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Discussions

D1 Seeing the wood for the trees: putting archaeological research at the heart of wider contemporary discourse

Organisers:

Paul Belford (paul.belford@cpat.org.uk), Ben Morton (benmorton@warwickshire.gov.uk), David Petts (d.a.petts@durham.ac.uk) and Gerry Wait (gerry.wait@nexus-heritage.com)

As archaeologists we have much to say about the world around us. However, all too often in our pursuit of understanding the past, we isolate ourselves from the present. Academic, commercial and community archaeologies all produce meaningful research of relevance for society at large. The problem lies in how we feed this into wider contemporary discourse. At the heart of this matter is the fact that approaches to archaeological theory, data collection, and public engagement are inconsistent. Consequently archaeology seems unable to make a significant impact on mainstream intellectual discourse, and therefore influence high-level policy and practice.

This session seeks to move beyond debates around the academic/commercial divide, the relative accessibility of ‘grey literature’ and academic publication, and the status of community archaeology. Instead we would like to consider practical mechanisms by which these divergences might be overcome, in order to enable all areas of archaeology to focus upon producing future-orientated research outputs, which not only seek to understand the past, but also engage with many of the issues facing society today and in the future. This session therefore invites contributors to consider the following issues:

  • How do we successfully bridge the divergence between theory- and data-driven approaches to archaeological research?
  • What can archaeologists to do enable their insights gleaned through understanding the past to have a real impact on policy-making for the future?
  • To what extent can archaeological research contribute to addressing wider problems facing society now and in the future?

D2 What’s new in British archaeology 2014

Organisers:

Duncan H Brown (Duncan.brown2@english-heritage.org.uk) and Jeff Sanders (jeff@socantscot.org)

What’s new in British archaeology was last run when the IfA conference was in Glasgow, when it was co-organised by Sara Champion with Duncan Brown. Our aim in 2014 is to provide a period-by-period overview of the latest developments in British Archaeology, from the Palaeolithic through to the 20th century. This extended session will run over three half-day sessions providing a backdrop to the overall conference theme of Research in practice. It is some time since such a session was presented and the return to Glasgow is a good opportunity to repeat that while also paying our respects to Sara and the contribution she made to archaeology. Please contact us if you are interested in making a contribution to the session.

D3 Politics and archaeological research

Organisers:

Ronan Toolis (ronan.toolis@guard-archaeology.co.uk), John Atkinson (john.atkinson@guard-archaeology.co.uk), Warren Bailie (warren.bailie@guard-archaeology.co.uk) and Iain Banks (Iain.Banks@glasgow.ac.uk)

2014 is a year when the past and the present will have special political resonance in Scotland and the UK as a whole. Along with the referendum on Scottish Independence, there will be events in 2014 focusing on the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn and the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. Both of these historical events have been subject to intensive archaeological research in recent years, within an increasingly charged political atmosphere. Can such archaeological research be undertaken entirely removed from the political context of the present, especially given the high profile of such projects? Given the heavy community involvement in such research, do politics play a part in motivating participation? What part does the modern political context of a country or region play in funding archaeological research? And how influential is present-day politics in directing the questions such research seeks to answer? Speakers will explore the links between politics and archaeological research within European, British and local political contexts. The session seeks to provoke discussion on what can be drawn from past and ongoing projects where politics and archaeology collide. How should researchers approach such projects? What lessons can be learnt from previous experience? What are the pitfalls to avoid? Indeed should archaeologists be merely bystanders when archaeology is appropriated by opposing political perspectives?

