Stuck in a silo mentality, archaeologists in the UK are divided and ruled, competing for minimal opportunities, with each other, within contractor organisations and universities, and between them all. Roman archaeologists are no exception, and Romano-British archaeology is the focus of this ‘manifesto’-style collection of papers. It is the hope of the authors that, by starting discussion of systemic issues in the praxis of Roman archaeology, other branches of the wider archaeological discipline will recognise communal issues and take steps towards ‘redemption’.
In the developer-funded context, it is very easy to be or to become alienated from the reasons we wanted to do Romano-British archaeology in the first place. Many of us don’t really reflect on this and are happy with the lot we have carved out, happy to work day-to-day resolving all the little problems of understanding stratigraphy and archive, seriation and local comparanda. Others have all but ‘gone native’ into the construction industry, either resigned or happy to compete and risk the finite historic environment for the sake of crumbs of funding still seen as a threat to profit margins. In the academic arena, early career researchers must focus their efforts, and tailor their interests and outputs in terms of competition for few jobs. In the meantime, the popular view of ‘Roman Britain’ feeds, often erroneously and sensationally, off of decontextualized scraps, and the promotion of Roman Archaeology as an attractive university subject, or as an inclusive activity based on shared interests in the past, is undervalued: at our peril. Even the lauded but nebulous ‘post-processual’ premise, while opening new and diverse narratives and deconstructing the previous establishment of the subject as an unproblematic, normative pseudo-science, has encouraged further division and fragmentation in terms of subject matter, so that idiographic cultural and historical examples are the norm, while development of nomothetic theory is either unconscious, pigeon-holed or frowned upon. What is the role of TRAC in alleviating these problems for archaeology in Roman Britain and beyond?
Divisions Between Commercial and Academic Archaeology
By Francesca Mazzilli
Roman Britain presents a uniquely rich dataset (James 2003: 179, 182), which has been achieved thanks to intensive work undertaken by academic and commercial archaeologists especially since the 1990s. The output of academic and commercial archaeologists manifests itself on different fronts, because of the clear division between the two — as this section of the manifesto will outline.
Some Roman archaeologists (James 2003: 183; Gardner 2004: 7) have recently felt compelled to state the necessity for cooperation between professionals — from these two spheres and also from other categories, such as finds and museum professionals. This type of collaboration benefits everyone’s personal enrichment and provides a deeper understanding of the Roman period as whole. Despite James’ and Gardner’s suggestions, only a few projects have derived from the collaboration and interaction between commercial and academic archaeology. They will be discussed in this section as they are valuable examples of new directions for the future of Roman archaeology in Britain.
Commercial archaeology has been the main engine of investment in the excavation, recording and publication of sites in Britain from late Iron Age and Roman period. This is especially the case for rural settlements (Fulford and Brindle 2016: 1 ff.; Fulford and Holbrook 2018: 215) but also for major urban sites such as Roman London. A great many projects have been undertaken in the capital; for instance, the recent Mithraeum project (London Mithraeum 2019) by Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA). This huge dataset of late Iron Age and Roman Britain has been possible thanks to systematic records of archaeological heritage started in the mid-1970s with Site Monuments Records (SMRs) — now Historic Environment Records (HERs) — and carried on in 1990 with the introduction of PPG 16 (Planning Policy Guidance 16), which formalised the requirements of the planning process. This change in policy was triggered by the need for formally managing the destruction of the archaeological heritage in Britain due to the intensification of building development and mineral exploitation (Fulford and Brindle 2016: 1; Fulford and Holbrook 2018: 220).
Thanks to the introduction of PPG 16 commercial archaeology was no longer a hurried rescue, because archaeology relied on state funding, but a new formalised system was established with prescriptive requirements, which are still currently in use. The developers became obliged to finance archaeological investigation undertaken by commercial archaeologists, providing a secure financial income for the project. At the same time, a third party (a curatorial archaeologist employed by a local authority) maintained the standards of the investigation on behalf of the local planning authority (Fulford and Brindle 2016: 3; Fulford and Holbrook 2018: 221). The curatorial archaeologist supervised each step of the investigation, such as setting a clear brief for proposed investigations, including the excavation sampling strategy, which was stipulated prior to the fieldwork and the developers could not reject (such as 50% of pits and post holes and 10% of ditch fill) (Baugher et al. 2017: 17, 28; Fulford and Holbrook 2018: 220). The curatorial archaeologist also helped and guided the possibility of changing the focus and strategy of the investigation, taking into consideration new findings during the excavation, and liaised over changes with the commercial archaeologist and the developer (Fulford and Holbrook 2018: 220–221). This planning policy guaranteed the quality of excavation and the rise of the quantity of reported investigations which in turn led to the publication of at least the 60% of the developer-funded work in the countryside of Roman Britain (Fulford and Brindle 2016: 3).
However, there are still drawbacks in the commercial sector. The approaches and methods of planning policy may vary from one area to another, depending on the nature of the local archaeology, of the regional economy, of local traditions and also of the personalities of local authorities or curatorial archaeologists (Fulford and Holbrook 2018: 220). Furthermore, we cannot ignore that commercial archaeology is a development-led investigation: the client finances it only in order to satisfy planning obligations (Fulford and Holbrook 2018: 220). The client is the one who decides which archaeological contractors to employ through competitive tendering. Throughout this process the huge quantity of archaeology, material cultures and ecofacts in an extensive area of investigation, peer pressure and professional esteem are not adequately taken in consideration (Fulford and Brindle 2016: 1; Fulford and Holbrook 2018: 220–221). Consequently, budgets and resources in commercial archaeology are limited, and undercut by archaeological contractors in order to win the tendering process. As a result, the quality of the investigation and of the research can be compromised (Everill 2012; Fulford and Holbrook 2018: 220). In such a competitive, cost-cutting process hardly any room is left for the application of expensive advanced techniques or methodological experimentations (Fulford and Holbrook 2018: 220), leaving the methods used in commercial archaeology to develop organically from praxis (Fulford and Holbrook 2018: 215). Therefore, commercial methods as well as their reports are not always standardised and consistent across geographical areas, companies and sites. This makes it difficult to compare results between different archaeological investigations (Fulford and Brindle 2016: 3, 9, 11, 13, 14).
