Since the late nineteenth century, publication has been seen as an integral part of archaeological excavation. The principle that traditionally underlay publication was expressed by General Pitt-Rivers in his report of his fieldwork at Cranborne Chase (1887-98): 'A discovery dates only from the time of the record of it, and not from the time of its being found in the soil.' Without publication, excavation is nothing but a meaningless destruction of evidence.
Up until the 1960s, at least, it was generally accepted that archaeologists had a responsibility to publish their sites and finds in extensive, if not exhaustive, detail. An ideal model of report structure emerged that included a summary/abstract; an introduction giving background and location; a full description of the structural/stratigraphic evidence; a discussion outlining the excavator's judgements; and catalogues/appendices containing a full description of objects found.
For many, this traditional model remains the ideal. But since c.1970 in some parts of Britain and Ireland the publication of archaeological projects has come under intense pressure, mainly from a vast increase in both the number and the complexity of excavations. Successive attempts to alleviate the pressures have resulted in a shift from exhaustive towards selective publication, whilst the primary record of a project is now considered to be its archive rather than the final publication – if there is one. Meanwhile, schools of thought have emerged which challenge the notions of preservation by record and excavation as an objective process, and urge experimentation with new approaches.
New, cheaper, publication media have appeared. However, there has been considerable anxiety within the archaeological community about the use of microfiche or electronic media as principal platforms for publication. At the same time, there is great variation in publication policy and practice, both within British and Irish archaeology generally and between different sectors of the discipline.
Other worries within the discipline touch on the dissemination of information about ongoing projects, the escalation of 'grey' literature (ie literature available on demand rather than through traditional outlets), the accessibility of archives, and the relationship between individual projects and regional, period or subject synthesis.
The analysis of the past 30 years into how archaeological publications should change has, however, largely evaded one central issue. There has been little concrete information about how archaeological publications are used by readers, or about what readers expect from them. That is, until now. In 1998 the Council for British Archaeology was commissioned to address this lacuna, and the result was a report entitled The Publication of Archaeological Projects: a user needs survey (PUNS), of which this is a summary.
The full report can be found on the CBA's web site at http://www.britarch.ac.uk/pubs/puns.
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Last updated: Tue Oct 21 2003