The Voice of Commercial Archaeology


Archaeological archives are frequently being held in temporary storage because too few museums or local authority stores have space, curators or requirement to accept them. FAME are working with our partners across the heritage sector to help solve the problem.

FAME undertook an extensive survey in 2012 of the problem for long-term storage of archives, and found there were 9000 homeless archives that had not been accepted by a museum or other repository. The artefacts, analysis and records undertaken in order to comply with a condition of planning permission, are frequently being held in temporary storage indefinitely by commercial archaeological organizations because too few museums or local authority stores have space, curators or requirement to accept these archaeological archives. Since 2012 the problem has become worse resulting in the potential value of archaeological archives being denied to the nation. Although Scotland and Wales consider that a national store is the solution, in England and Northern Ireland there is no such strategic option available.

FAME believes that:

  • Archaeological archives provide a sustainable legacy consisting of the primary record from archaeological investigation: and
  • Archaeological archives are of considerable public benefit as an educational resource and as a means to help in understanding our cultural heritage. The responsibility and legal obligations for archaeological archives FAME believes that:
  • The majority of archaeological investigation is commissioned and undertaken as part of the planning process;
  • Requirements for archive deposition, including transfer of legal ownership, should be made an explicit and transparent condition of planning permission, enforced by the planning authority on the applicant;
  • Standard wording for archaeological conditions should include a specific statement on archives, e.g. Confirmation by the owner of the finds from the investigation that they will transfer title of the finds to a suitable repository, or alternatively that they wish to retain title to the finds;
  • There is a fundamental flaw in the planning process as there is no legal requirement for museums or other repositories to accept archaeological archives, and it is therefore the responsibility of the planning authority’s archaeological advisor to ensure that what is included within their brief, is reasonable and deliverable by the applicant;
  • It is an ethical and professional duty for all archaeologists to ensure an appropriately prepared archive, compliant with national standards, has been generated as output from any investigation;
  • Archaeological archives can no longer be stored by the organizations that have excavated them once studies have been completed, because they are not the legal owners, and do not have facilities for long-term curation and display;
  • Commercial archaeologists risk potential liability from the owners if the artefacts are damaged or lost; and
  • To ensure public benefit is achieved as intended within planning policy, national agencies and government departments responsible for heritage within the constituent countries of the UK need to resolve the current situation, and to ensure for the future a specific requirement for museums and appropriate repositories to take these archives for an appropriate fee from the applicants

FAME are working with our partners across the heritage sector to help solve the archives problem.

  • With Historic England we are looking for long term solutions to archive capacity;
  • With the Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers we are discussing how to ensure archive issues are dealt with up-front during pre-planning application discussions, and how conditions can be better drafted to ensure deposition occurs;
  • With the Society for Museum Archaeologists we are investigating how transfer of title can be simplified.

Submit new snag  |  See all snags