Thursday, April 8, 2010

Commercial Archaeology in Britain

Interesting article in Nature News on the lack of fit between academic and contract archaeology in Britain. In Britain, laws requiring that archaeology be done in advance of construction have led to a flood of discoveries. Academics, however, are not used to incorporating this information into their work, and they have complaints about how the results of contract work are published. We have similar issues in the US. It is true that the reports produced by commercial archaeology firms are sometimes lousy and often hard to find. On the other hand I might point out that commercial firms are required by their contracts to produce reports in a timely fashion, something academics are notorious for failing to do -- I can think of several major academic excavations done in the US over the past 30 years for which no report has yet been produced, and even a shoddy report is better than none at all.

The future is obviously in putting this data online, as the Nature piece indicates. My biggest clients have been moving in this direction for years. One problem is that it can be dangerous to publish the results of archaeological research on sites that still exist, because pot hunters then go loot them. But this is not an issue for sites that have already been destroyed by new highways or shopping malls, and within a few years I believe it will be routine for all such reports to be put online.

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