The Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers (FAME) has warned that in many parts of the country there is no museum space to store and preserve important finds discovered by archaeological teams.
The building boom of the last two decades has been matched by a massive increase in the number of archaeological discoveries resulting from development. Government guidance requires developers to record and publish the results of excavation - and deposit the findings in a local museum, however, in many parts of the country, crammed and overstretched local museums are refusing to accept any more finds. They include museums in Cambridgeshire, Kent, Northamptonshire, Sheffield and many other areas. Local government cutbacks are likely to place even more pressure on staff and facilities.
As a result, archaeology units are reaching bursting point with finds and records which are hidden from the public and unable to find a permanent home. It is estimated that the country’s leading practices may be storing over 15,000 boxes of archaeological finds and records on 5,000 sites, at an annual cost of perhaps a quarter of a million pounds - because no museum is willing or able to accept them. FAME argue that this constitutes a major museum collection in its own right.
FAME Chief Executive Adrian Tindall said “This problem has been twenty years in the making. We would like to work with local museums and the Heritage Lottery Fund to set up resource centres, so that the public can see important local discoveries. But we must also look more carefully at whether keeping everything we find is really sustainable. For too long we have assumed that all finds must be kept, in case they’re needed for future research. Whilst this might occasionally be justified, we need to concentrate much more on the public benefit of what we keep.”
FAME Chairman Roland Smith added “It’s so important that the findings of archaeological digs are made available to the general public. This crisis is denying local communities, the wider general public and researchers the opportunity to see and learn from the discoveries that are being made in the towns and countryside in which they live.
Archaeological practices do not operate as museums. At the moment they have no alternative but to hold this material, but in the long term there is a risk to these collections if museums - who have the appropriate expertise - are unable to find suitable space for them.”