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Actualité de la recherche
Débats. Archéologie et diplomatie européenne en Méditerranée
I. — Politiques étrangères et stratégies nationales


Graeme Barker, John Bennet et David J. Mattingly
p. 344-349

Texte intégral


1The UK has some 40 Archaeology departments (the names may vary) in its Universities, most of whom conduct archaeological fieldwork both within the UK and abroad. The major national museums also conduct archaeological fieldwork abroad. Most well-founded Archaeology departments have staff who teach and research across the major periods of the past and also archaeological scientists. There is no equivalent to France’s research-only CNRS or Italy’s CNR.

2According to the 2014 national review of UK university research (the «Research Excellence Framework»), in the period 2007-2014 British-based archaeologists were conducting archaeological fieldwork in all continents of the world (including Antarctica) and on all periods of the past from human origins to the archaeology of the 20th century. This remains the case. In addition to obtaining fieldwork permits from the relevant national archaeological authorities, in most instances this fieldwork involves establishing local collaborations. Archaeological field projects by British-based archaeologists often have well-established informal links with the relevant British embassy but do not have a formal link to any particular Ministry or Government department, the key link being between the individual PI (Principal Investigator) and his/her employing institution.

3In a few countries especially in the Mediterranean, British-based archaeologists can draw on the support of academic institutions or societies, seven of which form the British Academy’s post-doctoral, British International Research Institutes or BIRIs: the British School at Rome, the British School at Athens, the British Institute in Ankara, the Council for British Research in the Levant (with two institutes: the Amman Institute in Amman and the Kenyon Institute in Jerusalem), the British Institute for Persian Studies, the British Institute in East Africa, and the Society for Libyan Studies (which has no physical premises in Libya). These institutions are all independent, with different histories and constitutions, but rely significantly (to varying levels) on British Academy funding for much of their core costs (salaries of in-country staff, premises costs, maintaining libraries and archives etc.). The British Academy allocates funding to the BIRIs from the block grant that it receives from government. The BIRIs provide archaeological missions with in-country logistical support including helping with permit negotiations (though in Greece archaeological permit applications must by law be arranged through the BSA), and fund post-doctoral (early career) fellowships and provide small grants across the humanities and social sciences that archaeologists can compete for. The BIRIs also seek to support fieldwork in their wider regions and not just in the countries where they are located: the BSR and SLS have supported work in the Maghreb, for example, and the BIEA, based in Kenya, has supported work in many countries in East and Central Africa. Comparable bodies outside the BIRI group include the British Institute for the Study of Iraq (BISI)—which is likely to join the BIRI soon—and the Egypt Exploration Society (EES).


4The UK government provides block institutional funding towards the research component of university staff salaries through the Research Excellence Framework, but almost all project funding has to be obtained competitively from external funding agencies. For archaeological research projects by university staff, major funders are the European Research Council (ERC), the state-funded Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), and charities such as the Leverhulme Trust and (for archaeological science especially on the biomolecular side) the Wellcome Foundation. Small grants-in-aid can be obtained from the BIRIs and parallel institutions like the EES and BISI; from learned societies such as the Society of Antiquaries of London; from the «period» societies (the Prehistoric Society, the Roman Society, the Society for Medieval Archaeology, the Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology, etc.); from specialist approach or area societies like the Society for Environmental Archaeology and the Association of Southeast Asianists UK; and from the PI’s home institution, especially in the form of travel and subsistence grants to individual students undertaking fieldwork as a compulsory component of their degree course. Without a major grant from the ERC, AHRC, NERC, or Leverhulme, «mosaic funding» is the norm for most UK archaeology researchers undertaking fieldwork abroad.

Mediterranean archaeology

5In successive national reviews of university research excellence (eg 1988, 1996, 2000, 2007, 2014), the publications on Mediterranean archaeology submitted to the archaeology panels for review have consistently represented a significant body of work. The support of the relevant BIRIs and parallel institutions, who have traditionally made a priority of helping early career doctoral and post-doctoral researchers, has resulted in many researchers working in Italy and Greece and a good number in Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and Libya, compared with a smaller presence in Spain and the Maghreb, though British archaeological missions and individual researchers are now active in both regions.

6The vast majority of archaeological fieldwork in Britain is undertaken by commercial «units» with funding from developers provided as part of the planning process (like INRAP in France). These units are mostly independent charities, but some are attached to city/county councils or universities. They have to operate on a project-by-project basis, though most build up deep knowledge of the city or region in which they are based that informs their work (eg Cambridge Archaeological Unit; Canterbury Archaeological Trust; Museum of London; University of Leicester Archaeological Services). In terms of work by British archaeologists abroad, the main funds listed earlier are research funds, so a successful application has to address significant research questions—issues of heritage conservation, excavating threatened sites, etc. cannot lead the application. In recent years a welcome addition to the funding landscape has been access to government funds for programmes to support research on heritage at risk, training heritage professionals, etc., such as the Cultural Protection Fund of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport administered by the British Council. Both funding streams, though, allocate funds on short-term (3-5 years) grant cycles, so maintaining a long-term excavation programme remains very challenging, one exception to the rule being the 25-30 excavation programme by Ian Hodder at the Turkish Neolithic site Çatalhoyük that has made a landmark contribution to Neolithic studies at the global scale. It is sometimes argued that the UK system of national research reviews every 6-7 years encourages time-limited research.