Any archaeological investigations in the commercial sector should terminate with a post-excavation assessment report and, then, a published report. They both need to comply with the Standard and Guidance set by the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA). The level of detail in the former is subject to the quantity and complexity of data but, according to CifA, a post-excavation assessment report should overall normally include:
- an introduction (where the scope of the project, circumstances and dates of fieldwork, previous work, and the organisation of the report are outlined);
- original research aims;
- a summary of the documented history of the site, of the site archive, of work carried out for assessment and of the material (e.g. quantity and variety of environmental material and material culture and preservation of the latter);
- potential of the data;
- a summary of the potential of the data in the wider context in order to state their local, regional, national and international importance.
The final report should normally cover sufficient data (including the results of specialist analysis with the site sequence) and references to the project archive for interpretations. Publicising the results of the project should be considered, but it is not a requirement, and it can be through a range of outlets: publications, school visits, radio or television programmes, for instance (Chartered Institute for Archaeologists 2014a: 12–15).
Moving from the commercial to the academic field, the last 30 years of academic contributions have provided a significant overview and narrative of Roman Britain as whole, focusing on big research questions (e.g. economy, identity, administration) major settlements and their typologies (e.g. cities, towns, military sites, villas) and integration of archaeological data within different theoretical frameworks. Roman archaeologists only started engaging with theoretical discourse in the 1990s, a couple of decades later than prehistorians (Gardner 2004: 6–7). Some of the pioneering works are My Roman Britain by Richard Reece in 1988 and The Romanization of Britain by Martin Millett in 1990. Reece’s and Millett’s works were followed by many new theoretical strands (James 2003: 180; Gardner 2004: 6–7) which in turn led to the deconstruction and introspection of Roman historiography, as well as to new models of the Roman past (Webster and Cooper 1996; Mattingly 1997; Hingley 2000; Webster 2001; James 2002). Since 1991, the Theoretical Roman Archaeological Conference (TRAC) has been pioneering such introspection, and still represents a great forum for discussion for Roman archaeological theory (Gardner 2004: 6–7).
When looking at research excavations directed by academics, they are often investigations of major civilian or military settlements, such as the Roman town at Silchester (Silchester Archaeology) and the Roman legionary fortress Isca at Caerleon (Isca). The Romano-British countryside, including non-villa settlements, has only been the subject of recent interest to few scholars. In A Companion to Roman Britain (Todd 2004) one chapter describes the rural settlements in Roman Britain in the north, another the south. David Mattingly (2006) dedicates 4 chapters of his book An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire to villas and elite society in the countryside of Roman Britain. The first systematic work about Romano-British rural landscape since Hingley’s 1989 book was undertaken by Jeremy Taylor in 2007, in which he takes into account the large datasets from excavation, intensive aerial photography and ground survey of all rural settlements in Roman Britain recorded in SMRs across England (Fulford and Brindle 2016: 7). Research investigations such as the ones listed above are possible thanks to, and indirectly defined by, various national and European research funding bodies, including AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council), British Academy, the Leverhulme Trust, Marie Skłodowska-Curie, and university and college funding bodies. In the funding application the candidate has to plan realistic deadlines for the completion of the project, which helps in succeeding with the funding. It is also possible to apply for further grants for the development of the same project even though such grants are extremely competitive. For instance, it is reported in the Frequently Asked Questions document provided online for the British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship Outline Stage in 2017 that the success rate of the fellowship is under 10% and little more than 5% (British Academy 2017). This situation is also discussed in another section of this manifesto, which explores challenges facing early career academics. Furthermore, Brexit has created further obstacles: researchers may not be able to apply for European funding and to undertake multinational projects across European universities. Research in academia requires working long evenings and weekends to meet multiple deadlines; this often leads to serious mental health issues (see Lacey Wallace’s section, below). The quantity of materials from research projects vary from case to case. A lot of research excavations are dug by students and a few experts only from a few weeks to a couple of months per year, implying a smaller quantity of materials than those provided by months and months of everyday excavation undertaken by commercial archaeologists. However, some research projects have been running for over a decade, like that at Silchester (Silchester Archaeology).
As archaeologists have started acknowledging the huge dataset provided by Romano-British archaeology, and the need for commercial and academic section to cooperate to deal with the data, a few collaborations have developed, where experts from the two worlds worked together, and there have been initiatives to bridge the two worlds.
One of the major joint research projects has been The Rural Settlement of Roman Britain, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, the Universities of Reading and York (Archaeological Data Service, ADS), Historic England and Cotswold Archaeology. The project started with a pilot in 2012; work was undertaken by Cotswold Archaeology and funded by Historic England. It now comprises 36000 records of rural sites excavated up to 2015 (c. 25000 rural settlements) obtained from over 5000 published and grey literature reports (Fulford and Brindle 2016: 4). These are situated in Wales and in England roughly south of Hadrian’s Wall.
In this project, sites from the first century BC and early first century AD, and sites from the fifth century and beyond but with Roman occupation have been included alongside those of the ‘core’ Roman period, and all broken down into a detailed series of site classes. Roman military sites were generally excluded from this investigation unless rural sites also had a military phase during their occupation in Roman period (Fulford and Brindle 2016: 8–15). The project’s research questions span from understanding society and economy to exploring the population of the countryside of late Iron Age and Roman Britain. The project produced a freely available online source (Allen et al. 2018), and three monographs published by the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies. The monographs discuss the rural settlement, economy, people and ritual in Roman England and Wales, and include the complete settlement evidence, their material culture, and faunal, environmental and burial data (Smith et al. 2016; 2018; Allen et al. 2017).
Wallace’s book (2015) on London in Roman times is the result of another example of collaboration between the two worlds on a smaller scale; she collected a large number of data recorded by commercial units during her PhD in combination with grey literature. Additionally, Chris Evans (et al. 2013), together with other archaeologists from the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, offered an interesting insight into the Romano-British landscape of Colne Fen with the analysis of two complex settlements excavated over 10 years (Fulford and Holbrook 2018: 220). They used spatial plotting of artefacts and ecofacts across the excavated areas in order to interpret the uses of enclosures and sub-enclosures. It is a fruitful but time-consuming analytical approach, rarely used in the commercial sector. It is also uncommon to have a comprehensive synthesis and understanding of a Romano-British landscape excavated for a decade by commercial archaeologists (Fulford and Holbrook 2018: 223).
