This short article takes a look at the current state of standards and guidance for archaeological geophysics in England with particular regard to commercial practice.
For many years the main reference for guidance was produced by English Heritage, the latest rendition being the 2008 document Geophysical survey in archaeological field evaluation. Research and Professional Service Guideline No.1. Unfortunately this document is now archived and no longer current advice, Historic England state ‘This guidance publication has been archived because it is no longer our current advice. We are considering the need for new guidance specific to England in light of the recent publication of Europe-wide EAC guidance but we have no firm plan to produce updated guidance at this time (June 2018). The EAC guidance incorporates much of the advice from our 2008 document.’ (https://historicengland.org.uk/advice/technical-advice/archaeological-science/geophysics/).
Currently (Summer 2020), no new guidance has been published and Historic England are signposting to European Archaeological Council, 2015. EAC Guidelines for the Use of Geophysics in Archaeology: Questions to Ask and Points to Consider. Europae Archaeologia Consilium and Association Internationale sans But Lucratif, Belgium.
The withdraw of the 2008 guidance in 2018 was not communicated to many commercial practitioners, archaeologists and those commissioning geophysical survey, probably because there was no straightforward way of achieving this. We are only now just starting to see more widespread uptake of the EAC guidance and still many documents and briefs refer to the withdrawn 2008 guidelines, including the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists Standard and Guidance for archaeological geophysical survey. Archaeological Surveys Ltd have communicated this to CIfA on many occasions since 2018 as much of the guidance is underpinned by references that are no longer valid. Having been involved in the last major update of the CIfA S&G around a decade ago, it is clear that a replacement is long overdue but how can this be achieved? The CIfA Geophysics Special Interest Group has often discussed updates, along with numerous other projects, but time and resource issues seem to prevent a properly coordinated move towards achieving this. At any rate, the CIfA S&G is not a national standard or guidance as there is no requirement for commercial practitioners to be members of CIfA, of course this may be a requirement for a specific client or brief.
So what of the EAC 2015 document? Archaeological Surveys Ltd generally support the use of it as guidance but it should not be confused with a standard as required by members of CIfA for example. Indeed, the first sentence of the Introduction makes a clear statement concerning standards; ‘There is no formalised standard for the conduct of geophysical survey in archaeology, mainly because there are many parameters that determine the outcome, and there are various purposes for which the results may be used.’ We often see the use of statements such as ‘national standards’ and ‘national guidance’ used by those overseeing or commissioning geophysics but neither of these currently exist in reality.
We encourage any effort to create more tailored UK guidelines in the near future to address any shortcomings within the EAC document. We would also like to see, with a matter of urgency, the removal and replacement of outdated references from the CIfA S&G with an aim for a complete overhaul of the guidance within the CIfA document as soon as possible.