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The Cardiff Cornucopia: A Peep into the Principality

Abstracts from the Historic Environment Records Forum Winter Meeting, 11th December 2007, Amgueddfa Genedlaethol, Caerdydd – National Museum, Cardiff

A View from the Chair

An introduction from Stuart Cakebread, Chair of the HER Forum 

I hope you all had a good break from the grindstone over the festive season and that Santa brought you that new computer your manager have been promising you, or the latest version of HBSMR.

There was a good turnout for our first meeting outside England for five years.  As with Peterborough, there was no overall theme, but there was a definite Celtic flavour to this the first HER Forum meeting held in Wales. Steve Trow started things off with an English Heritage view on the implications of climate change, and the possible impact measures to manage or reduce its effects will have on the historic environment. This was followed by Laura McAtackney on developments with the Archive Archaeology project and the initial results of pilot training for university students. The archive theme continued with Elizabeth Walker who closed the morning session with a report on the “What’s in Store” initiative looking ways of improving access to collections and the resources to deal with them through sharing archaeological archive resources, and the creation of a database of Welsh Archaeological collections.

After lunch, and a chance to look round the new Origins: In search of early Wales exhibition, David Thomas gave an overview of the Historic Wales portal and current developments with the site.  Next there followed a presentation by the four Welsh Archaeological Trusts on their history and work, before we headed back across the border for Paul Quigley’s discussion on historic characterisation in the largely industrialised landscape of the Black Country.  The meeting closed with an update on the IFP2 website, and some interesting usage statistics, by Bruce Howard.

Thanks to our hosts for the great venue, and to all of you who managed to attend. We will be staying in England for our next meeting in WolverhamptonNick is rounding up a good selection of speakers for the meeting and hopefully we will have an opportunity to discuss the forthcoming HP legislation as well. More on the programme and date nearer the time.

What’s in Store?  Improving the management of and access to archaeological archives in Wales

Elizabeth Walker, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

The What’s in Store? report published in 2004 was the culmination of a thorough survey and consultation led by the then Council of Museums in Wales in partnership with National Museum Wales and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales. The resulting report identified significant issues facing archaeological collections in Wales and made eight key recommendations towards developing a Welsh strategy for the management of, and access to, the archaeological evidence of our past. The Historic Environment Group established a task-and-finish group including representatives of key archaeological organizations across Wales. This group was tasked with the delivery of the recommendations outlined in the What’s in Store? Report.

 Difficulties facing archaeological archives in Wales are of course not unique and the group has benefited from the surveys and work carried out in England by the Archaeological Archives Forum, but it has had to find different solutions because of the organizational and geographical differences between England and Wales. The group has identified practical ways to deal with the situation and in doing so has benefited from a great willingness of individuals and institutions across Wales to work together to achieve the goals.

Three years on, the group considers its work as largely complete and this paper will look at the progress made in tackling the eight recommendations in order to make Welsh archaeological archives accessible, understandable and relevant for the 21st century.

HISTORIC WALES

David Thomas, RCAHMW

The Historic Wales service was launched on 22nd November 2006 at a seminar which focussed on opportunities for partnership working within Wales to achieve a single point of access to a range of historic environment and cultural information.

The service was developed through SWISH (Shared Web Information Services for Heritage), a partnership between the Royal Commissions of Wales and Scotland. The aim of Historic Wales is to provide access to a range of geographically referenced datasets through a map based interface. At the time of the launch two datasets were accessible – those of the National Monuments Record for Wales (NMRW) and the Archaeology and Numismatics department of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales. Since the launch two more have been added – Cadw’s Listed Buildings and Scheduled Ancient Monuments databases. In October 2007 the four Welsh Archaeological Trusts expressed the wish that their data also be included.

The paper will begin by looking at the reasons for developing the site, the challenges in doing so, and the development of the partnership that lies behind it. It will then look at the advantages and disadvantages of the technology of the current system, which is based on ARCIMS and Oracle software, and plans to re-write the site using web services technology. It will conclude by examining the current audience and plans to expand this in the future.

 

The Wild West - HERs and the Welsh Archaeological Trust System

Welsh Archaeological Trust Historic Environment Record Officers

The four Welsh Archaeological Trusts are based in Welshpool (Clwyd-Powys), Llandeilo (Dyfed), Swansea (Glamorgan-Gwent) and Bangor (Gwynedd).  They were established in the 1970s to respond to the increasing threats to archaeology.  The Trusts function as curatorial bodies grant-aided by Cadw and the RCAHMW as well as contracting archaeological units.  They exist outside the Local Authorities, but act as their expert archaeological advisors on planning and related matters.  The Trusts also maintain the Regional Historic Environment Records across Wales in order to provide information and advice on a wide range of issues to a wide range of people, both professional and public.

The Historic Environment Records have evolved from the Sites and Monuments Records over the last few years.  This has been in response to work undertaken on the HER Benchmarking process outlined in the 2002 EH/ALGAO document Historic Environment Records: Benchmarks for Good Practice, although they have long been based around computerised systems, a development which began in the 1980s.

The Benchmarking process has been a lengthy but fruitful exercise for the Welsh HERs.  Following an initial assessment against the stage 1 measures, the Trusts, working in partnership with RCAHMW, decided to adopt the Benchmarks and work towards achieving stage1 compliance across the country.  The process has provided a vital policy framework in which the HERs operate, and sets out the informational and organisational structures in which they exist.

The computerised HER data are utilised for a variety of purposes outside the statutory and non-statutory curatorial functions of the Trusts.  Supplying and interpreting the information to the public is a key function and one that Dyfed Archaeological Trust have pioneered through their community-led archaeological research. 

 

Historic Characterisation in an Industrial Conurbation:

An Example from the West Midlands  

Paul Quigley, Landscape Archaeologist, Black Country Archaeology Service

The characterisation of the Metropolitan area known as the Black Country offers particular challenges in both its organisation and its application to modern problems.  With a million inhabitants, forty square kilometres of industrial land, and relatively little green space, the Black Country contains possibly the largest single urban area so far characterised in England.

The approach taken by the Black Country Archaeology Service on behalf of its four local authorities (Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton) has been to create a GIS-based set of character polygons and associated data.  This uses the modern landscape as its starting point (and the basis of its polygonisation), and is open to analysis and interrogation in various ways, some of which are illustrated in this presentation. The presentation also discusses some of the other problems and opportunities created by the project: in particular, the importance of transparency and consistency in the creation of character polygons and their aggregation into wider areas.  In addition, while the rapid process of change in the Black Country poses its own problems of recording the landscape, it also emphasises the need for clear historical understanding: the presentation therefore considers the application of the HLC to inform questions of character preservation during regeneration and changes in land use.

 

IFP2: Usage and Abusage

Bruce Howard: Heritage Information Partnerships, NMR, English Heritage

A brief overview of usage of the Informing the Future of the Past: Guidelines for HERs website www.ifp-plus.info since the launch on 27 June 2007.  Information will be presented on where the guidelines are being used in the UK and abroad and which sections appear to be the most consulted.