Another long term and extensive commercial project was Terminal 5 at Heathrow; it was a multi-phase landscape, including Iron Age and Roman occupation. It covered 75 hectares investigated between 1996 and 2007. Because of the extent of the project an iterative research-driven approach was essential; the project’s research questions and the emphasis on creating historical narratives directed the areas to focus on during the excavation (Andrews et al. 2000; Framework Archaeology 2006; 2010).
In the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge, the 10-week Field Archaeologist in Residence scheme helps archaeologists working in the commercial sector to develop their project which could not have not happened otherwise. It promotes strong links between academic and commercial archaeology (Field Archaeologist). According to CIfA, professionals working in the commercial sector are expected to carry out a Personal Development Plan (PDP) and a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for their own career development. This means that some funding can be allocated for training or conferences that professionals can attend (Wooldridge 2017). It does not, however, cover the several conferences and training courses that early career researchers have the opportunity to participate in.
From the examples outlined above emerges a new perception of Romano-British archaeology through new successful approaches where the commercial sector and academia are less separate entities. Collaborations between the two and their interconnections seem a fruitful method to take advantage of the huge Romano-British datasets that archaeologists have in this part of the Roman Empire. However, collaborations between academia and commercial sector are still unusual in Roman archaeology. The few examples pointed out above may be forerunners for the future of Roman archaeology in Britain, despite the never-ending differences between commercial and academic archaeology.
The Role of ‘Non-Experts’ and Volunteers in Furthering Archaeological Agendas: The Case of Hadrian’s Wall
By Marta Alberti
The relationship between academic archaeological research, conducted under the patronage of universities and institutions, and research conducted in a commercial environment, is one of the recurrent topics in this multi-vocal paper. Both types of research aim to fulfil research questions set out in regional, national and subject specific research frameworks (e.g. James and Millett 2001), but obtain results through different means, with the participation of different individuals. Academic research is associated with the figure of the ‘expert’ scholar, directing field schools or excavation projects, while commercial research is associated to the figure of ‘expert’ excavators and interpreters of archaeological evidence, who provide the developer with an understanding of the archaeological data collected from a site. Yet both academic research and commercial research share conflicting attitudes towards a third type of research: that conducted or facilitated through ‘non-expert’ participation or ‘volunteer engagement’.
In the following paragraphs the figure of the ‘non-expert’ participant in archaeological research is discussed, with the aim of opening a much-needed debate on the contribution that ‘non-experts’ could make to the Romano-British archaeological agenda. In particular, three examples of ‘non-expert’ participation in Hadrian’s Wall archaeological heritage are briefly outlined to argue for the need for further research on the subject.
Research facilitated by or conducted with ‘non-expert’ participants often enjoys limited popularity in both academic and commercial environments because of the way in which communities of trained archaeologists and heritage professionals understand archaeological heritage. Smith’s concept of authorised heritage discourse (AHD) is useful to understand the widely accepted stewardship of the past bestowed upon historians and archaeologists. AHD is defined by Smith and Waterton as “a dominant way of thinking about, writing and talking about and defining heritage” (Smith and Waterton 2012: 156), which has long pervaded definitions of heritage in international charters. According to AHD, heritage is non-renewable, inherently good and predominantly tangible. While experts have the training to ensure its survival, care and interpretation, ‘non-experts’ are relegated to the role of audience passively absorbing knowledge.
Since Smith’s (2006) ground-breaking codification of AHD, the field of heritage management has been involved in conversations about expertise and public participation. However, it is mostly in recent times that such conversations have come to include archaeological heritage. Numerous studies now exist in the discipline of ‘public’ and ‘community’ archaeology (Marshall 2002; Thomas 2010; Moshenska and Dhanjal 2012; Thomas and Lea 2014; Moshenska 2017, to cite only few) yet an agreed definition of ‘public archaeology’ has been somehow elusive. Defining public archaeology is beyond the scope of this brief intervention, but it is important to note how research on the subject seems to have so far focused on ‘non-experts’ taking part in grassroots, ‘bottom-up’ actions, such as those started by local archaeological societies. While ‘archaeology from below’ (Faulkner 2000) has been offered as a potential solution to the ‘experts’ versus ‘non-experts’ dichotomy, little research has been conducted to investigate ‘non-expert’ participation in archaeological heritage when institutions managing and excavating archaeological sites are involved. This is perhaps because such research could potentially expose exploitative practices, in which ‘non-expert’ engagement is pursued as a way to secure public funding, with no real benefit for the ‘non-expert’ participants.
Fredheim (2018) is amongst the critics of indiscriminate institutional ‘volunteerism’: he argues, in synthesis, that the adoption of neoliberal approaches such as crowdsourcing to further archaeological agendas does not democratise, but reinforces the existing power structures, at the same time de-valuing the work of professional archaeologists and exploiting volunteers. This is unless ‘expert’ archaeologists let go of the need to protect all heritage indiscriminately, thus also letting go of the need to ‘extract value’ from volunteers’ work.
As far as the commercial environment is concerned, the Chartered Institute for archaeologists also expresses a clear position on volunteer participation. The CIfA policy statement asserts that, while the Institute wants to encourage as many people as possible to participate in and engage with archaeology, “employers will not use volunteers and students in place of employed staff when funding is agreed for the latter, as this would be tantamount to exploitation” (Chartered Institute for Archaeologists 2014b: 6).
The limited extent of research on ‘non-expert’ and volunteer participation in institutional contexts is particularly surprising when a field such as Romano-British archaeology, which has long fascinated the public, is considered. Since the antiquarian days of the subject, Romano-British archaeology has relied on the participation and support of ‘non-experts’: from labourers, paid to dig in antiquarian excavations, to audiences of Roman-themed TV productions, to volunteers, offering their time and skills to Romano-British sites. Despite being poorly researched, ‘non- expert’ participation in archaeological research under the guidance of expert Romano-British archaeologists is a phenomenon on the rise, with examples available across a spectrum of business models. Three such examples from Hadrian’s Wall are discussed below.
The first example is from commercial archaeology. In summer 2018, Wardell Armstrong completed a community and volunteer-based excavation of a potential Roman bathhouse on the site of Carlisle Cricket Club. The excavations, which stemmed from the promising results of the normal archaeological evaluation process, involved 140 volunteers in groups of 20 to 25 per day, for eight weeks, and were carried out under the supervision of at least four Wardell Armstrong professional archaeologists per day. The findings are in the process of being reported on (Frank Giecco pers. comm.).
