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HER Searches - In Person?
I’ve been mulling over this thread for a bit. I’m inclined to put the initial question down to the HER Officer or enquirer, or both, having a bad day and perhaps one side or both not quite explaining their needs / objectives / procedures (who hasn’t put the phone down after a conversation and thought ‘hmm. I think that could have gone better’?).
However, there are one or two other points that have arisen from the thread that I’d like to put down some thoughts on.
Firstly, HERs are, with one or two exceptions, part of the public sector. As such they have to operate transparently. I think they generally do, but you need to know where to look (Google won't reliably find details on your local HER - its too niche). For instance, a survey of HER charges is available online, so there shouldn’t be any nasty surprises for anyone needing to visit or order a search (or both – incidentally I fall in the camp that thinks it essential to visit the HER to do a DBA, at least until such time as all their complete collections are scanned and put online, which will be ages yet, judging by the rather depressing lack of resources available)
Anyway, see:
The other point I wanted to make was about data. Dinosaur suggests in some instances that HER data could do with re-structuring. I think this may be the case to an extent, certainly I think that a more integrated landscape approach to graphic depiction of sites is the way forward, which is what I think Dinosaur was getting at. This has been widely accepted as the way forward by anyone wishing to call themselves an HER for over ten years – the problem has been implementing it. The problem of implementation comes down to the old chestnuts of time and resources.
If you take anything away from this (extremely long) post, please take away this: You can help! If you can (I know its not an ideal word) reference HER numbers in your work.
There is one major thing that leads to HER records getting in a mess and holds-up progress: Concordance. It takes much, much less time to create new a new record or database than it does to put new data into an existing record. With PPS-5 and the NPPF putting emphasis on the significance and rarity of heritage assets (or as I like to call it, archaeology), it’s imperative that HER records are concorded with new datasets coming in. i.e. the data coming in to the HER from outside (whether it be a commercial or research project) needs to clearly identify those things that it has recorded which are already on the HER (by using the HER number for preference), or if they are a new site.
Duplicate records lead to fragmentation of information destroying site/landscape narrative and leading to the ‘dots on maps’ scenario like the one Dinosaur describes for Catterick.
Take this hypothetical situation. County X has 3 round barrows on the HER. Project Y is doing a geophysical and topographic survey of 10 hectares (whether for a university project or in advance of development doesn’t matter) and creating a database gazetteer of the results. Just outside the survey area, the HER has its aforementioned round barrows recorded from an antiquarian account (the locations being a bit sketchy). Project Y records three barrows (because they're actually in the survey area), but instead of marrying up the antiquarian barrows and their HER numbers, proceeds to create a database of features with no reference back to the existing knowledge in the gazetteer. Project Y sends a database to the HER, which duly notes that three barrows were recorded. Now, the project and the antiquarian are talking about the same 3 barrows, the project officer suspects this to be the case, and speculates so in the report, however the database contains no cross reference back to the HER data. So, one of two things happens:

  1. HER gets data, adds the three barrows to the HER, the result: 6 barrows on HER and therefore an increase of 100% in barrows in that county (therefore reducing their rarity value, and potentially their protection in the planning system). It later transpires that another project decides to do some work on the museum archive of Mr Antiquarian. In some musty boxes they discover he actually dug a hole in the middle of one of the barrows and found some nice goodies. This info is added to the original HER records, but not to the 3 barrows recorded by the survey. So there is further fragmentation of the evidence.
  2. HER Officer gets project data and rather than importing the data straight away, sees that the barrows recorded by the survey may already be on the HER. HER officer re-reads the report, and notices that the PO thought the same thing. Result: correct number of barrows on the HER. However, HER then realises that the survey also recorded about 100 other features, all of which may or may not already be on the HER. Result: HER realises it is going to take about a month to read through the whole of the HER for this area and the whole of the project database and match the records in the two datasets one at a time. Result: report on the survey work goes in the HER, with a big blob on the GIS that says – ‘here’s that excellent work Project Y did, finding shed loads of lovely prehistoric things. Sadly there wasn’t time / expertise to spend a month going through their database and the HER. The data has been copied to the server in the vain hope we will get a wonder-volunteer to sort it out. CD is making a nice coaster for my coffee mug’.
Now imagine a mixture of both scenarios 1 and 2 scaled up for a Roman Town where there have been multiple overlapping investigations for decades – you end up with 4 bath houses, 20 mosaics, and a partridge in a pear tree, plus a massive backlog of reports/databases that need to be gone through. Then imagine that scaled up for the whole county – 15 major medieval settlements, 300 plus medieval villages, 5 Roman forts, 10 villas etc. etc. Which may give you and idea why HER offiers get a bit prickly some times Wink
If you’ve read this far, thanks for your forebearance!
A lot of what you are describing could be resolved by scanning site plans/AP plots/geofizz interpretations onto a single map base, and see the actual features (for the Catterick example we've got first Ed OS as well, and displayed GoogleEarth so you can see where you are - oh, can switch on the HER plot too) - in an area like that all the 'sites' JOIN UP, you can see how many people have dug bits of the same ditch without realising... It took someone who knew what they were doing a couple of days to figure out where all the bits fitted (some of the survey data's appalling, and not just the older stuff, so quite a lot of 'bodging'), but theres now a plan linking 100+ interventions into a multi-period single archaeological landscape of around 10 so that I can smugly 'discover' stuff without expending any more effort that fetching coffee re-fills. Big Grin

Isn't that the kind of thing HERs should be doing with their data? :face-thinks:
Yes and no. The way I read it, what you're suggesting is more akin to the more recent incarnations of the National Mapping Programme, but for excavation data? Well, this would certainly be petty awesome, and certainly the way things should be heading. There are already glimpses of what could be done, through things like the LRC digital atlas. I would see HERs and planning archaeologists having role to play, but, the question is, is this really an HER? Would we want HERs to do this? IMHO, probably not -the HER indexes data, for an at-a-glance overview of the archaeological resource of a given area. In other words, it summarizes up to the site / major site component level. On a good day it'll cross reference between sites and record finds. But they're not geared up for processing this sort of data.

To plot the feature data is a different level of detail - more like consulting primary archive, albeit multiple site plans drawn together in the same place as vector data.
I think there would be better ways of implementing it than via an HER.

I would see this as something new, and something new is something that can be designed better than what has gone before. Ideally there would be some form of national portal, where data could be uploaded (archaeology doesn't stop at the administrative boundary, plus it would by-pass all that malarky with one HER wanting MapInfo and another wanting Arc etc) and served back via a web mapping service or next generation equivalent (bit like Google maps, but it would open as a file in your in-house system, allowing you to query and manipulate data) to whoever needed it. It would also securely archive data, which HERs definitely cannot do. In this system, there would be a country-wide level playing field where exactly the same thing would be expected of everybody so there would be no surprises. Legacy systems could perhaps be co-ordinated by HERs/contractors bidding for money (to who? How? No idea, this is just a pipe dream).
While we're at it, the system should be able to use terrain modelling, so we have the capacity to plot site elevation and drape data over the topography...

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