An aerial view of excavations at Pocklington in the East Riding of Yorkshire showing a number of small enclosures containing graves
Excavation on a housing site at Pocklington, East Riding of Yorkshire, revealed Iron Age graves inside small square enclosures © Historic England
Excavation on a housing site at Pocklington, East Riding of Yorkshire, revealed Iron Age graves inside small square enclosures © Historic England

The 21st-Century Challenges for Archaeology Programme

The 21st-Century Challenges for Archaeology programme aims to improve archaeological practice in England. Led by Historic England and the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists, the programme brings together colleagues from across the archaeology sector to deliver key improvements in how archaeology is understood and managed, and how it engages with its different audiences. This will contribute to a future where archaeology maximises its public and social benefit and ensures a more sustainable profession to meet the challenges of climate change that lie ahead.

The programme is divided into five Work Packages, that cover legislation, provision of Local Authority archaeological advice, the coverage, provision and implementation of Standards and Guidance, the delivery and means of dissemination of synthesis, and the treatment of archives. Two core themes of public benefit and sustainability cut across all these work packages.

Background to the 21st-Century Challenges for Archaeology Programme

The present 21st-Century Challenges for Archaeology programme builds on over a decade of reflection into the discipline, dating back to the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists’ Annual Conference in Southport in 2010. The route from then to now is given in more detail in a dedicated section below.

The 21st-Century Challenges for Archaeology Programme concept originated in 2015 during a profession-wide reflection on the 25th anniversary of Planning Policy Guidance 16 (PPG16), and prompted by the findings of the 'Building the Future, Transforming our Past: Celebrating development-led archaeology in England, 1990-2015' report (Historic England 2015) 

The creation of Historic England the same year had stimulated the re-examination of a number of aspects of archaeological policy and practice and a consideration of Historic England’s role. Consequently, Historic England invited the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists to facilitate what became titled the 21st-Century Challenges for Archaeology Programme.

Work commenced in late 2017 with a review of progress of the 2011 profession-wide review, the Southport Report, published in Realising the Benefits of Planning-Led Investigation in the Historic Environment: A Framework For Delivery (Southport Group, 2011).  This earlier review was initiated through workshop discussions held at the 2010 Chartered Institute for Archaeologists Annual Conference in Southport.

The 2017 review of the Southport Group’s 2011 ambitions was reported in What about Southport? a report to CIfA on progress against the vision and recommendations of the Southport Report (2011), undertaken as part of the 21st-Century Challenges for Archaeology project (Nixon, 2017), which recommended six themes be further explored. A series of seminars were held across England in 2017.

More about the seminars

Details of the seminars held to identify priorities.

1. New models for archive creation, deposition, storage, access and research.
2. Professional standards and guidance: who sets them and what are they for?
3. Designation and management of the archaeological resource in the context of a changing planning system.
4. New models for local curatorial services: potential future roles for local authority archaeology services and Historic England.
5. Synthesis of information from developer-funded investigation to create new historical narratives.
6. Challenges of archaeological publication in a digital age: who are we writing this stuff for anyway?

The seminars were well supported with 162 people attending from all parts of the UK and from across the archaeology sector. An additional session was held at the 2018 Chartered Institute for Archaeologists Conference in Brighton. The outcomes of all the seminars, together with online feedback, were collated in the report 'The World after PPG16: 21st-Century Challenges for Archaeology' (Wills 2018). In all 13 cross-cutting themes were identified in the report which were condensed into nine strategic topics:

1. Politics and the importance of advocacy.
2. An expressed need for strong sectoral leadership.
3. The importance of Local Authority services in delivering our current model.
4. Professional standards and guidance: the need to update and enhance.
5. The planning system: the vulnerability of our main method of managing the archaeological resource.
6. Public value/benefit.
7. The structure of the sector.
8. The digital world: adapting to the challenges and opportunities of digital technologies.
9. Devolution and divergence across the UK.

Memorandum of understanding

On the basis of these findings, Historic England and the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists signed a memorandum of understanding in February 2020 and agreed to jointly coordinate and oversee a programme of strategic improvements to archaeological practice in England.

Specifically to make recommendations for changes to the way the sector creates, sustains and uses:

  • Standards and guidance - who sets them and what are they for?
  • Designation and management of heritage assets with archaeological interest - in the context of a changing planning system
  • Archaeological advice to planning authorities - potential future roles for Local Authority archaeology services and Historic England
  • Synthesis of the findings of planning-led investigations, to create new understandings
  • Hard-copy and digital publications – who are we writing this for, and how to publish
  • Archives - new models for archive creation, deposition, storage, access and research.

Work commenced in 2020 with HE and CIfA establishing a Programme Advisory Board of sector representatives to oversee the programme. The programme was broken up into five key work packages described in depth in a dedicated section below.