The second example comes from further east, along the Stanegate frontier. Here the work of the Vindolanda Trust has long been reliant on a carefully structured plan of public and volunteer participation. A long-standing program of excavations is financed primarily through sustainable tourism (Birley 2013: 140) and more than 400 volunteer positions are offered each year, both on a crowdfunding and on a free-of-charge basis, with activities ranging from excavation to post-excavation, guiding and collection maintenance.
Finally, from the world of academic-led research projects, in 2018 Newcastle University was awarded a grant of £1.17 m for WallCap, a community archaeology project aiming to “engage and empower local communities in the heritage of the Wall, locally and across the World Heritage Site” (Wallcap 2018). During the course of the project, which is set to conclude in 2021, volunteers will have had a chance to take part in geophysical surveys, building survey and excavations, learning skills whose practice is traditionally reserved to expert archaeologists.
In all three examples, ‘non-expert’ participation in the projects helped, is helping or will help to achieve institutional aims and objectives, as well as to answer research questions set by experts. ‘Non-experts,’ which some may feel are being exploited, flocked to participate to all three projects, with spaces on the Vindolanda excavations often sold out a few days from release (Andrew Birley pers. comm.).
Some may argue that replacing expert professionals with an unpaid and untrained workforce in commercial contexts can sometimes be exposed as a cost-cutting manoeuvre. However, volunteers who offer their services to institutions such as museums and archaeological sites have been described by Orr (2006) as the ultimate repeat visitors. If volunteers at archaeological sites and museums are to be considered the ultimate form of frequent visitors, the relationship of subordination between expert and visitor discussed by Smith (2006: 34) may be seen, mirrored, in the relationship of subordination which sees expert archaeologists exert their authority over ‘non-expert’ volunteers. Is the diffidence that ‘non-expert’ volunteers face from expert archaeologists the product of the desire to protect academic rigour and standards of professional conduct? Or is it the product of a dominant heritage discourse that places experts in the privileged position of lecturer and everybody else in the position of ‘audience’?
The issues under debate are much more complex and deserve more in-depth treatment than space allows here. However, this brief piece has aimed, using theory combined with examples from Hadrian’s Wall, to signpost the need for further research on ‘non-expert’ contributions to archaeological research. In the case of the northern frontier of the Roman Empire, ‘non-expert’ contributions to the archaeological research agenda are already happening, but they lack theoretical foundations, thus exposing institutions who encourage them to accusations of being exploitative.
While this piece leaves open a series of questions, some of which will be addressed in the author’s ongoing doctoral research at Newcastle University, a preliminary conclusion can be reached. The ethical and theoretical implications of ‘non-expert’ participation in archaeological heritage practices in institutional contexts deserve careful, project-based consideration. A wholesale approach, discounting all ‘non-expert’ contributions to archaeological research as cost-cutting, exploitative manoeuvres which lack scientific rigour and academic potential is limiting and counterproductive.
Challenges Facing Early Career Researchers
By Lacey Wallace
Those who decide to go on from a PhD to research and teaching positions in a university environment (early career researchers or ECRs) face a number of challenges;1 the stark reality is that most who pursue this route will not succeed in securing a permanent academic position in the UK. Few of those who decide to undertake a PhD with a view to an academic career are aware that they would do best to think of it like striving to succeed as an actor — something that requires commitment, skill, and talent, of course, but also patronage and connections, support, money, confidence, time, persistence, and plain luck. Money and time (i.e. not having to do any non-academic work, not facing poverty) are the commodities that are most likely to ensure a higher degree of success in producing publications and writing funding and job applications, but even many of those who proceed straight from a PhD to a research fellowship still face obstacles. Whether blessed with money and time or not, many ECRs struggle to maintain the interest and passion that made them want to do a PhD in the first place. They succumb to the demoralizing cycle of multiple rejections, which can lead to mental health disorders, suffering from ‘impostor syndrome’ (more on this below), and the stress of constantly looking for and applying for the next thing, putting many aspects of non-work life on hold in the process.
Deciding to progress to doctoral research in Romano-British archaeology is, however, relatively popular. Lecturers in Roman or Romano-British archaeology can supervise PhD students in most universities, funding is available through a range of sources, and there is a huge quantity of data that needs interpreting. Doctoral research is valuable both to the discipline of Romano-British archaeology as a whole as well as to university departments. Moreover, a PhD can be a fulfilling process and an end in its own right. Nonetheless, it does seem that most PhDs want to progress into an academic career and view a PhD as a step in that process.2 The possibility of continuing onto post-doctoral research is provided by several institutions (e.g. British Academy, Leverhulme, AHRC, ERC, university fellowships, etc.), although these are not specific to the discipline and are extremely competitive. Having invested approximately a decade of one’s life to learning, training, and researching, ECRs soon find that the number of lectureships that are advertised each year is incredibly limited.
The job market for academic posts in the humanities is highly competitive in general, but archaeology is a discipline with a stark imbalance between PhDs produced and permanent jobs advertised. Rocks-Macqueen (2016) calculated that only c. 10% of all archaeology PhDs in the UK (in 2013) could go on to permanent academic jobs. Roman archaeology is, of course, but one area within archaeology or classics departments, which are often relatively small departments (compared to, say, history). Hiring committees often specify a particular specialism or simply exclude Roman Britain by advertising for a focus on the Mediterranean—which, in practice, seems to mean anywhere except Britain. One might speculate that this is possibly a facet of an assumed superior facility to ‘international recognition/excellence’ in the REF (Research Excellence Framework), or possibly thought to improve student satisfaction through the offer of continental fieldwork. Equally, those with a background in field or scientific archaeology will find applying for Roman archaeology jobs in Classics departments more difficult, where knowledge of language and texts may be more important. Viewing one’s progress as ‘success’ in the context of multiple job rejections is difficult, compounded by the likelihood that many of the academics advising ECRs today progressed to their own positions under far more favourable circumstances (Rocks-Macqueen 2016),3 which is one example of the generational divide so frequently discussed by politicians and pundits in the UK today.
