5. Research Design for Analysis and Publication

5.1 Introduction

The excavation of the Prehistoric, Roman and Early to Middle Saxon site at West Heslerton, North Yorkshire, has been one of the largest rural excavations yet undertaken in Britain. The scale of the site, coupled with the volume, quantity and quality of data generated over nearly a decade of fieldwork, demonstrate a need to reassess radically the nature of Early Anglo-Saxon settlement, the relationship between Roman and Saxon and the relationship between the Early and Middle Saxon periods during which the first English states emerge. The excavation of the settlement at West Heslerton, following on from that of an associated Early Anglo-Saxon or Anglian cemetery, provides us with an unparalleled opportunity to review the picture of Early Anglo-Saxon England built up from a multitude of small archaeological excavations and observations at the national level. The data recovered offer an opportunity to examine key issues raised in Exploring Our Past. Although the publication of this excavation will contribute immensely to the regional picture, the data offer great potential for building models of settlement development and change that can be tested at the national level. West Heslerton provides exceptional opportunities not only because of the scale of the project and the methodologies employed in data collection and management, but also from the relative completeness of the picture recovered.

The excavation was at all times challenging, encompassing huge areas measured in hectares rather than square metres, and the analysis and publication of the data recovered will be no less challenging. It would be impossible to follow up all the potential research avenues offered by the data. Therefore an important objective in the publication will be the presentation through electronic media of as much of the primary data as is possible to enable future researchers easy access for continued research. This is made possible as a consequence of the attention paid to the digital documentation of the data from the fieldwork stage onwards. By targeting key areas we hope to establish a core understanding of the site, its setting, social and economic raison d'être, and overall context, to be conventionally published, which can form a starting point for future academic research long after the results are made available.

West Heslerton has gained a reputation for the innovative and effective application of new technology in the field. This should now be further enhanced through the analytical and publication process, whether through the application of GIS in the analysis of the data or through the publication via the Internet and CD-ROM. The judicious application of new technology offers us the potential for more rapid and more powerful publication at all levels, such that a publication programme which, in the past, may have taken more than a decade can now be envisaged over a four-year programme and reach a massively increased audience. These technologies are rapidly maturing, and established avenues for publication through the Internet are now emerging. As the majority of new PCs are now sold with a CD-ROM reader, publication by the use of electronic media is available for researchers, helping rather than hindering them as other media, such as microfiche, have in the past. This is not to say that publication in book form is not an aim of the work programme; however we propose a multi-faceted publication programme rather than the production of a single group of large monographs.

The recently completed excavations undertaken during 1995 have radically changed our picture of the site, generating many new questions. Whilst one of the products of the analytical programme will be to isolate areas suitable for further research, our intention is to target key questions of national importance and establish clearly defined data-sets which can be used to assist in the interpretation of this important transitional period at a regional as well as at a national and international level. Where questions are tested, it will be as important to flag up failures in the data and its interpretation as well as the successes. We hope, through the work programme proposed, to give a good return on the considerable investment already made in the project and to provide a response that matches the remarkable potential of this unique site. For those of us involved in the project for many years, its rapid publication will form the culmination of what started out as a much smaller project, a project that has been both exciting and infuriating, exhilarating and frustrating, and ultimately completely different in outcome than anyone could have predicted.

This research design draws very heavily on the Assessment document to which it is attached and draws particularly on the careful work undertaken by many individuals. It is to be hoped that none have been misrepresented and that all appreciate our gratitude in contributing to the work as a whole. It has been a privilege undertaking the excavation and thanks are due to English Heritage for showing the vision to fund such an extensive excavation programme at a time when large landscape excavations have become less fashionable, or at least less affordable. The total area stripping with selective excavation within the exposed archaeological landscape may have seemed to some an extreme approach; however, this approach was necessary both to satisfy the original project aims and to secure a sample of measurable size related to an identifiable full data-set. The relatively complete understanding of the overall sample gives us particular opportunities for analysis, which would not be the case in a sample gathered from a large number of small trenches spread across the site. This will ensure that in a number of areas, such as the faunal and ceramic assemblages, the site will provide key reference data sets which, owing to the tight spatial controls applied in the data recovery stage, make it possible, perhaps for the first time at any scale, to test sampling methodologies against a known data-set. Thus it is hoped to contribute to the development of archaeological theory and practice as well as to our understanding, for instance, of the transition from Roman to Saxon or the evolution of Early Anglo-Saxon house types.

5.2 Organisation of the Project Design

This research design should be read in conjunction with the assessments presented above and the cascade chart giving the proposed work programme. The data required to provide an adequate response to the initial project objectives as set out in section 2.2 of the assessment have, to a large extent, been recovered. These objectives are reiterated below under general headings and in more detail relating to each specialist issue. This document is divided into three parts; a thematic narrative covering the principal research context, aims and objectives; a detailed breakdown of the proposed research and publication programme; and costings which are linked to the cascade chart provided [not published in the Internet Archaeology version of the assessment]. Some areas not covered within the assessment document are discussed with reasons for their omission.


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Last updated: Tue Dec 15 1998