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News and stories from the world of Archaeology and its related disciplines

Archaeology under threat in UK

From Nature News:

UK archaeologists are facing a wave of cuts that they say will lead to a loss of skills and take the teaching of the subject “back to the 1950s”.

To cut its national budget deficit, the UK government has launched an austerity programme that will see research funding stay static for the next four years. But archaeology is expected to be hit particularly hard, because the subject depends on a combination of public institutions run by several different government departments that are all seeing simultaneous budget reductions. “It seems like a perfect storm of factors is coming together,” says Mike Heyworth, director of the Council for British Archaeology, an educational non-governmental organization.

Although precise details of where the axe will fall are still emerging, the trend is already clear. At least 200 jobs will go at English Heritage, the government-funded body charged with managing the historic environment.

English Heritage receives about £130 million (US$205 million) per year in government funding, but this will be cut by 32% over the next four years, greater than the 24% savings demanded of its parent body, the government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). As a consequence, new archaeological grants will be cut by a third.

“The cut to English Heritage’s grant from government will be exceptionally challenging to manage after years of funding decline,” said Kay Andrews, chair of English Heritage. “It will require us to make some tough decisions.”

Museums will also face a squeeze from both local and national government. The DCMS has announced that it aims to transfer responsibility for the department’s non-national museums to “other bodies”. Four museums in the county of Hampshire are now to be run by volunteers, and Grantham Museum and Stamford Museum in Lincolnshire are to close. The Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers has warned that in many parts of the country, there is now no museum space to store and preserve important finds uncovered by archaeological teams.

Some counties are expected to lose their archaeological officer, the main adviser on archaeological matters involved in planning building work, prompting fears that sites will be destroyed by developers without being recorded.

At the University of Bristol, the department of archaeology is facing the loss of 4 out of a total of 16 staff posts, despite its high profile, having been closely involved in the popular Channel 4 TV show Time Team, as well as the BBC2 series Coast.

Some university field units, such as the University of Manchester Archaeological Unit, have already closed. “This will affect universities’ ability to dig,” says Chris Cumberpatch, vice-chairman of Rescue — the British Archaeological Trust, an organization trying to map the effect of the cuts as they emerge.

In addition, the proposed government increase in university fees means that all students will now have to pay £6,000–9,000 per year to study. “Archaeology departments will have to charge at least £7,000 to stand still,” says Anthony Harding, an archaeologist from the University of Exeter and chair of the archaeology section of the British Academy, Britain’s national academy for the humanities and social sciences. “There is a real danger we will start to get only students from wealthy backgrounds applying, and that will take us back to the situation in the 1950s.”

As yet, the British Academy itself has not had its funding cut, and is in discussion with its parent body, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, about its share of the overall research budget, says Robin Jackson, the academy’s chief executive.

But according to Harding, the academy has already axed its Small Research Grant scheme, which may affect Britain’s capacity to work overseas. “Archaeologists typically used this to set up international collaborations,” he says. “So that alone will cause a big decline in archaeological research of all kinds.”

“I am very disturbed to hear about the cuts,” says Valerii Kavruk, director of the Museum of Eastern Carpathians, Sfântu Gheorghe, Romania. “For some years I have had a collaboration with British scholars funded by small grants from the British Academy and using students from British universities. Such projects will have great difficulty taking off in the future.”

Although the cuts are intended to save money, Heyworth says that they could lose the country a valuable source of revenue. “We are facing a huge loss to national wealth because the government is ignoring what heritage contributes to tourism,” says Heyworth. According to the Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index, which assesses and ranks the reputation of different countries, potential visitors to Britain rank museums as their fourth favourite activity out of 32 possibilities.

Toby Sergeant, a spokesman for the DCMS says: “These are tough times but we hope that the cuts will not impact too much on frontline services.”

From Nature News.

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