Ceramic vessels on a shelf in an archaeological store.
17th century pottery on open shelving in an archaeology store. © Historic England
17th century pottery on open shelving in an archaeology store. © Historic England

Future for Archaeological Archives Programme (FAAP)

Historic England is working with various partners across the archaeological and museums sectors on the Future for Archaeological Archives Programme (FAAP). The programme has been set up to find a sustainable future for archaeological collections recovered from excavations in England, including excavation records and pottery, tile, bone and metal objects.

These archives are being created at record levels due to new infrastructure and construction projects, whilst available space at local museums is diminishing fast.

The value in these archives lies mostly in potential further research and there is an obligation to future generations not to lose them. The programme aims to help resolve this increasingly urgent storage issue and possible solutions being considered include the creation of a national repository.

The Future for Archaeological Archives Programme (FAAP) is a programme of linked actions and projects intended to result in a consistent, sustainable approach to the creation, compilation, transfer and curation of archaeological archives.

Strategic Background to FAAP

Historic England and Arts Council England, together with a range of national heritage organisations, has initiated the Future for Archaeological Archives Programme, which will address the challenge of realising a sustainable future for the archives derived from archaeology projects in England.

The Programme Board is Chaired by Barney Sloane, National Specialist Services Director at Historic England and Senior Responsible Officer for the Programme.

In 2018 Michael Ellis, former Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, endorsed the sector-wide plan which was created in response to the Mendoza Review of museums in England.

The success of development-led archaeology since the early 1990s has led to a major increase in the quantity of archaeological material in museum stores across the country and many museums are becoming unable to accept new finds.

Key features of the plan include:

Investigating the potential for national or regional repositories.

Understanding and promoting access and use of the archives.

Clarifying issues of ownership and title transfer.

Exploring sensible charging frameworks.

Increasing the focus on retaining only what is truly significant.

Exploring new technologies and methods of storage.

I welcome this important report from Historic England. Our archives hold some of the greatest treasures unearthed in the country. It is important that we address challenges of how we store and preserve these artefacts so we can bring our past to life for future generations.
Michael Ellis, former Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism
Finding a sustainable future for these archives which hold evidence of our everyday past as well as unique national treasures, is vital. We believe that the Government endorsement sends a strong signal to the sector to work together to meet this challenge
Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England
We're delighted to be working alongside Historic England to seek a more sustainable future for archaeological archives. This sector-wide action plan will help us make positive progress on this long-standing challenge.
Darren Henley, Chief Executive Arts Council England

Partners and organisation

The FAAP is overseen by a Programme Board that is comprised of representatives from national archaeological and heritage organisations.

  • Historic England (Programme co-ordinator)
  • Arts Council England
  • Archaeological Archives Forum
  • Association of Local Government Officers
  • British Museum
  • Chartered Institute for Archaeologists
  • Collections Trust
  • Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers
  • National Highways
  • HS2
  • National Trust
  • Receiver of Wreck
  • Seeing the Light of Day museums project
  • Society for Museum Archaeology

About Archaeological Archives

The FAAP follows the definitions formulated in Perrin et al 2014, A Standard and Guide to Best Practice for Archaeological Archiving in Europe

An archaeological archive comprises all records and objects recovered during an archaeological project and identified for long term preservation, including artefacts, ecofacts and other environmental remains, waste products, scientific samples and also written and visual documentation in paper, film and digital form.

An archaeological project is any programme of work that involves the collection and/or production of information about an archaeological site, assemblage or object in any environment, including in the field, under water, at a desk or in a laboratory. Examples of an archaeological project include: intrusive projects such as excavation, field evaluation, watching brief, surface recovery and the destructive analysis of objects; non-intrusive projects such as landscape or building survey, aerial survey, remote sensing, off-site research such as desk-based assessment and the recording of objects or object assemblages. The re-investigation of archives in curatorial care also constitutes an archaeological project.

England's archaeological archives are the legacy of excavations and surveys, and include artefacts, samples, drawings, photographs, and documents. They are important resources for research; test-beds for new techniques; sources for new museum displays and interpretations of our past, and materials for lifelong education. They need careful storage and expert support for access.