D4 Research without boundaries: the challenges and opportunities of international cultural heritage projects

Organisers:

Leonora O’Brien (leonora.obrien@urs.com), Gerry Wait (gerry.wait@nexus-heritage.com) and Alice Hobson (alhobson@golder.com)

The Research without Boundaries session will explore the challenges and benefits of archaeological and cultural heritage research aspects of international projects, including academic, commercial, independent and government initiatives. Discussions will be placed within the wider context of increasing supra-national leadership in setting research agendas and growing interdisciplinary collaboration on international projects. The session will consider key human, ethical and cognitive aspects of working on international heritage projects, focussing on the research dividends and contemporary social relevance of committed engagement. We will discuss practical experiences of assembling teams, building capacity, assuring expertise and monitoring research quality. The session will look at the need to balance ‘freedom of research’ with the welfare of living populations, and will explore the relevance of community-based and interdisciplinary approaches to research on international projects. The session will also consider the issues involved in developing and achieving appropriate dissemination strategies.

D5 Assessing research frameworks and planning for the future

Organisers:

Daniel Miles (Daniel.Miles@english-heritage.org.uk) and David Knight

This session aims to examine the role and impact of research frameworks in Britain and to discuss whether the present model is meeting user needs within the new planning framework and economic climate. The session will also examine possible new ways of developing research frameworks that meet the user needs of the historic environment research and development management communities. It is nearly 20 years since the publication of Adrian Oliver’s Frameworks of our past which laid the foundations for the current Research Framework model. The development of these frameworks was in response to the extensive increase in archaeological investigations as a result of the introduction of Planning Policy Guidance 16 (PPG-16) and the aim was to provide a research focus to this development-led work and to aid local government archaeological curators in making decisions. Nearly all regions in England have a regional research framework and both Scotland and Wales have created national archaeological research frameworks. A number of other thematic, period and site based frameworks have also been developed.

Presentations will include a report back on a survey commissioned by English Heritage to evaluate current research frameworks in England, including a user-analysis study, and case studies of current research frameworks in Britain, including regional research frameworks and the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework. Other themes to be covered could cover accessing data and developing and managing new ways to develop research frameworks.

D6 Innovation, research and best practice: the contribution of the new generation

Organisers:

IfA New Generation Special Interest Group (NGSIG) (ben.jervis@english-heritage.org.uk)

This session seeks to highlight the contribution of the new generation of heritage professionals in promoting best practice and developing innovative approaches to researching and understanding the past. In particular, it might be considered how early career professionals are well placed to exploit new technologies and media in research, build bridges between academia and the profession at large and how, through initiatives such as the CBA Community Archaeology Bursary Placements scheme, they have been central to engaging with new stakeholders through involvement in community archaeology projects. The session is open to all and it is anticipated that speakers may include past and present holders of IfA and CBA placements, postgraduate students and early career professionals who feel they have made an impact in any of these areas. Papers are also welcome from established professionals, which reflect upon the contributions that NGSIG members have made in the advancement of best practice or innovation in research.

D7 Research in landscape archaeology: the way forward

Organisers:

Mark Bowden (mark.bowden@english-heritage.org.uk), Angela Gannon (angela.gannon@rcahms.gov.uk), Graeme Cavers (Graeme.Cavers@aocarchaeology.com) and Bob Johnston (r.johnston@sheffield.ac.uk)

Landscape survey is a broad-based research tool for furthering the understanding of the historic environment, relying on the principles of careful observation and analysis of field evidence of all types and periods. It draws upon a range of research specialisms including ground prospection, aerial survey and photography, and embraces new technologies such as lidar and 3D landscape modelling. Landscape is a concept often used in British archaeology but in practice it rarely lives up to the promise of a truly holistic ‘landscape’ approach. With current organisational changes affecting the provision of archaeological research and investigation in England, Scotland and Wales, there is a need to ensure that a landscape approach is embedded nationally within archaeological practice at all levels and across all parts of the sector – academic, curatorial, commercial and community engagement. This discussion session will examine the present situation, the impact the proposed changes may have, and explore strategies for disseminating best practice in landscape archaeology through experience, education, training, guidance and mentoring.

