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Red Sky at Night: digital archiving in England 2020

Claire Tsang

Cite this as: Tsang, C. 2021 Red Sky at Night: digital archiving in England 2020, Internet Archaeology 58.


Across Europe, countries are at different stages of dealing with digital archaeological archives and how those archives are dealt with is affected by differences in statutory requirements, legal ownership of archives and infrastructure. In England, there is no single national repository for archaeological archives and there is no legal requirement to deposit either physical or digital archives with public bodies, and deposition rates for digital remain low. The archaeological sector remains aware of the implications of producing ever-growing quantities of born-digital data, which interested parties are attempting to address. The current framework and situation regarding digital archiving in England, therefore, offers an interesting case study for how digital archiving is dealt with through the application of professional standards, rather than legislative requirements.

This article aims to summarise the current situation regarding digital archaeological archives in England. Across the UK there has been a great deal of work and focus on archaeological archives, driven by two main factors: archaeological archives are curated by a network of regional and local museums and currently resources are shrinking in terms of storage capacity and archaeological curators. Repositories for physical archives can therefore be ill-prepared for the curation of digital archaeological archives, which can risk loss of archaeological digital data, and in 2017 this was recognised within the UK government's Mendoza Review (Mendoza 2017). This article describes the current work to resolve these issues - including strengthening the planning process, providing standards and guidance for data creators and repositories.

  • Google Scholar
  • Keywords: data, digital archiving, museums, preservation, FAIR, data management, England
  • Accepted: 21 January 2021. Published: 31 May 2021
  • Funding: This article was funded by SEADDA as part of COST Action 18128, Horizon 2020 Framework Programme of the European Union
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Corresponding author: Claire TsangORCID logo
Historic England

Full text

Table 1: Percentage of ALGAO:England respondents that indicated at what stage their authority refers or expects reference to, a particular aspect of archiving

Table 2: Summary of question 5.4: 'In your experience, to what extent is digital data actively managed during project delivery in the following ways', adapted from Parker Wooding and Forster 2018, table 3

ALGAO:England n.d. Historic Environment Record Services and Research Projects in England, [Last accessed: 27 November 2020].

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Donnelly-Symes, B. 2019 Planning for Archives: Opportunities and Omissions, ALGAO: England, [Last accessed: 27 November 2020].

Historic England 2018 Mendoza Review: Historic England's recommendations to DCMS on the future of archaeological archives, March 2018. [Last accessed: 27 November 2020].

Historic England 2019 Heritage and the Economy 2019 England. [Last accessed: 27 November 2020].

Mendoza, N. 2017 The Mendoza Review: an independent review of museums in England, Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport [Last accessed: 27 November 2020].

Parker Wooding, J. and Forster, M. 2018 Creating a Sectoral Standard and Guidance for Managing Digital Data Generated from Archaeological Investigations: Starter for Ten Survey: Summary Report, unpublished report.

Perrin, K., Brown, D.H., Lange, G., Bibby, D., Carlsson, A., Degraeve, A., Kuna, M., Larsson, Y., Pálsdóttir, S.U., Stoll-Tucker, B., Dunning, C. and Rogalla von Bieberstein, A. 2014 The Standard and Guide to Best Practice in Archaeological Archiving in Europe, Namur: Europae Archaeologiae Consilium (EAC Guidelines 1).

Rocks-Macqueen, D. and Lewis, B. 2019 Archaeology in Development Management: Its Contribution in England, Scotland & Wales. [Last accessed: 27 November 2020].

Society for Museum Archaeology 2020 Standards and Guidance in the Care of Archaeological Collections. [Last accessed: 27 November 2020].

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