No room for archaeology archive in 27% of museums - Museums Association

No room for archaeology archive in 27% of museums

Survey also reveals that 70% lack a specialist archaeology curator
Patrick Steel
A survey by the Society of Museum Archaeologists (SMA) has exposed a lack of storage space and curatorial expertise in English museums dealing with archaeological archives.

The survey of 134 museums found that 36 could not accept archaeological archives because of lack of space.

It also revealed that museums in 47 local authorities were no longer collecting, while 70% of museums had no specialist archaeology curator.

SMA chairwoman Gail Boyle said: “Many of the museums that responded are local authority museums that have no statutory funding, so they are often targeted [for cuts]. It has become prevalent over time and is getting worse.

“Archaeological field units are having to store their work, as there is nowhere for them to deposit it.

“The underlying problem is the lack of space and funding to administer space. The bottom line is that if there was enough money, we could solve the problem quickly.”

Adrian Tindall, chief executive of the Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers, said he thought the numbers in the survey were conservative.

“Since planning guidance changed in 1990, there has been such a huge increase in the volume of archives that museums can’t handle any more, due to a lack of space and staff,” he said.

“It is placing a strain on archaeological operations, which have a professional and ethical obligation to retain archives. The temptation is to dispose – and we are trying to avoid a situation where it comes to that.”

Tindall added that the federation would like a more rigorous disposal policy, with disposal as the default option unless there were good reasons for retaining material, alongside funding for more storage space around the country.

A spokeswoman for English Heritage said: “There is an issue around storing archaeological archives and our national heritage protection plan has highlighted that an integrated approach is needed to address this.”

The issues raised in the survey are to be the focus of the Archaeological Archives Forum in Birmingham on 7 March, which is open to anyone working within archaeology.

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