1. Introduction

1.1 Background to regional assessments

People from all walks of life – from school pupil to pensioner, from postal worker to politician – see the past as important, as valuable to them. Furthermore, many would agree that the discipline of archaeology plays a vitally important role in generating knowledge with such social value. Hence the archaeological resource deserves to be taken into account when modern development impacts on it (housing, agriculture, the creation of service corridors through road schemes, even unofficial metal detecting), or when 'natural' forces eat into it (dewatering of landscapes, coastal erosion, climate change etc.).

However, the way in which we manage threats to these assets in Britain has undergone a series of changes in recent decades. These include: the prioritisation of site protection over investigation; the divorce of curatorial and fieldwork practice; the development of competitive tendering in the latter; and the distancing of the rescue and research aspects of the discipline. Such trends have meant that curators are now confronted by some new challenges: deciding, on a coherent basis, what aspects of the past must be protected and what can be let go; giving concise requirements to fieldwork companies to ensure that they compete for work on an equitable basis; and trying harder to avoid a complete divorce between data gathering and its analysis. In this evolving situation, assessments of the known archaeological resource are needed as part of their armoury.

In theory one could carry out a resource assessment at any spatial level to aid curatorial decision-making, but several factors favour a regional approach. The trends noted above mean that advice is needed in greater detail than hitherto – we require something more than broad-brush, national assessments. At the same time, recommendations by curators must be deployed consistently across wider areas than before – commercial units demand level playing-fields which extend beyond individual counties or historic towns. Here regions provide a happy medium. In addition, beyond the fieldwork profession, general developments in society have favoured sub-national administrative entities. Within the UK we have seen an increasingly important role for regional governmental structures, a trend that seems destined to continue and, indeed, become stronger. Finally, and perhaps as part of this tendency, academics have attempted to understand past human development at a regional level, often with a particular period focus (for example, Swift 2000).

In acknowledging these new contexts and demands, English Heritage's publication Frameworks for Our Past (Olivier 1996) argued the need for such regional research strategies and then set out a structure for their development across the country. This involved their sponsoring a series of projects with a common purpose – to assess each region's archaeological resource, to develop a new research agenda for its further investigation, and then to create a research strategy for implementing new approaches to developing archaeological understanding of the region in question.


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Last updated: Mon Nov 26 2007