The layout for fieldwork publication that has existed since the early twentieth century consists of abstract, introduction, description of stratification, interpretation/discussion, and catalogues. The model is learned, one might almost say imprinted, early in most archaeologists' careers. In large part it originated from the belief that it was an archaeologist's duty to segregate 'fact' from interpretation. However, over a third of those surveyed said that they do not obtain the information they need from fieldwork publications. When asked what form publications should take, just over half favoured the traditional model involving a concise but full description of the primary data with in-depth analysis and interpretation. Nevertheless, about a third felt that fieldwork publications should provide a synthetic narrative history based on the evidence. Given that one would expect to see a degree of conservatism towards new models, this is a significant proportion.
As to actual use of 'orthodox model' publications, the survey reveals that the introduction and conclusion, followed by the maps, plans, sections and photographs are the most frequently consulted sections. The entire publication was always or usually read by around only a fifth of respondents. Introductions and conclusions are regularly used throughout the constituencies. Other components such as structures and artefacts reports are always or usually consulted by about half the respondents, most of whom belong to constituencies with specialist interests. Artefact/ecofact catalogues and their accompanying illustrations are most often used by specialists, museum employees and conservators.
In reply to the survey's question about how reports might be improved, more and better cross referencing, fuller integration of specialist reports, information on archive location, and improvements in narrative style and readability were the things most strongly desired. Over 40% of respondents also favoured greater integration of description and interpretation and more synthesis. This last is significant, for along with the appetite for greater integration between specialist reports and the main account, it indicates a desire for departure from tradition.
While the survey indicates that there are many who are broadly content with a format that has changed little for a century, it also discloses widespread dissatisfaction with many of its aspects, and misgivings about how far the formula serves the needs of the discipline, let alone any wider audience. Put positively, the survey finds enthusiasm for experiment and creative change in report format, and a lust for new work which is stimulating.
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Last updated: Tue Oct 21 2003