In order to be competitive in this market, many recent PhDs discover the ‘Catch 22’ of first academic jobs, i.e. that they need lecturing, administrative, and pastoral experience to get a lectureship encompassing those duties. ECRs leap at the opportunity of poorly remunerated hourly work, putting in far more hours than are calculated (preparation and marking time are rarely covered), sometimes travelling long distances for what is presented as a privilege or competitive opportunity. This exploitation of ECRs to deliver undergraduate teaching is part of the larger structural problem, which has created an academic ‘precariat’ (related to the changing nature of higher education and the trend towards commodification of education as a product and students as consumers). The effect on ECRs is that they are often used as a replacement to hiring full-time permanent staff. This system has a negative financial impact on ECRs, consumes time they could be spending on research, and absolves universities from creating enough permanent jobs that would remedy both issues. Of course, there are those lucky few who started their first academic position straight from their PhD or who have progressed through one or more fixed-term contracts, without a gap, on their way to a permanent lectureship. They by no means represent the normal trajectory of an ECR, although their experiences are often perceived as the standard or bar that everyone else is, in their inadequacy, failing to meet.
The vast majority (c. 86% as of 2012) of people working as archaeologists in the UK are not academics and earn lower salaries on average than the minority working for educational or academic research institutions (Rocks-Macqueen 2016). The apparent relationship between finances and academic success begins in childhood, of course, but ECRs specifically must either do multiple jobs (e.g. time-consuming but poorly paid hourly lecturing in addition to a full-time job) or debt accrues during the academic-job-search period for those without family to live with, personal wealth, or other means of support. Such a system excludes certain people within this broader job-hunting group: for example, those supporting children who face greater difficulty both financially as well as in being away for conferences and fieldwork,4 and non-EU immigrants who must pay for visas, adhere to residency guidelines, as well as earn a minimum salary to stay in the country and continue the job search.
ECRs dejected by the application process, overwhelmed by inaccurately calculated workloads, and struggling personally and financially often suffer from mental health disorders. Poor mental health is common amongst academics in general, although job insecurity exacerbates it in the ECR group especially (Guthrie et al. 2017). ECRs also suffer from a distortion in the way they and their peers perceive accomplishments like completing a PhD, publishing an article, or designing a course of lectures as constituting an expected minimum, comparing themselves unfavourably to those winning large grants, developing international working groups, and directing their own fieldwork projects. Such comparisons can lead to a pattern of thoughts that one does not belong and has ‘sneaked by’ into the post-doctoral cohort all competing for the same positions, funding, and publications. The celebration and curation of success on social media probably reinforces this state of mind, leading to poor mental health amongst academics as it does in the general population (see, e.g., Garam 2011). More often than not, such perceptions are not ‘healthy self-awareness’, but rather a result of a culture that makes individuals in the majority feel like failures — so-called ‘impostor syndrome’ (see, e.g., Gravois 2007).
For these reasons and many others besides, pursuing an academic career does not appeal to some people, either during their PhD or in the process of the long slog of the job-hunt afterwards. Much of this piece discusses issues that affect ECRs in all fields, but the job insecurity in academic archaeology coupled with the lack of advertised permanent positions in Romano-British archaeology does create a specifically challenging atmosphere for those aspiring to a lectureship in this field. One significant aspect of concern is that people who actively choose not to pursue an academic career are often those who prioritize spending time with family, caring for relatives, travel, exercise, hobbies, improving their mental health, volunteering, being politically active, and generally being happy and productive members of society alongside their professional aspirations. Such people often cite financial hardship, rejection, reliance on patronage and nepotism, long and unsociable working hours, and risk to their mental health as grounds to eschew an academic career. And, of course, they are right to a large degree. Given the challenges facing ECRs, are appointment committees choosing the kind of people who can support students, encourage healthy behaviours, and actively work to improve the environment of academia and to acknowledge the importance of work-life balance? Or is the process of staying in the ‘game’, ‘selling’ oneself, and ‘winning’ a permanent position producing academics who are inherently more obsessive, A-type personalities? Are we rewarding destructive behaviour and unhealthy lifestyles with the highest paid jobs in the archaeological sector?
Modern Contracting Archaeology and its Challenges to the Conceptual Framework of Roman Britain
By Sadie Watson
The practice of development-control archaeological fieldwork does not lend itself easily to identifying research as a priority. Establishing archaeology as a requirement of the planning process has led to a milestone-focussed approach, from the production of a project design through to fieldwork (commonly known as mitigation) towards assessment and analysis of results, with eventual dissemination required but rarely enforced. In this milieu, chance discoveries are generally uncommon but archaeologists cannot fully know what to expect from a site until holes are dug and there should be allowances for re-assessing and re-prioritising during fieldwork. Unfortunately, the construction industry is fundamentally unsuited to incorporating such ‘unknowns’ into their programmes. This context is important for the following discussion, which is written by an archaeologist with two decades of experience in Romano-British fieldwork within the contracting sector.
Pressures on practice
The focus of this section of the paper is on modern fieldwork practice and its restrictive nature when research objectives are considered, with further discussion on how we can contribute more usefully to an increasingly relevant and transformative conceptual framework for Roman Britain. The opinions expressed relate specifically to an urban archaeological environment where multi-phase complex stratigraphy demands us to consider many phases of activity within a single project. The construction projects within which we operate are challenging environments and the necessary speed of excavation within restricted timescales result in the upper layers being excavated rapidly, in order that we have sufficient time to excavate the lower deposits and features. These lower levels are often a research priority, with transition periods and origins of settlements key to understanding later development. The care taken over the later strata may not be of appropriate detail, an issue that becomes more pressing when complex Roman archaeology is encountered.
This pressure reduces the opportunity during fieldwork to reflect upon what we are observing, digging and recording. The single context planning methodology (Westman 1994) was designed to prioritise interpretation during excavation but the pressures mean that often the burden falls on the shoulders of the individual undertaking the assessment and analysis. By that stage it could easily be too late, as some areas could have been dug in more depth, or allocated less resource, depending on their significance.
The rapid pace of excavation also means that we rarely have contemporary phases of archaeology exposed concurrently. This is a particular concern in urban archaeology where it is not unusual to see many small trenches excavated across a site, with the expectation that most of the phasing and interpretation will happen in post-excavation. This relies upon careful recording of levels and assumes that the archaeology will have been recorded in a comparable manner, to identify where it might extend into neighbouring trenches. To identify a fluid research agenda on a project where trenches through the same archaeology are excavated at different times would be very challenging indeed. This also disrupts the preferred order of excavation; whereby a reflective discussion about the visible remains leads to adoption of strategies and interim conclusions about the form and significance of the archaeology.
