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The Survey: Fieldwork publications: attitudes, opinions and expectations

(i) Information about recent fieldwork

UK government planning guidance has placed the onus for funding rescue projects on developers. But are the systems adequate for notifying the wider archaeological community about such work, and for disseminating its results? Sixty two per cent of all respondents felt that there was a need for a better system for reporting on fieldwork projects in Britain and Ireland as a whole, many commenting that it was difficult to know what literature existed and how to gain access to it. Analysis by nation/region and constituency revealed little variation, with over 50% in all nations/regions and almost all constituencies expressing a desire for change. These results should not be interpreted as expressions of dissatisfaction with summary reports covering respondents' own countries, such as Discovery and Excavation in Scotland as responses regarding such summary reports were generally positive.

How should the system be revised? Fifty seven per cent favoured brief summary reports, 48% asked for a simple list, and 34% wished to see thematic overviews although these options are not exclusive. National/regional analysis discloses little variation, and whilst greater differences can be observed between constituencies, they do not reverse the order of preference save in the case of artefact/ecofact specialists and undergraduates.

(ii) Purpose of publishing fieldwork projects

What is a fieldwork report for? Sixty-eight per cent felt that a fieldwork publication should provide a brief report of the project; 58% felt that it should provide a concise but full description of the primary data with in-depth analysis and interpretation; and 54% felt that it should provide information about the site for the interested lay reader. (The options are not exclusive and respondents could select more than one.) This combination of preferences prevailed in all constituencies although in some cases the importance attached to each is inverted. For instance, among university staff, artefact/ecofact specialists, and postgraduates, 70% called for a full description of the primary data with in-depth analysis and interpretation, with only 5060% favouring a brief report of the project.

Far lower percentages felt that that the purposes should be to give a full description with minimal analysis and interpretation (33%), in-depth analysis and interpretation with selective description of the evidence (29%), or the production of a synthetic narrative history (32%). Contractors, consultants and archaeologists working for national bodies placed greater emphasis on these latter purposes than did others.

In many ways these results reflect the existing circumstances, in that during the 1980s and 1990s the publication of fieldwork projects tended to take the form of an interim and/or summary report, a full report of the evidence with analysis and interpretation, and publication for a popular audience. Thus, despite expressing dissatisfaction with current circumstances elsewhere in the questionnaire, the majority of respondents appear to be endorsing the status quo. However, given the powerful influence of the status quo upon the formation of opinion, it is arguably also significant that c 30% of respondents have selected models which represent a significant departure: that is, the production of selective narrative histories, and reports with indepth analysis and interpretation but only selective reference to the primary data.

(iii) Content of fieldwork publications

Should the content of reports change? (Fig 18) The survey found a strong desire for more cross-referencing and integration of specialist reports with the main structures account, information on the location of the archive, and attention to narrative style and readability.

Fig 18
Figure 18: Graph showing the elements that respondents would like to see included in a revised system for regular reporting on fieldwork projects (Q4.1b)

Over 40% also called for more integration between description and interpretation, more interpretation of the evidence, and broader synthesis, but there is greater ambivalence on these accounts with over 30% of respondents also arguing that they should stay the same. Undergraduates, university staff, contractors, local government archaeologists and those working for national bodies show a clear preference for more interpretation and more integration between description and interpretation. By contrast, local society members and independent archaeologists would like to see the same amount or less. All other constituencies are divided over these issues.

Overall, few people express a desire for less information in fieldwork publications, although 10% state that they would like to see less description of the evidence, and 19% less discussion of the experiences of those involved. This latter is significant given that fieldwork publications generally provide very little of such information.

(iv) Grey literature

Half of all respondents felt that grey literature (any work which is not issued for public sale/widespread distribution and does not have an ISBN/ISSN) constitutes a problem for the discipline. Only 16% stated that it does not. But 35% either did not answer this question or ticked the 'don't know' category, pointing both to ignorance about what grey literature is, and unawareness as to the extent of the genre. The breakdown of response by age and constituency indicates that such knowledge is very unevenly distributed. The constituencies which tend to see grey literature as problematic are, with the exception of university staff, those that are most likely to be using it: consultants, contractors, specialists, scientists, and those working in local government.

(v) Synthesis of archaeological knowledge

Forty-seven per cent of respondents felt the relationship was inadequate between fieldwork publications and research/publications concerned with synthesis; only 15% stated that this was not the case (Fig 19).

Fig 19
Figure 19: Graph showing responses to being asked whether there is an inadequate relationship between fieldwork publications and synthesis of archaeological knowledge (Q4.5a)

Those who see the relationship as particularly problematic include consultants, contractors, specialists, university staff and those working in local government that is, with the exception of university staff, those in development-driven archaeology's front line. Many undergraduate and postgraduate students, local society members and independent archaeologists that is, the sectors most distant from development-driven archaeology ticked the 'don't know' category.

Amongst those who consider the relationship inadequate, 79% feel that measures should be devised to encourage more research and publication that combines results from a number of fieldwork projects to produce broader syntheses. The argument that fieldwork publications themselves should contain more synthesis was the least favoured solution. Nevertheless, some clearly see it as one component: 42% of the total sample would like to see more synthesis in fieldwork publications.

(vi) Dissemination of information to the public

Are fieldwork publications an appropriate means to disseminate information to the public? Only 22% felt that they were. Those who felt the opposite said fieldwork publications are too technical, too difficult to obtain, and too costly. Many referred to open days, exhibitions, publications targeted at popular audiences, television and radio programmes as more appropriate.

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Last updated: Tue Oct 21 2003