures – Tourism and the Soviet Past in the Baltic States’, in Kostiainen, A. and Syrjämaa, T. (eds.) Touring the Past. Uses of History in Tourism, Savonlinna: Finnish University Network for Tourism Studies, 105-122.

Rahi-Tamm, A. 2005, ‘Human losses’, in Salo, V., Ennuste, Ü., Parmasto, E., Tarvel, E. and Varju, P. (eds.), The White Book: Losses inflicted on the Estonian nation by Occupation Regimes 1940-1991, Tallinn: Estonian State Commission on Examination of the Policies of Repression, 25-46.

Rebassoo, P. 2008, Long-term consequences of political imprisonment and torture on former political prisoners in Estonia, MSc. Dissertation, Der Universität Konstanz.

Roman, S. 2011, ‘Patarei Prison Tears Down its Soviet-Era Walls’, Estonian Public Broadcasting website:

Treufeldt, E. 2005, ‘Tallinn Patarei Barracks’, Estonian Art, 2/05 (17).

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The ruin

'The ruin' is an early-seventeenth century former house in the Severn valley, about three miles downriver from Coalport. It forms part of the Apley Estate and has been in use for many years as a shed for livestock. Over the last year it has from time to time formed part of a Saturday morning cycle route, and Facebook friends have been entertained - if that is the right word - with occasional pictures of it at different times of the year. I am now moving away from the area, so, for the record, here is the full set of photographs showing 'the ruin' through the seasons.

20th April 2013

30th May 2013

30th June 2013

25th July 2013

5th October 2013

27th October 2013

15th February 2014
The Facebook posts have generated quite a bit of discussion about the origins and future of 'the ruin'. Some favour a late-sixteenth century date on stylistic grounds, but I think the use of brick here is unusual before the early seventeenth century; moreover Shropshire is somewhat behind the curve of building fashion. The building is not listed (although arguably it should be); as long as it retains its agricultural function it doesn't seem to be under any particular threat. It has lost a few tiles during the course of the year but hasn't significantly deteriorated as far as I can tell from the roadside, which is quite impressive given the stormy weather in the autumn and through the winter.
Providing the estate keeps the roof on, the main threat in the longer term would appear to be subsidence - from which, as is evident, the building has already suffered. The southern (left-hand) end of the building is rotating away from the rest of the structure, although so far the massive separate chimney stack seems to be stopping this movement to some extent. The two sturdy buttresses appear to be of mid-nineteenth century date, and have clearly worked in keeping the front wall upright; however soil wash down the slope has partly buried the ground floor.
Of course as soon as a significant part of the roof is lost, or further subsidence provokes collapse of one or more elements of the structure, then deterioration will accelerate rapidly.
I shall miss 'the ruin', and indeed cycling around the Ironbridge Gorge generally. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Integrating buildings archaeology and excavation

Last week, amidst the flurry of funding applications and heritage consultations, I found time to join some of the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust team on one of our current projects near Llangynog. The site is located in a tributary of the Pennant Valley, itself a tributary of the beautiful Tannat Valley - one of the wonders of northern Powys.

This project is a very interesting one. This was once a fabulous post-medieval house, at the centre of an early 'landscape of improvement'. This is a long-term project concerned with the conservation of the  building, and the longer-term management of its environs (parts of which are scheduled). Our role is to excavate within and outside the house, and to record the fabric. Last week's work involved removing the rubble which filled the interior of the building.

In the process the team discovered the remains of a bread oven in one of the fireplaces. The original cobbled floor surface also survives in part of the building, and we are beginning to get an understanding of the sequence and nature of construction. In the next two weeks we shall be undertaking further recording work on the fabric, and excavating within and around the building to see what - if anything - was here before.

The current work follows an earlier phase late last year in which we recorded the extant fabric prior to its temporary consolidation. This was necessary to make the interior of the building safe for us to work in. As well as our own topographic and building survey, we enlisted the help of Aerial-Cam to provide some first-class rectified photography and 3D imaging - thanks Adam!

It is nice to be able to integrate above- and below-ground archaeology in this way. This doesn't always happen as coherently as it might do, partly as a result of the way the 'historic environment' professions are structured. This is the latest of several similar projects which CPAT have undertaken in recent years, and offers an exciting opportunity to further develop our integrated archaeological approach to buildings.

More news as work progresses!

Friday, February 14, 2014

What future for local government archaeological services?

Another week, another consultation! Today is the last day of a consultation on the future of local government archaeological services in England, part of a review of such services being undertaken by Lord Redesdale and John Howell MP on behalf of the UK Minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries (Ed Vaisey MP).