A persistent frustration for those engaged in fieldwork is the impression that we are at the end of all decision-making processes and consequently have no meaningful input to project designs and site-specific methodologies. This is perpetuated by the ongoing system inherent in some major employers, with office-based supervisory teams writing up sites excavated by their field-based colleagues. This is not necessarily to argue that you need to have seen the archaeology to adequately analyse it, but to disempower those responsible for decision-making during fieldwork suggests a level of disconnect that some contracting organisations are content to accept.
Having developed during the early years of antiquarian archaeology, this two-tier system was further perpetuated by the widespread use of the Manpower Service Scheme in the early days of professionalisation, whereby unskilled unemployed people were offered employment as archaeologists, generally on sites supervised by graduates. It is not difficult to see how these hierarchies became embedded into our profession and although the democratising nature of the MSC schemes for field archaeology has been claimed as a success, it has not always been seen in reality. Since those days, archaeology has largely become a graduate profession, with team members of all grades with in-depth knowledge of an array of subjects and techniques within our varied topic; it is a waste of both resource and proficiency to deny their contribution through the insistence on the top-down approach.
The conceptual framework
The brief outline above indicates that there are issues with establishing strategies in the field, identifying priorities and, crucially, actually ‘seeing’ the archaeology itself. In London, this has particular relevance for the Roman period.
It is clear from press coverage that the Roman period is a popular sub-topic of archaeology but there is an ongoing tension over how to contextualise this. The myriad ‘Pompeiis of the North’ bear this out (Current Archaeology 2008; MOLA 2013; BBC 2014; 2016), with wildly different archaeology presented using the same frame of reference. It is not hard to see where this disconnect can originate however, when media coverage of archaeology can be reductive and simplistic (James 2003: 183). An effective method of communicating results is to reduce stratigraphic complexity and convey relatable findings. The public preference for on-site ‘acts of discovery’ is clear from the online activity from two major projects, with site blogs proving extremely popular (Walbrook Discovery Programme 2013; Must Farm 2016) Maybe it is sufficient in the short term to have a tentative interpretation, followed by a more in-depth reporting at a later stage of analysis. It is important that findings are represented appropriately however, with responsible input from the archaeologists themselves.
The publication of results of major excavations has become inflexible and there has been a growing reliance upon a monograph (or similar). These books are not bought by the public in any great number and the knowledge held within them is only available to a few. We need to move towards more compelling narratives (with the scientific data sitting behind them) which may on occasion include a degree of first-person reporting to illustrate the act of discovery so admired by the general public. This would also enable a level of interpretive doubt or rationale as well as a review of the methodologies—important aspects of an authors’ arsenal when describing an active or fluid action such as excavation (Hodder 1989: 273; Fulford and Holbrook 2018: 226). When we adapt our publication and dissemination methods maybe the conceptual framework for Roman Britain will become more relevant to a wider readership particularly if alternative methods include online and digital media. This would also enable the incorporation of results from grey literature reports, often disregarded in site-specific publication but valuable beyond this narrow approach (Fulford and Holbrook 2018: 226).
The development of new approaches is failing the practitioners themselves, in the face of a conservative curatorial sector, persistent hierarchies and ever more stifling project restrictions. A priority for contractors and the practitioners they employ must be to open the channels of communication to invite and encourage fluid, collaborative project designs encouraging continuous assessment of site priorities. Generic and rigid research designs do not enable reactive praxis, which should be a priority for the ever-changing nature of excavation, still the primary source of data. A renewed flexible approach should include specialists and colleagues from the academy, to include contextual information regarding political and economic aspects of the wider Empire for example (James 2003: 181). Only when we are operating a truly inclusive system of intellectual exchange can we claim that our data is gathered appositely and our results are as relevant and useful as possible.
Making Archaeology Appealing—Recruitment and Engagement in Research
By Andrew Gardner
What brings people into (Roman) archaeology? More specifically, what draws people to study archaeology at university? This is a question we need to consider, because at the moment there are not enough people coming into the discipline, if all of the current departments of archaeology are to thrive, or indeed survive (Braddick 2013; Shepperson 2017). To some, that might mean that shrinkage is necessary and that ‘successful’ departments might be strengthened if others close. That, however, is to see university archaeology through a neoliberal lens where competition is the only imperative. Such a process would undoubtedly damage the breadth and diversity of our scholarly community. It would also shrink the pool of potential postgraduate students, not to mention the job opportunities for those students who complete PhDs (cf. Wallace, above). And it would do nothing to meet the demands of the commercial archaeological sector, whatever the challenges of matching university training to employment needs (cf. Welch and Trimmis 2018). Resistance to the notion that competition is everything requires collective action, on the practical level, and the revealing of alternative value-systems, on the conceptual level. Roman archaeology is particularly well-placed to contribute to the latter agenda. We are working in a period where the confrontation between past and present is highly relevant, and where the legacies of past imperialisms are both much contested and very consequential in understanding the shape of political debates at local, national and global scales. In the UK context, the polarising of social attitudes that Brexit has revealed is rooted in a range of factors, certainly including economic situation but also education and attitudes to the past. Rome has been cited in both pro- and anti-European contexts, which shows both the malleability of the past but also — doubly so — the need for expert engagement with these debates (Bonacchi et al. 2018; Brophy 2018, with comments; Gardner 2017). (And yes, I think that means we should still think of ourselves as ‘experts’; why else have we participated in higher education?). Archaeology offers a critical perspective on being human that the world needs, which is one reason why it is such a fantastic degree to pursue.
