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Development of archaeology


Marcham-Frilford Iron Age and Roman temple site.JPG
Oxfordshire has often had a leading role in developments in archaeology. The gravel soils of the Thames Valley have preserved archaeological features well, making this productive territory for previous archaeologists, including for example early uses of aerial photography. These environmental advantages were allied to the presence of the University, and perhaps especially the world’s first public museum, the Ashmolean founded in 1683. This added particular impetus to local studies. For mundanely practical reasons, visits and excavations have often taken place conveniently near to Oxford. An area like Dorchester, with its many-layered landscape of prehistoric, Roman and medieval features, acted as a living textbook to generations of dons, undergraduates and amateur historians, and in 2010 is seeing a new programme of excavations by the University's Institute of Archaeology and involving local volunteers.


Surveys of Oxfordshire archaeology in 1939 and 1954 reflected the  Oxford and University influence. Later reviews, in 1986 and 2006-2009, show an explosion in knowledge of the distribution of sites and a widening in participation (see Surveys of Oxfordshire Archaeology and Solent Thames Archaeological Research Framework documents). In 1964 the Oxford City and County Museum was established at Woodstock, developed a field section and was a national pioneer in creating a county Sites and Monuments Record. Now called the Historic Environment Record [HER], this remains one of the key resources for Oxfordshire studies, indexing all known archaeological sites in the county, from a Palaeolithic find spot to the Cold War remains of the former USAF base at Upper Heyford. It now includes over 22,500 entries, each with its distinguishing Primary Record Number (PRN). The Oxfordshire HER, including the Vale of the White Horse has information on listed buildings and scheduled ancient monuments. It can be searched online, and also has paper records. West Berkshire District Council also have their HER available online. See also the Archaeology Data Services.


The scale of the Oxfordshire HER demonstrates the growth of archaeological investigation in the county. In 1973 the Oxfordshire Archaeological Unit was set up, creating a strong professional presence, which continues today as Oxfordshire Archaeology. Rescue archaeology, ahead of development, requirements in planning procedures for historical investigation, and major projects including the building of the M40 through the county, all generated new investigations, awareness and involvement. From 1969, the University extramural department began courses, practical training and projects in archaeology and then local history, producing an ongoing body of individual and group research projects throughout the county, and recorded in publications and theses. See Oxford University Department for Continuing Education (OUDCE). An array of new techniques have been added to excavation and aerial photography. Field surveys, geophysical surveys, fieldwalking, and dating techniques have become known and used not least in landscape studies.

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