Photograph copyright Paul Belford.

Although the photograph above was taken in Wales, at the offices of the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust, it represents a fairly typical example of the sorts of things that local government archaeological services undertake across the UK.

On the left we have the Historic Environment Record Officer for the Clwyd-Powys region (Jeff Spencer). His role includes (but is not limited to): maintaining the Historic Environment Record (HER - a database of all archaeological sites and events in the region); assisting colleagues with planning enquiries from developers; co-ordinating with other HER Officers (both in Wales and elsewhere in the UK) in developing and managing datasets, records and public access; dealing with random enquiries from members of the public; delivering outreach and education; contributing to research projects; making site visits and assessing the significance of archaeological remains; and acting on behalf of the Portable Antiquities Scheme working with metal-detectorists and others with chance finds. In this photograph he is simultaneously doing two of these things by using an assemblage brought in by a local metal-detectorist as a mechanism for training an undergraduate placement.

The review - and associated consultation - is of course about England, where local government archaeological services have been somewhat under pressure in recent years. Although archaeology was made part of the planning process over 20 years ago, successive governments have failed to make the maintenance of HERs a statutory requirement of local authorities. Generally 'heritage' has been placed with 'arts and culture' in local authority structures; and so when real cuts in spending have to be made, such services can be very vulnerable. This has always been the case, regardless of the colour of political administrations nationally or locally.

The review considers the following themes:
  1. Improving the sustainability of development control (planning) and record-keeping (HER) services.
  2. The role of third-sector organisations in potentially delivering such services in the future.
  3. The role of the future 'new model English Heritage' (about which I posted a few days ago) in co-ordinating and delivering such services, and the rigorousness or otherwise of sector-produced guidance.
Under these themes it asks a number of questions about the relevance, professionalism and sustainability of local government archaeological services in England, and asks consultees to provide examples of successes and failures from around the UK and indeed elsewhere.

My own recent experience suggests that the Welsh model may provide a way forward here.

In Wales, archaeological curatorial, planning and development control functions are maintained on behalf of local authorities (including the three National Parks) by the four Welsh Archaeological Trusts. This system ensures a consistent approach to planning and development control within each of the four Welsh regions and across Wales as a whole. The four Trusts maintain close formal and informal links with each other and with agencies of Welsh government (such as Cadw and NRW), and co-operate closely to maintain HER Wales and the public online access system, Archwilio. Funding for the Welsh curatorial services comes in part from Welsh Government (via grant aid from Cadw and the Royal Commission for the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales) and partly from local authorities.

By effectively pooling local resources regionally, local authorities in Wales have access to a much higher level of expertise and experience than they could provide individually - as a result the Welsh Archaeological Trusts provide significantly higher value for the public funds invested in them individual local authorities might be able to do.

In short, the Welsh system has much to recommend it. A regional system, with support from central government (aka 'new model English Heritage'), could be a possible template for the future for local government archaeological services in England.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

At last... a Chartered Institute for Archaeologists!

Today the IfA (Institute for Archaeologists) announced that it will become incorporated by Royal Charter. This is a tremendous achievement following many years of hard work by the staff and Council of the IfA. Congratulations to everyone involved!

An archaeological pint in Radnorshire. Photograph copyright Paul Belford.

The precise future timetable remains unknown, but archaeology is certainly now on the road to achieving better recognition as a profession - and this will potentially provide better outcomes for heritage generally as well as for individuals employed in the sector.

This moment represents a significant milestone on a very long haul from the origins of the IfA in the early 1980s. The creation and maintenance of rigorous professional standards - both for individuals and organisations - has been an essential component of that. The IfA is certainly more of a professional institute than ever before, but as Chartership comes upon us we need to finally confront one or two bad habits.

There is a tendency amongst some (both inside and outside the IfA) to consider it as a trade union. Now is the time to stop getting bogged down in endless and ultimately pointless debates about pay minima for individuals, and focus instead on increasing the wider benefits to the profession as a whole. One of those wider benefits is the Registered Organisation scheme, which theoretically ensures consistent approaches between different archaeological organisations. However there is a perception in places that the monitoring and maintenance of standards has not been all it could be - and we need to ensure that this is sustained so that the profession retains credibility.

By 'we' I mean all of us in the profession. The RO scheme only works because people give up their time to carry out inspections; the progress made by Council and the various committees is only possible because individuals commit their own time (and sometimes a lot of that time) to making sure things happen.

The only way to make Chartership work is for all archaeologists to become more closely involved with the IfA. More information about Chartership can be found on the IfA's website.


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