D8 The use of research for the validation of search techniques and interpretation in forensic archaeology and taphonomy

Organisers:

Rob Janaway (FASIG, r.c.janaway@bradford.ac.uk) and Jimmy Adcock (GeoSIG, Jimmy.adcock@gsbprospection.com)

Forensic archaeology has a role to play in both the investigative and evaluative phase of the forensic process. This session will examine how forensic archaeology and its sister discipline forensic geophysics fits into this process. It will investigate how research can be used to qualify and inform the advice given in formulating search strategies. The aim should be to apply research outputs and case work experience to formulate a robust, efficient and cost effective investigation specific strategies. A key issue in forensic search is how experiment assists in the evaluation of potential false positives (which apart from consuming resources are of lesser concern) and false negatives (which are of far greater concern). During the investigative phase of clandestine graves etc. archaeologists will conduct excavation and gather evidence that is subject to archaeological interpretation. Expert opinion must be evaluated and to be of evidential value to the court. This session will consider the role of validation in archaeological interpretation, and will critically consider if accepted archaeological theory and practice is sufficient for court purposes. The understanding of the biology and chemistry of cadaveric decomposition is critical to the selection of suitable search strategies as well as having an evidential bearing of differential recovery and time since death estimations. Traditionally forensic taphonomy has relied on the combination of analysis of case data and specifically constructed experiments, this session will discuss issues concerned with experimental design, controls and replication. Specifically this session will aim to examine the following topics:

  • Forensic archaeology and the forensic process
  • The role of validation in forensic science
  • Offender behaviour and search data bases
  • Technique validation and research in forensic geophysics
  • Theory versus practice in forensic geophysics – the miss-match between expectation and reality
  • Archaeological theory, practice and knowledge – the validation of archaeological evidence in court
  • Use of experiments in forensic taphonomy - issues of experimental design, validity and replication?

D9 Research beyond mitigation and universities – maximising the impact of community involvement

Organisers:

Murray Cook (murraycook35@hotmail.co.uk), David Connolly (info@bajr.org), Cara Jones (c.jones@archaeologyscotland.org.uk), Phil Richardson (p.richardson@archaeologyscotland.org.uk) and Doug Rocks-Macqueen (drocksmacqueen@gmail.com)

This extended session (including traditional papers and seminar discussion) will take a closer look at the role of citizen science in archaeology and the contribution that community involvement can make to wider research understanding. Session organisers cover the question from two main angles; firstly, discussing whether community archaeology will be accepted as research and thus have a positive impact on our understanding of the past and, secondly, exploring and debating the likely mechanisms, costs and problems associated with increasing the contribution of citizen science and open access archaeology to wider archaeological research.

In recent years Scotland has seen some successful examples of how community engagement can result in clear gains for the professional sector and we feel the conference in Glasgow provides an opportunity to try and answer some of the more difficult questions surrounding community involvement and to ask whether we – as professionals – are on the right track. Initiatives like Scotland’s Rural Past, Shorewatch and the Adopt-a-Monument scheme have contributed to the enhancement of local HER records and to the conservation and preservation of individual monuments. Despite this, practitioners (arguably) remain wary of expanding the ideas of citizen science beyond non-intrusive techniques: is there more we can be doing to make sure both the archaeology and the participants are benefitting? How can we ensure that professional archaeologists are not isolated from real stakeholders and supporters of heritage? Do we need to have more confidence in community-based activities in order to maximise their contribution to our understanding of the past?

With historic environment policy across the UK protecting archaeological sites from the impact of development, it could be argued that one detrimental effect of that protection may be a reduction of new archaeological data from well–preserved or sites protected by law. While there remains new archaeological data resulting from developer-funded archaeology and from an active University–based sector, a decrease in larger data sets means that research paradigms and models rely on increasingly sparse or partial evidence. With a growth in community based archaeological projects, should the professional sector be more proactive in ensuring the results of such engagements are not only fulfilling and fun for participants but are of genuine national significance? Are we as professions utilising this valuable resource to its full potential?

The aim of the session is not to showcase previously successful projects, but rather to isolate and discuss the issues we as professionals must consider to ensure that archaeological research agendas and participants benefit from all projects.

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