Annual Survey of Museums Collecting Archaeology

From the Society for Museum Archaeology:

Are museums running out of space, staff…and time?

The Society for Museum Archaeology (SMA) is launching a three-year project to survey museums holding archaeology collections in order to answer these questions. The project, funded by Historic England, will not only provide an overall national picture, but will also provide an insight into the regional impact. The survey will be launched in August 2016.

The Society for Museum Archaeology is recognised by Arts Council England as the subject specialist network for British Archaeology in the UK: it has members in all of regions as well as abroad. The Society promotes museum involvement in all aspects of archaeology and works to encourage greater public understanding of the archaeological past and a fuller public appreciation of the importance of archaeology. It campaigns for the acceptance of museums as guardians of a vital part of the nation’s heritage and as the appropriate location for the storage and interpretation of all archaeological material.

At a time when museums, universities, local societies and heritage organisations are coming together to celebrate the annual ‘Festival of Archaeology’, it is recognised across the discipline that there is an annual increase in the number of museums that cease to collect archaeological archives from commercial, community and research projects, mainly due to pressure on storage space. Meanwhile, nearly every local authority museum is experiencing budget cuts that have led to staff losses. The true extent of the impact of austerity has not been accurately measured however, and it is essential that information is collected to inform discussions on the future of archaeological archive provision in England at a time when there is growing uncertainty over the role of museums and the ways they are resourced.

A report published by the Society for Museum Archaeology in 2012 outlined the growing crisis facing the archaeological sector, with 9000 un-deposited archives in England alone. The impact of austerity since 2012 is currently unknown. A number of organisations are all working to find sustainable and positive solutions to the problem. The project will support this collaborative approach, from funder to fieldworker to museum, by providing valuable and accurate data on which future responses to the crisis can be based.

Archaeology offers unique and positive engagement opportunities, bringing communities together, providing innovative ways to understand our place in time. There has never been greater interest in archaeology, but the scale of the impact museums collecting archaeology have faced due to the financial crisis has yet to be quantified.

Gail Boyle FSA, Chair of The Society for Museum Archaeology said:

“It’s plain fact – austerity measures are resulting in museum closures, loss of specialist expertise and fewer places to keep and use the UK’s unique archaeological resource – I’ve read in the press that some people might even be throwing excavated finds away in skips – is that because of the lack of space or advice or both? Either way we need to arm ourselves with accurate information in order to do something about it.”

“I am extremely grateful to Historic England for providing SMA with the opportunity to literally dig deeper – we need this evidence to underpin revised archaeological collecting and storage strategies so that future generations will continue to be able to benefit from their past.”


Society for Museum Archaeology Report (Archaeological Archives and Museums, 2012):

Collecting area map, managed and maintained by the Society for Museum Archaeology:

Contact for interviews

Gail Boyle, FSA

Chair, Society for Museum Archaeology

Gail is Senior Curator of Archaeology at Bristol Museums. Gail is also a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and sits on Historic England’s HIAS Advisory Board, the Portable Antiquities Advisory Group and represents SMA at meetings of The Archaeology Forum. She has long-standing collaborative and teaching relationships with both the University of Bristol (where she is a Research Fellow) and the University of the West of England. Gail also sits on the Board of Trustees at Dr Jenner’s House, Museum & Garden in Berkeley, Gloucestershire.



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