Host country expectations and impact

7The expectations of host countries with well-developed research and heritage management infrastructures vary from those of developing countries, and especially developing countries in crisis or emerging from crisis. In the former, the norm in archaeological missions is balanced and mutually complementary collaborations, just as in international collaborations by teams of lab-based scientists. In the latter, one priority is for basic surveys or mapping of the archaeological resource and the establishment of national archaeological records of identified sites (the county Sites and Monuments Records in the UK context). Another is a commitment by the archaeologist to long-term site conservation and management needs. Another is training for heritage staff, certainly in-country and ideally through UK Masters and PhD studentships. Apart from undertaking archaeological surveys within a research context, none of these items, certainly not at cost, can usually be included in applications by UK archaeologists to research funding bodies.

8There is a strong expectation in British archaeology, whether in Britain or abroad, of rapid publication of fieldwork results wherever possible, in part stimulated by the Research Excellence Framework system though mainly in terms of accepted professional and ethical standards. Most publications of modern multi-disciplinary fieldwork (and ensuing laboratory analyses) will be multi-author, with the intellectual contributions of individual researchers, whatever their institutional base, fully recognised in the author list. There can be tensions if for institutional or personal career reasons there is an expectation to include on the author list someone whose contribution to the project is purely bureaucratic or facilitative rather than intellectual.

9An important component of the national Research Excellence Framework is for institutions to demonstrate the reach and significance of the impact of their research on non-academic audiences. Many Archaeology departments submitting work to the 2014 REF had persuasive case studies demonstrating the direct and indirect effects of their fieldwork on local tourism economies and heritage awareness (exhibitions, school textbooks, etc.), and there will certainly be many more cited in the forthcoming 2021 exercise. Even without the REF stimulus, actively promoting beneficial impacts for local populations are now the normal expectation of the legacy of an archaeological project wherever it is undertaken.

Facing crisis

10There are many examples of archaeologists shifting their research foci when a country has become inaccessible for fieldwork. Many funding bodies (including the BIRI institutions) and individual PIs have concentrated on «back-log» publication in periods when a site or region was inaccessible or political reasons. There are examples of logistical and/or financial support for colleagues in «inaccessible countries» to enable them to continue and complete archaeological excavations to which the UK team no longer has access.

11The «soft power» of British archaeological projects is recognised by British embassies in many countries, especially where the BIRIs are active. The Society for Libyan Studies remained a main conduit of Anglo-Libyan scholarly interaction throughout the years when Britain cut diplomatic relations with the Ghaddafi regime. The EAMENA (Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East & North Africa) project is an outstanding example of rigorous UK-based mapping by a multi-institutional team of threatened archaeological sites in North Africa and the Middle East through remote sensing, combined with training heritage professionals from these countries in the techniques of mapping, ground-truthing and interpretation to ensure the sustainability of the process.

12Once safe conditions are established, fieldwork can resume, but as mentioned, with the exception of the remit of the Cultural Protection Fund, the reliance on competitive research funds for British archaeological projects abroad means that a project will need to be proposed to the funding agencies with significant research questions and innovative methodologies applied to the site or sites—by themselves, however well known, threatened or deserving of investigation, they will not make a persuasive case for funding.

Perspectives for the future

13The likeliest prospects for long term sustainable budgets seem to be European/trans-national agencies funding either research-led or heritage protection-led investigations.

14There are positive moves in the UK seeking to link university archaeology teaching programmes more formally with post-degree training in the professional «units». National funds for UK Masters and PhD training for archaeologists in developing countries (Chevening Fellowships, for example) remain exceptionally rare, especially for a discipline such as archaeology compared with disciplines regarded rightly or wrongly as more core to future economic growth.

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Graeme Barker, John Bennet et David J. Mattingly, « Royaume-Uni »Mélanges de la Casa de Velázquez, 50-2 | 2020, 344-349.

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Graeme Barker, John Bennet et David J. Mattingly, « Royaume-Uni »Mélanges de la Casa de Velázquez [En ligne], 50-2 | 2020, mis en ligne le 01 octobre 2020, consulté le 19 août 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Graeme Barker

University of Cambridge

John Bennet

British School at Athens

David J. Mattingly

University of Leicester

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