FAAP Action Plan

The FAAP Action Plan has five work packages:

A Establishing the basis for action
B Establishing the best option for future archive provision
C Developing the basis for cross-sector best practice
D Innovation in archaeological archives
E Reviewing the situation
F Communication

Each work package includes a number of projects or initiatives that address the recommendations made to the Mendoza Review, or points in a wider sector action plan that HE subsequently developed.

This work package covers Historic England Recommendations 1, 4 and 5:

1. DCMS, ACE, HLF (and where relevant the National Museums) should ensure that the issue of archaeological archives is addressed by all relevant components of the Mendoza Review Action Plan.

4. DCMS endorses the action plan agreed by Historic England and key archaeological stakeholders intended to improve the sustainability of archaeological archives.

5. DCMS endorses the inclusion within a Memorandum of Understanding between Historic England and Arts Council England of measures that set out how the two organisations will work together to implement the relevant recommendations of the Mendoza Review and embrace their mutual interest in archaeological archives.

Work Package B addresses HE Recommendation 2:

DCMS should ask Arts Council England (as the lead development body for museums) to work with Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic England, to deliver a feasibility study of the viability of establishing additional strategic capacity in terms of publicly accessible repositories for archaeological archives, acting in support of existing museum provision.

Three Sector Action Plan initiatives have been launched:

University Archaeology UK, funded by HE, researched the number of PhD projects that utilised archaeology collections in England.  Read the report on their findings.

The Society for Museum Archaeology has been commissioned by Historic England to collect data on the number of visits to museum archaeology collections, for any reason from personal interest, through community heritage projects, to academic research. This project should be reporting in 2024.

  • Making the case for transforming the system
    Following the options appraisal, HE and ACE are building a case to establish a national collections centre at the Science Museum NCC at Wroughton airfield, Wiltshire.

Work Package C addresses HE Recommendations 3 and 6:

  • 3: DCMS should recommend to museums that they should consider charging for the deposition and curation of archaeological archives where they are created as part of the planning process.

Historic England is commissioning an assessment of current museum charging structures, combined with sector-wide consultation, which will lead to a variety of options for working out charging structures for archaeological archives. This will lead to a recommended system for funding archive storage across the sector.

  • 6: DCMS should welcome and endorse guidance from key archaeological organisations that, as soon as practicable, relieves museums of the expectation that they should attempt to curate digital archive material from archaeological projects.

The Society for Museum Archaeology has issued a new standard for the care of archaeological collections that makes it clear that museums should not collect or attempt to curate, digital archaeological archive material:
Standards_and_Guidance_in_the_Care_of_Archaeological_Collections FINAL.pdf - Google Drive

Further initiatives in Work Package C address issues of best practice and ownership

  • The Chartered Institute for Archaeologists is reviewing its suite of Standard and Guidance, including the S&G for Archaeological Archiving.
  • HE commissioned legal advice to clarify the situation around ownership of archaeologically recovered material and the transfer of that right to collections repositories. Solicitors were also commissioned to produce a Deed of Transfer that is intended to simplify the process of donation to a repository. HE is now working on guidance to promote the Deed to landowners, developers and archaeological practitioners.

• The Society for Museum Archaeology was commissioned by HE to investigate the benefits of rationalising existing archaeology in terms of freeing up storage space. Read the report from that project

• Updated best practice guidance will be required, building on the work of the Archaeological Archives Forum and the European Archaeological Consilium. This will emerge as other workstreams are concluded, particularly if a national archaeological archive centre is developed.

This work package looks to the future in terms of fieldwork methodologies and approaches to curation. One important ongoing element is the review of regional research frameworks.

A related project is the Heritage Information Access Strategy, which is engaged with the development of Historic Environment Records and access to heritage data.

Work Package E covers the gathering of up to date information on the state of the museum and archaeological archive sectors.

The Society for Museum Archaeology received funding from Historic England to conduct three consecutive annual reviews, from 2016 to 2017, of the numbers of museums/repositories collecting archaeological archives in England. View the reports.

A further review is planned, to establish how the situation has changed but was held up when museums were working at reduced capacity during the lockdowns. It is hoped that another survey will commence for 2023.

These web pages are managed by Historic England and will be updated as FAAP projects and initiatives progress.

Options for Sustainable Archives

Arts Council England and Historic England commissioned a report, published in 2021, into 'Options for Sustainable Archaeological Archives'. 

Historic England contact for this programme

The programme manager is Claire Tsang. Please contact her with any enquiries or requests for further information: [email protected]