On the practical level, collective action is something that often requires effort against the grain of institutional structures, as other contributions to this piece discuss. The session from which this set of essays springs was one attempt to use the TRAC conference space to engender such action, and conferences are indeed a fruitful venue for mobilisation. There are different ways we could experiment with them to make this even more effective (cf. Gardner 2016: 10–11). However, the real trick is to continue that engagement beyond an annual event, which is challenging but necessary if momentum is to be sustained. We cannot expect rapid progress if our discussions only take place every Spring. Everyone is busy, but that is itself part of the way in which we are disempowered in contemporary society (Burnside 2014). Somehow, we need to carve out more time for community-building activities in our field. One activity, which I have been much involved with recently, tries to address both this and, more obviously, the recruitment situation: University Archaeology Day. This event, supported by UAUK as well as CIfA, the CBA and the RAI, took place at UCL in 2017 and the British Museum in 2018, organised by Charlotte Frearson, Jenni French, Carl Heron, and myself; we are currently planning the third event in 2019. It brings together representatives from almost every archaeology department in the UK, along with a wide range of heritage organisations, to seek, together, to expand the number of young people interested in archaeology (Frearson et al. 2018). The work needed to organise the event has been turbo-charged by the passion that archaeologists generally have for their discipline and the good-will that can be harnessed when we act together. In pursuing recruitment to the discipline in a collaborative fashion, the Day also enables more communication between us, at the same time (Phillips 2017). When archaeologists get together, they can accomplish a lot; within our field of Roman archaeology, the same is absolutely true — doing more things together, and doing fewer things apart, will help us break down the boundaries that threaten to hem us in.
The Place of Roman Archaeology in the UK Planning Process: Formal Assessment as a Context for Structuration
By Jake Weekes
“[People] make their own history, but not spontaneously, under conditions they have chosen for themselves; rather, on terms immediately existing, given and handed down to them”—Karl Marx (1983 : 287).
Let’s look at the praxis of Roman-period archaeology in UK planning control archaeology as a structure/agent dialectic (cf. Giddens 1984; Gardner 2007). The first thing we could say, in this broad context, is that structure dominates ideologically, and the agents, as a result of the profit-driven hegemony to which they inadvertently contribute, are forced into ever decreasing circles when it comes to archaeological values other than physical ‘preservation by record’, namely interpretation, and reflection on the meaning of what they find. I’ve suggested before that the developer-funded system, the structure in this case, is inherently alienating for archaeologists (Weekes 2007), who are forced to fit the practical processes driven by development rather than archaeological research questions, with the result that archaeologists themselves, the agents, and indeed the archaeological evidence itself, can be curtailed. Archaeology without the freedom to reflect on theory and method in a concerted way is only a partial archaeology. If we accept, however, that we might exist in a constitutive ‘duality of structure’ (cf. Giddens 1984; Gardner 2007), there is indeed hope that we might together structurate a better future for Roman archaeologists, archaeologists, archaeology, and others.
Theoretically speaking, then, each and every interaction is a quantum of structuration, including all interactions between archaeologists and non-archaeologists, and archaeologists and each other; how are archaeological agents to influence future structurations in favour of total, rather than partial archaeology, and what is the best context in which to structurate? Firstly though, what is the problem?
Case study: Site X
‘Site X’ was situated in a place where earlier discoveries, and more recent evaluation, had demonstrated the existence of a late Roman cemetery, the destruction of which through development groundworks would need to be mitigated with excavation and publication. In this case, however, the planning control ‘system’ very obviously failed both the archaeology and the archaeologists. Curatorial monitoring controlling had been insufficient from the start, and intervention by an unscrupulous archaeological competitor into the tendering process drove the costs to the developer down. Even reasonable costs were undercut; planning for funding the excavation and publication of a late Roman cemetery had become a price war, with one side winning the ear of the developer on the basis of profit margins in order to win the contract, but eventually failing. Under this pre-existing pressure, however, and continued developer pressure on excavation deadlines, the excavation soon ran into difficulty and became a salvage project. In the end, archaeologists rallied round, and excavated at weekends free of charge. Post-excavation resources were also severely compromised. Indeed, the results of the excavation seemed destined to remain unpublished (despite a Written Scheme of Investigation demanding the contrary), and the project floundered until further funding was secured from the developer in return for resolving almost forgotten, but nonetheless outstanding, planning conditions. A hasty and rather predictable formal assessment followed, setting out how this capped further funding, still minimal, and based on a ‘horse trading’ exercise where the archaeology was pitted against the client’s financial interests rather than actual research significance, could be best allocated.
This is an extreme (and not entirely made up) example to make a point, but colleagues will agree, even if the legal and contractual constraints that bolster the system force Site X to remain anonymous, that an actual theoretical, ideological and institutional gulf between research priorities in Roman archaeology and the reality of the ‘threat-led research’ is reflected. The latter term derives from the 2006 English Heritage upgrade of guidance for Management of Research Projects in the Historic Environment, or ‘MoRPHE’.
The application of MoRPHE to ‘Threat-led Research’
“Research is frequently triggered by an application for permission for proposed land or building development (construction, renovation or a change in agricultural land use, for example) which threatens the destruction of an historic asset (an entire building or its significant features, an archaeological site etc). Threat-led research can contribute significantly to local, regional and national research agendas.”—English Heritage (2006: 36).
This paragraph appears in a list of afterthoughts in the theoretical framework document of English Heritage’s revisiting of theory and method laid out in its (1991) ‘Management of Archaeological Projects 2’ (MAP2: English Heritage 1991), and re-contextualising them in a twenty-first century ‘Project Management’ discourse. The standards set out in MoRPHE can often be stated as guidelines for practice in archaeological reports in the ‘threat-led’ environment, including very many that deal with archaeology of Roman date, so it is worth evaluating them.
Colleagues will surely agree that the opening of the MoRPHE paragraph cited seems a mite understated given the sheer scale of developer-funded archaeology in Britain compared with purely research driven excavations. And what exactly is ‘threat-led research’ in the field? Do all of us in the ‘threat-led’ sphere even think we are engaged in research? And how do research questions actually enter into the system of our daily praxis, digging, recording, assessing, analysing and interpreting, and do they really have a bearing on these several but related processes equally? Archaeology is (of course?) a form of research, but let’s face it, most conducted in Britain is paid for by developers who merely wish to clear a condition on planning consent, and can be understandably disinterested in ‘Research Frameworks’(!) Perhaps more significantly, because we never know for sure what we will find, the findings of the ‘research’ in fact tend to govern the research questions after the fact of discovery (whatever was predicted by desk-based assessment etc), rather than having a predefined question prior to data collection in the field.5 I would suggest that this idea of ‘pursuing research questions in the field’ is actually an academic culture out of keeping with the reality of developer-funded archaeology. Every day practitioners are often made painfully aware that the threat-led work we do must instead be, by its nature, reactive, placing findings in research context rather than starting with research questions (although it should also be said that more alienated colleagues might just think ‘this is what archaeology is like’).
