At the beginning of 2008 Birmingham Archaeology began a HLF/ IfA Bursary placement in Post Excavation Management which aimed to provide a hands-on training programme in the mechanics of analysing and publishing the results of archaeological investigation. To aid the training programme, post excavation management was split up into the range of tasks a manager may undertake or require during the analysis, publication and eventual deposition of an archaeological archive. The process of splitting up the role itself highlights the complexity of the process, and perhaps also explains why the role of Post Excavation Manager within commercial units is becoming increasingly common. Despite management tools such as MAP2 and MoRPHE, and the apparent development of specialists in Post Excavation Management, the process itself is still fraught with problems and continues to be seen as main source of escalating budgets and over-running end dates.
The PX management bursary placement afforded the opportunity to look at the day-to-day running of post excavation across different organisations, and the idea for the conference session was born out of this exploration into the process. Rather than perpetuating the blame culture which has seemingly developed, the session aimed to provide an opportunity for the views of all archaeologists (specialists, project managers and consultants) to be aired together. Our hope was to get past individual cases in order to reveal those causal and contributing factors inherent to the way things are done and which may, with due care and attention, be avoidable.
The call for papers was well received and the session soon included papers covering training, standards, management techniques and approaches to publication, alongside project specific examples providing a spotlight on the areas outlined above. The discussion that followed the session picked up on most of the points raised throughout the day, and it is probably fair to say that everyone attending felt the day had been interesting and stimulating, if inconclusive.
The session confirmed that problems in post excavation run deep, and cannot be solved by the introduction of process alone. The prevailing impression was that, from every corner of the post excavation experience, there are some common contributing issues which add to the problems in post excavation. A resounding conclusion of the session was that across the profession and within projects, there is a demonstrable need for more open and honest communication during the post excavation process. Added to that, from specialists, managers, planning archaeologists and ultimately through to clients, there is a professional desire for consistency so that all involved in the project are aware of what is expected and what can be achieved at different stages of reporting (e.g. evaluations, post excavation assessment).
Another conclusion of the session was that there is a real demand for training, in terms of both new recruits into the profession and in updating the skills of those already practising. Perhaps more fundamental was the suggestion that one of the major inhibiting factors to successful post excavation was the existence of artificial boundaries within something that is a very organic and human experience. The concept of post excavation management itself could be causal to its problematic success rate: has our vision of the archaeological process becoming too fragmented to make it work?
This blog has been set up to allow further discussion of the problems and issues of post-excavation and to share ideas of ways forward. Please sign up and let us know your thoughts!
Amanda Forster and Rebecca Beardmore
University of Birmingham