In 2021, the post-COVID world, including the archaeology sector, was very different. A rethinking of the principles of the programme led to the inclusion of public benefit and climate change action into the programme. These two overarching themes run through the heart of the profession underpinning why we undertake archaeology and how we need to adapt to face the impacts of climate change and move towards a more sustainable profession. These two themes are interwoven and embedded into the different work packages.

Structure of the programme

The structure of the programme was defined by the 2020 Memorandum of understanding between Historic England and the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists. This established the Programme Advisory Board, which is made-up of representatives of the sector, who are listed, by Work Package, in the ‘Partners and Organisations’ section below.

Historic England and Chartered Institute for Archaeologists are joint leads and have provided programme management support. Each Work Package is led by one organisation and is supported by other sector representatives.

The programme itself does not have a specific budget, and all contributions are provided in kind by the representative organisations involved. Any financial support, for example to commission surveys, reports etc, is applied for, and managed, through the normal Historic England Grants process.

Public Benefit and Climate Change/Net Zero are at the core of the programme and need to be considered as part of each work package.

There are five work packages, but within these there are 16 individual workstreams. These are described below, alongside an update on progress.

Programme work packages and progress

1.1 Working with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and other bodies to ensure a sound policy base for ‘National Importance' (as set out on the National Planning Policy Framework).

Progress (July 23): Led by Historic England. Historic England published Selection Guides for Scheduling, and the 'Planning and Archaeology Historic England Advice Note 17', providing more general advice for LPAs who may seek to evidence ‘demonstrable equivalent significance’ to that of Scheduled Monuments.

Historic England has published a number of factual Case Studies under their Research Register series:

1.2 Three Work Packages are looking to exploit existing networks to identify opportunities, or threats, that require an archaeological advocacy response, and to share analysis of the strength/weaknesses of archaeology in the planning system:

1.2.1 Collating the Historic Environment sector’s shared view on law/policy reforms.

Progress (July 23): Led by Historic England. Sector wish-list of desirable reforms now collated and maintained by Historic England. Sector workshops on planning reform reactivated.

1.2.2 Defining archaeology-specific advocacy objectives and priorities, to be regularly updated in future alongside an analysis of threats and opportunities, to enable a programme of implementation.

Progress (July 23): Led by Chartered Institute for Archaeologists. Workshops and analysis were conducted, with the report, 'Advocacy Foresight: Identifying Opportunities and Threats Requiring an Advocacy Response' (Wills and Lennox, 2023), published. The Programme Advisory Board and sector bodies are in discussions about implementation of the recommendations.

1.2.3 Collating Case Studies to illustrate how archaeology functions well in planning applications for development, and what happens when provisions fail.

Progress (July 23): Led by CIfA. A series of Case Studies exploring the planning systems strengths and weaknesses has been published, along with promotional materials and training being delivered.

2.1 Reviewing the range of Local Authority service models and their pros and cons. To explore alternatives, and seek an agreed plan, or alternative plans, for the public roles of Local Authority archaeological services, and publish it/them. Being delivered in two parts:

2.1.1 Review of existing service models.

Progress (July 23): Led by the Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers, delivered by Landward Research, work completed and report produced.

2.1.2 Defining Challenges and opportunities Following on from the Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers/Landward Research review of Local Authority service models this Work Package is aiming to provide a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing Local Authorities in the current political context, and to provide helpful advice to archaeology services and individuals over mitigation strategies.

Progress (July 23): Led by Chartered Institute for Archaeologists with a project proposal presently with the  Programme Advisory Board. Proposed to conduct wide consultation across the sector through personal and online events.

2.2 Improving Local Authority capacity and skills through peer-to-peer training, mentoring and sharing of experience.

Progress (July 23): led by the Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers. A proposal to review current guidance on mentoring and training, and identifying means to disseminate to Local Authority staff, in development stage.

3.1 Redesign the sector's suite of standards and guidance, to produce better archaeology; and to ensure that the results of this work feed into wider heritage sector approaches to advice and standards and guidance.

Progress (July 23): Led by Chartered Institute for Archaeologists. Consulted externally in 2023 over the revision of the Standards and universal Guidance for Field Evaluation, Archaeological Excavation, and Archaeological Watching Brief. Proposals to Historic England for funding to follow this up with the revision of both the Standards and Guidance for Geophysics and Standing Building Recording are to be submitted by Chartered Institute for Archaeologists.

3.2 Conducting a strategic review of what standards and guidance are available, and how they can be used with a view to ensuring relevant guidance is available, has more weight, standards are effectively enforced, and guidance better promoted.

Progress (July 23): Led by Chartered Institute for Archaeologists. A spreadsheet of extant guidance has been produced, potential gaps identified along with an initial recommendation of who is best placed to produce the required absent material. A proposal to Historic England to fund a project to further deliver the proposals is to be submitted by the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists.

3.3 Developing detailed technical guidance for England to support and underpin the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists' suite of standards and guidance (3.1 and 3.2). To provide national consistency, for instance over sampling/volumetrics, standardisation of artefact class nomenclature, digital trench-side recording etc.