In actual fact, the main difficulty in conducting ‘threat-led research’ lies in the management of unknown risk: having to react to an unknown quantity and quality of data. English Heritage described this in terms of ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ risk, the former being, for example, fieldwork delay due to bad weather, the latter relating to “finding more, or better-preserved deposits than anticipated” (English Heritage 2008: 2.3.2). Yet all findings in threat-led interventions are to an extent unpredictable (implicit in the same EH document), are likely to cover many different research specialisms, and at the same time must be interpreted to professional research standards. In the current system and its typical working practices, however, archaeologists often simply take such risks on themselves, and indeed seem to be expected to do so by curators and clients alike, who will push for a single lump sum to be agreed for all excavation and post-excavation works. Archaeologists may find they have a choice between working at weekends for free or giving up on a site before it is fully excavated, or, as has been pointed out by another contributor to this paper, adopting a less rigorous approach for the earliest features (and the latest to be uncovered), as deadlines approach. We have an embedded economy that supports the ongoing undervaluing and maltreatment of both archaeology and archaeologists. In such a system-driven praxis the research element of the exercise can tend to become de-problematised in a systematic treadmill that is tacitly reified, with only non-specialist questions considered. How can we bring Roman archaeology theorists and specialists into such a context with any hope of real engagement?
The need for formal assessment
At least in the threat-led context it is generally accepted by engaged practitioners that, following fieldwork, formal assessment is there to provide a (hopefully) informed judgment on the significance of findings and appropriate publication; three criteria were set out in EH’s Management of Research Projects 2 (MAP2: 1991), section 6.16:
“Review should isolate:
- material crucial for interpreting the site which should be published
- material which merits publication for its intrinsic archaeological value outside the context of the site report, for example artefact or environmental studies
- material considered to have no present archaeological potential or relevance
The data identified as appropriate for analysis should be worked up into a formal proposal, which will be expressed as an updated project design.”
Surely therefore the need for formal assessment is clear; it is vital to establishing the appropriate outputs (including publication) requirements of the data, and therefore the funding and timetable for post-excavation analysis and reporting. All post-excavation project methodology, timetables and funding should spring from the proper conduct of a formal assessment and adhere to the Updated Project Design it provides.
It mustn’t be forgotten that formal assessment as defined in MAP2 was also formulated as a methodology within a research-driven, rather than a threat-led environment (cf. guidelines on assessment in English Heritage 2008). But, I would argue that a clearly defined formal assessment stage, rather than an iterative response to new information from findings, is especially important in a developer funded project, where in most cases research questions have only been defined by the nature of the findings in the field. Even so, formal assessment can tend to be squeezed and sometimes seen as rather a necessary evil in developer-funded projects (sometimes perhaps being considered an expensive ‘luxury’). This is particularly so if a defined sum for post-excavation and publication had to be agreed at the start of the project in order to win the tender, and there was and is no curatorial pressure to produce an assessment report and an Updated Project Design with commensurate costs. Even if, and perhaps especially if, the funding sum has not been arrived at via formal assessment, however, decisions of priority have still to be made. Threat-led generalists cannot be expected to be experts in everything; neither can specialists in given areas be expected to be experts in everything. So, some sort of team-based approach is the only answer, from engagement with free and clear dissemination of research frameworks to actual meetings and discussion.
The formal assessment as the context for good structuration: a mission for TRAC
I suggest then that the formal assessment is the context for archaeological agency to bring about responses to findings that reflect current types of knowledge, understandings and questions. But are the lines of communication open? Are research frameworks yet easily available, promoted to the archaeological units, engaged with, and fluidly updated in response to new findings and ideas? Do we have a culture where ideas can be exchanged/tested, bibliographies directed and supplied, significant findings identified and disseminated efficiently, and the latest in research developments discussed? In my view, sadly not. Too many hierarchical systems and divisions of labour persist in UK archaeology for anything like a team-based approach to such review to occur, except in large-scale projects where it might be expected as part of a more established formal assessment phase.
For most smaller and middle-sized projects the funding, infrastructure and basic intention required for proper meetings with subject specialists is absent. ‘Threat-led’ and university colleagues are generally only informally or occasionally in the same room in order to discuss things generally, and don’t often discuss site specifics: formal infrastructures are not promoted. And archaeologists lack collective bargaining power, and even the will in many cases to assert our theory and research grounding, let alone bring it to bear. ‘In the real world’, it still seems certain and immutable that resourcing of archaeological team review would be a deal breaker when it comes to competitive tendering.
However, in the sphere of Romano-British archaeology, at least, I wonder if there could be various ways TRAC could help: there to be consulted on given subjects, to be used either as a directory for individual consultation, consulted collectively via an email distribution list, or (for more substantial projects) through project meetings and peer review of text. Within such a culture, ideas could be exchanged/tested, bibliographies searched, suggested and supplied, and significant findings identified much more efficiently, while the latest in research developments discussed and informed all, including the ‘threat-led’.
Value excavation, excavators and integrated site narratives more highly!
Alternatively, should we reconsider the academic expectation of interpretations in developer-funded outputs in light of the reality of “threat-led research”? Perhaps we should basically value the most extraordinary thing we do, excavation and reconstruction of site narratives, more highly per se. Publication focus on the exposition and analysis of evidence, rather than further academic consideration of it, could be of more use to both academics and a much wider audience, and could rightly make those who do the vital work of every day excavation feel more like an integral part of a team, alongside those who investigate their results thematically and in synthesis.
Conclusion: Where Next?
So, what of ‘redemption’? Encouraged by the response and shared experience of colleagues who attended and contributed so much to the session at TRAC in Edinburgh, the answer is surely that all archaeologists need to recognise, despite external pressures from a different value system, that we are working in the same subject and project, the investigation of remains of material culture in order to elucidate our shared past and humanity: but we need to assert this in every context. This is and will be difficult if we are divided by the very systems in which we work, so we need counter-systems and fora in which to act collectively. We must look for ways to build bridges of community between systemically divided colleagues, at least in the study of Roman Britain, and hopefully, by example, beyond.