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The Survey: Use of the components of fieldwork reports

Introductions and conclusions/discussions were found to be the most frequently used sections of fieldwork reports, with over 83% and 85%, respectively, always or usually consulting them (Fig 12). Next in frequency of consultation came maps/plans/sections and photographs (69% and 67%, respectively). Artefact/ecofact catalogues and artistic reconstructions were the least used components, with only 35% and 45% of respondents always or usually using them. The entire publication was always or usually read by only 19% of respondents.

There is some variation in the proportion of constituencies that always use introductions and conclusions/ discussions. In comparison with the average across constituencies (60%, 60%), a significantly lower proportion of independent archaeologists (46%, 47%), museum archaeologists (54%, 51%) and specialists (35%, 45%) 'always' use the introduction and conclusion/discussion respectively.

Fig 12
Figure 12: Graph showing the frequency of use of various typical components of fieldwork publications (Q3.2)

The account of the structures, contexts and upstanding features is often regarded as the core of an excavation report. Most of the constituencies fall within 10% of the average (54%) in the proportion of individuals who 'always' or 'usually' use this component. However, in terms of those who always use the structures report, the average is only 16%. Falling significantly below this average are museum archaeologists (6%) and artefact/ecofact specialists (3%).

Other elements of the reports were used more frequently by those with a specialist interest. For instance there is considerable variation between constituencies in the use of specialist artefactual and environmental reports and catalogues. Here, as might be expected, museum archaeologists, conservators, postgraduates and particularly artefact/environmental specialists themselves, are the most frequent users. In the case of specialists, 77% 'always' use artefact/ecofact reports and 61% 'always' use the catalogues. Site plans and photographs were used widely, while artefact/ecofact illustrations tended to be used more by those with a specialist interest.

Fig 13
Figure 13: Graph showing purpose of use of fieldwork publications (Q3.3)

The questionnaire also asked respondents why they used fieldwork reports (Fig 13). They are most frequently used for obtaining a general overview of the site, for finding specific parallels with other sites or materials, and for obtaining information about a specific category of data (over 50% of respondents said that they either 'always' or 'usually' used reports for these purposes). In terms of providing a source of data for broader subject/national/regional/ period syntheses, an area traditionally regarded as one of the primary roles of fieldwork publications, 40% of respondents stated that they 'always or 'usually' use them for this purpose. The frequency with which fieldwork publications are used for other purposes then falls off sharply, with less than 20% of respondents 'always' or 'usually' using them for assessment in advance of commercial development, partial or wholesale reinterpretation of the site/material, as sources about methods, or for teaching.

Analysis by constituency reveals a number of largely predictable patterns. In use for purposes of overview, most constituencies fall within 15% of the average percentage (68%) that 'always' or 'usually' uses them for this purpose. The only exceptions are archaeologists working for national bodies (84%), and artefact and ecofact specialists (42%). In usage for obtaining parallels there is not a great deal of variation between constituencies, although when comparing those who 'always' or 'usually' use them for this purpose, consultants (80%), contractors (70%), museum archaeologists (76%) and specialists (77%) are noticeably above average (62%). Perhaps surprisingly, there is little variation between constituencies among those who 'always' or 'usually' use fieldwork publications for purposes of subject, regional, or period synthesis although artefact and ecofact specialists are 11% below average (40%).

There is considerable variation in the use made of reports to obtain information about specific categories of data. Museum archaeologists, postgraduates, artefact/ecofact specialists, and university staff make the most such use, with over 70% (over 90% in the case of specialists) 'always' or 'usually' using them for the purpose. Finally, as would be natural, it is predominantly consultants, contractors, local government archaeologists, and archaeologists working for national bodies who use fieldwork publications for assessment in advance of development, while university staff and teachers use them principally for teaching.

Fig 14
Figure 14: Graph showing general perceptions of whether fieldwork publications provide all the information that users need (Q3.4)

The survey sought to gain a general indication of levels of satisfaction with fieldwork reports by asking respondents whether they obtained all the information they needed from them (Fig 14). Overall, 67% said that they did, while 33% stated that they did not. Specialists and university staff were least likely to obtain the information they required. Archaeological scientists also indicated a high degree of dissatisfaction.

Fig 15
Figure 15: Graph showing frequency of critical assessment of the interpretations presented in fieldwork publications on the basis of accounts of the archaeological evidence (Q3.5a)

Respondents were asked how often they engaged in critical assessment (Fig 15). The question was asked in order to address the traditional view that fieldwork publications should include a comprehensive description of the evidence and keep a distinction between description and interpretation, to enable readers to engage in reinterpretation. Six per cent of all respondents always undertake it, 24% usually do so, and 41% sometimes do so. Breakdown by constituency indicates that critical assessment is most likely to be undertaken by consultants, national body employees, teachers, local government employees, post graduates, specialists, scientists and university staff over 30% of these groups said that they 'always' or 'usually' undertook it.

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