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

21st-Century Challenges for Archaeology

During 2017 the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists, in partnership with and funded by Historic England, convened a series of six discussions and workshops on important issues within the archaeology sector in England. In 2020 the two organisations agreed a Memorandum of Understanding to work together on key areas of the challenges identified by the project.

The main challenges

Six topics were discussed at six workshops, each preceded by an on line discussion:

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

More than 150 individuals attended the workshops and over 90 people contributed to the on-line discussions.

To consolidate the thinking from the workshops and to help plan for implementation, a follow-up session  was held at the CIfA conference 2018 Pulling together: collaboration, synthesis, innovation.

The Report

CIfA have published the main project report with a series of appendices, which you can see at the CIfA website.

Next steps

CIfA and Historic England will discuss how best to implement or follow up the main recommendations of the workshops and some of these have already been acted upon, such as ensuring The Mendoza Review: an independent review of Museums in England in 2017 recognised the challenges facing archaeological archives.

The project strand on Archaeological Archives prompted a further project and report commissioned by Historic England from ALGAO and on the relationship between planning policy and archaeological archives.

Background to the initiative

In 2015 the sector celebrated the 25th anniversary of the introduction of Planning Policy Guidance 16 Archaeology and Planning (1990). PPG16 initiated far-reaching changes, not only in the way that the archaeological resource is protected and managed, but also in the structure of the sector itself.

Planning Policy Statement 5: Planning for the Historic Environment (2010) subsequently drew together for the first time government policy across the whole of the historic environment, giving a new emphasis to public benefit.
These changes prompted an initiative by a group of archaeologists that first met at Southport. The Southport Group’s report, Realising the Benefits Of Planning-Led Investigation in the Historic Environment: A Framework For Delivery (2011), represented a first review of professional practice post-PPG16 and looked forward to a new policy context, one that was soon superseded by the National Planning Policy Framework, which provides the current overarching policy context for much archaeological work.

At a time when the legislative and policy framework is again changing rapidly, and the gains as well as the dis-benefits of post-PPG16 arrangements have become apparent, it is time to look forward to the key challenges of the next 25 years.

Continuing reductions in public sector funding affecting both Historic England and local government, and the challenges arising from the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, provide the current backdrop to our discussions.

Meanwhile, the private sector faces great opportunities as well as challenges in capacity, skills, and training against the anticipated high demand for skilled professional archaeologists generated by planned large infrastructure projects and other development.



Project Leads


Jan Wills

Jan Wills BA, MCIfA, FSA, has worked in archaeology for over 35 years, initially as a field archaeologist before moving into project and service management in local government. She is now a freelance consultant, and is currently focused on advisory and advocacy work with the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists of which she is Chair. She is a member of the Historic England Advisory Committee.

Steve Trow

Steve Trow, BSc, MCIfA, FSA, now retired, was formerly Director of Research at Historic England and a member of its Executive Team. Steve joined English Heritage in 1987 and worked in its designation department, as an Inspector of Ancient Monuments and as its Head of Rural and Environmental Policy. He is an archaeologist with research interests in the Roman period and has previously worked for the Museum of London and The British Museum.

Update February 2020: Historic England and CIfA Memorandum of Understanding

Historic England and the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA) are pleased to announce a Memorandum of Understanding setting out the basis for cooperating on addressing the most urgent and important challenges identified by our joint project Twenty-first-century challenges for archaeology.

The project made recommendations for changes to the way the sector creates, sustains and uses

  • standards and guidance
  • designation and management of heritage assets with archaeological interest
  • archaeological advice to planning authorities
  • synthesising the findings of planning-led investigations to create new understandings
  • hard-copy and digital publications
  • archives

Based on those recommendations, Historic England and CIfA will jointly coordinate and oversee a programme of strategic improvements to archaeological practice in England. They will work closely with an advisory panel of sector representatives and working groups, undertaking projects and reporting on progress.

Further reading

The Chartered Institute for Archaeologists have a dedicated project page on the CIfA website.

This page was first published in 2017.

Also of interest