On Saturday 21 November, The Times published ‘Rival factions battle for soul of Stonehenge’. The article describes ‘two tribes’ – academics, and ‘commercial rescue archaeologists’ – and an apparent ‘rift’ between these two groups.
CIfA refutes the implication that archaeology is irrevocably divided to the detriment of our core shared archaeological values. CIfA champions professionalism in archaeology whether projects arise from the planning process, university research and teaching, or voluntary community-led initiatives.
Accredited professionals in academia and commercial archaeology are bound by the same Code of conduct and standards, and accountable for promoting good practice in research that shares new knowledge gained for the benefit of society.
We recognise the special significance of the Stonehenge landscape and its unique place in popular culture, which is such that any proposals are likely to be controversial. In this high-profile case, as with many other developments, the planning system reaches a decision that balances the conservation of an archaeological monument or landscape with other social benefits arising from new homes or highways. If the decision is to build, as at Stonehenge, archaeological works are undertaken according to rigorously assessed processes to evaluate the affected site and offset physical damage with new, shared understanding about the past. At Stonehenge, the works will also be subject to the agreed research strategy for the World Heritage Site.
Archaeologists, like other citizens, do not always agree with each other about whether wider society has made the best decision about the subject they care so strongly about. Creative disagreement is healthy in any discipline, but we are disappointed by the polarisation of the debate online and in the media.
Positions taken also do not represent the wealth of relevant expertise within the discipline and the wider interested public. These diverse expert voices have a right to be heard and contribute to a mature, nuanced discussion about the conservation and exploration of this internationally important prehistoric landscape.