It is axiomatic that the results of all archaeological excavation, fieldwork, and other research must be made available for scholars to consult. Furthermore, to be of value the results must be made fully available within a short time after the completion of the work.

The Cunliffe Report 1982

At the time of writing, we are in the midst of a debate on the nature of archaeological publication.

P. Barker 1982, 226

The above quotation from Philip Barker, surely one of the most thorough of British archaeological practitioners and publishers, is disarming in its simplicity. It is, however, somewhat misleading. The feeling of a crisis in archaeological publication during the late 1970s and 1980s was certainly correct, but the larger truth is that archaeology is almost always in the midst of a debate on the nature of publication. From the times of Pitt-Rivers and Wheeler onwards, archaeologists have been vocal in their demands for the prompt and authoritative publication of archaeological fieldwork and scholarship, although such demands have always been tempered by consideration of resource limitations. The resulting unhappy situation was succinctly summarised by Catherine Hills (1993, 217) when she noted that "we have been quietly drowning in our own data while complaining about the non-appearance of everyone else’s".

The critical failure in archaeological publication prior to the 1990s has been much discussed. Undoubtedly, this was largely the result of the increased levels of excavation from the 1960s onwards, the enhancement of archaeological and scientific methodologies for the recovery of data, and structural weaknesses within archaeology itself, which for some time allowed the proliferation of excavation without adequate attention to post-excavation and publication programmes. The reaction to this situation was a series of reports on publication in archaeology, most notably the Frere (DoE 1975) and Cunliffe (1982) Reports, and the later Antiquaries (Society of Antiquaries of London 1992) draft paper on publication. More recently, the provision of MAP1 and 2 guidelines (English Heritage 1989; 1991) with their highly structured, and successful, approach to project design, post-excavation and publication, supported by pro-active initiatives including the English Heritage rolling programme on pre-PPG16 backlog sites have, to a large extent, redressed some of the discipline’s historic publication problems.

Despite these successes, debate continues and evolves. Hills (1993), in an excellent summary published only six years ago, perceptively placed her emphasis on the character of archaeological publication rather than publication problems. However, the almost total lack of any reference to electronic publication within this paper emphasises how rapidly the situation has changed in the short time since Hunter and Ralston’s "Archaeological Resource Management" (1993) was published. Indeed from being a publication issue, it may now be true to say that it is technology that is driving the debate.


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