Progress (July 23): Led by University Archaeology UK (UAUK) who are putting together a proposal to Historic England to fund work to develop and deliver the Technical Guidance, to inform 'Written Schemes of Investigation' (known as WSIs) etc.

3.4 Developing a process of common, industry compatible, measurement metrics, and a costing/pricing approach, through the development of a Standard Method of Measurement for Archaeological Excavation. To be used to inform contract negotiations in development-led archaeology.

Progress (July 23): Led by  the Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers: FAME, funded by Historic England, the project is at an advanced stage. We will signpost the metrics when available.

4.1 Addressing the problem of insufficient funding for pre-1990 work, and a noteworthy element of post-1990 issues created by poor costing or issues over developer funding. To address this develop a coherent national approach to synthesis through investment in past investigations which have yet to contribute their knowledge dividend.

Progress (July 23): led by Historic England. who are to review, publish and disseminate their Backlog Strategy, as a way to look to unlock this knowledge. Work is underway: the first stage is underway, programming targeted research projects to establish the benchmark evidence base and quantify the backlog resource.

4.2  Developing more effective ways of knowledge co-creation. The commercial sector works co-operatively to enjoy the benefits and synergies of wider understanding, while developers perceive a more cost-effective and targeted approach to investigation. Planned to be delivered in two parts:

  • 4.2.1 Creating better conditions for synthesis through effective FAIR data-sharing, increased standardisation of sampling strategies, common terminologies and research networks. To include creating a library of synthesis case studies to promote good practice. (‘FAIR’ stands for findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable, and these principles constitute a set of data stewardship guidelines to increase the sustainability of research data).
  • 4.2.2 Exploring potential options on current developments with multiple archaeological contractors to encourage collaboration, with a view to defining an effective model for resourcing synthesis.

Progress (July 23): Led by the British Academy, supported closely by the Society of Antiquaries of London and University Archaeology UK (UAUK). To date delivery of 4.2.1 and 4.2.2 has been in tandem.

A workshop, entitled ‘How Do We Learn: a Workshop on Archaeological Fieldwork Synthesis’ was held at the Society of Antiquaries of London in autumn 2022, a recording of which is available online. This event set the agenda for future work and prompted a paper, The Promotion of Archaeological Syntheses, produced by the two lead bodies along with University Archaeology UK. A cross-sector Synthesis Group, encompassing all facets of the profession, is being put in place to oversee the delivery of the ambitions covered by 4.2.1 and 4.2.2.

4.3 Establishing how users of all kinds wish to access archaeological information in the context of new media formats and changes in access to publications. How a wider range of potential audiences for archaeological information can find what they need easily and quickly, using innovative approaches, and at a realistic cost.

Progress (October 23): Led by the Council for British Archaeology (CBA). Historic England funding the Council for British Archaeology to undertake a Public User Needs Survey 2 (PUNS2) building on the original Publication User Needs Survey (PUNS) of over two decades ago. The new survey will build on the original Publication User Needs Survey project, broadening its scope to encompass the wider range of forms of dissemination available today and targeting a broader range of audiences. Work has commenced with the project researcher appointed in October 2023.

This Work Package is being covered by the Future for Archaeological Archives Programme (FAAP), instigated as a response to the findings of the 2017 Mendoza Review of Museums in England. The Future for Archaeological Archives Programme is aiming to deliver a sustainable future for archaeological collections recovered from excavations in England. Historic England is working in partnership with Arts Council England and a range of other national heritage organisations to deliver the programme.

Progress (July 23): Full details, and an update on progress, are available via the Historic England Future for Archaeological Archives programme webpage.

Partners and organisations

Through the 2020 Memorandum of Understanding the 21st Century Challenges for Archaeology Programme is jointly led by Barney Sloane, Historic England’s National Specialist Services Director, and Peter Hinton, Chief Executive for the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists.

Historic England provide the Programme Manager, Ian Barnes.

Public Benefit – Dr Sadie Watson provides the programme-wide advice on embedding public benefit measures.

Climate Change/Net Zero – Dan Miles currently covers the remit to embed Climate Change action/Net Zero throughout the programme.

Historic England and  the Chartered Institute for Archaeology are involved as either a lead, or act in support, to all the Work Packages. The organisations below also either lead or support one or more of the Work Packages:

  • Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers (ALGAO)
  • British Academy
  • Council for British Archaeology (CBA)
  • Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers (FAME)
  • Historic Environment Forum (HEF)
  • Historic Environment Parliamentary Research Group (HEPRG)
  • Institute of Conservation
  • Society of Antiquaries of London
  • The Archaeology Forum (TAF)
  • University Archaeology UK (UAUK)

Historic England contact for this programme

The Programme Manager for Historic England's contribution, and for the 21st-Century Challenges for Archaeology programme as a whole, is Ian Barnes. Please contact him with any enquiries or requests for further information: [email protected].