Another Fine Mess

Duncan Brown (Southampton County Council)

There’s always been a slightly schizophrenic aspect to post-excavation. The most immediate aim is to make sense of collected records so as to inform the interpretation and ‘writing up’ of the site, and this usually results in the accumulation of further data and documentation. Another purpose should also be to order records to allow proper consultation and use of them by other archaeologists in the future. In the past, if this was recognised as a function of the post-excavation procedure at all, then it has often been characterised as a job for staff outside the project team, a finds manager perhaps, or even an archive manager. It was consequently often understood to be something that happened at the end of the project. The result, therefore, can be that the post-excavation process does not enable re-use at all, and archiving amounts to nothing more than packaging documents and finds prior to deposition in some dusty museum store. With the publication of ‘Archaeological Archives’ by the Archaeological Archives Forum in 2007, this of course will be a diminishing problem, but it is still worth examining the post-excavation process from the users point of view.

This paper will look at the products of post-excavation from the point of view of the museum curator. There’s nothing like a few retrospective horror stories to stir up a bit of self-awareness, and audience members might find themselves asking did we really do that, or even do we still do that? So there will be a critical ramble through a typical museum collection, showing how we have ‘progressed’ from fag packets to pro-forma, but also a reasoned assessment of the aims of post-excavation in the present competitive environment. Much museum work is driven now by audience expectation, but is that true of archaeology? If not, then is can we reasonably talk about archaeology as a public discipline? The post-excavation stage of a project is the time for engagement with such questions.

Another Fine Mess (PDF file)


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