Archaeology and the National Roads Authority, ed. J. O’SULLIVAN
Dublin, National Roads Authority 2003. National Roads Authority Monograph Series No. 1. 119 pages, maps, colour illustration. pb. ISBN 0-9545955-0-5 (€15) Proceedings of two seminars in 2002 on the National Roads Authority

As the foreword sets out, the National Roads Authority in Ireland has a responsibility to uphold national heritage policy and has become the single biggest funder of archaeological investigations in Ireland. The purpose of the two seminars was to set out a newly evolved methodology for commissioning archaeological assessments and carry through archaeological investigations in relation to road schemes. A core concept has been the establishment of a team of Project Archaeologists working in accord with a Code of Practice. The shortfall on publication and outreach is specifically identified, a problem which the NRA is clearly aware of and intending to address.

The scene is set with an opening chapter on legislation and policy, indicating that the Roads Act 1993 provides the statutory basis for compliance with the EU Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive. Provisions of this Act secure a legislative basis for EIAs but it is made clear that the National Monuments Act also has a role to play in controlling the impact on archaeological heritage of road construction programmes, specifically by offering a mechanism for protecting sites on the national list which come under threat. Further and in the context of the National Development Plan the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands and the NRA have agreed a Code of Practice for the conduct of archaeological work on national road schemes.

There follow brief notes on archaeological licencing procedures and the role of the National Museum of Ireland in archaeological excavations. The text on this latter seems to imply that the control measures exercised by the museum largely relate to artefacts, rather than the overall conduct of excavation itself.

In the description of the work of the NRA, the desire to improve schedules, costs, methods and products is clearly set out and one assumes that in this massive road building programme a steep learning curve has been encountered. In what is described as ‘a new strategy for testing and mitigation’, it emerges that there is a stage of archaeological assessment which follows publication of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). It is stated that ‘post-EIS it is now practice to develop a strategic testing brief designed to suit the needs of the individual scheme’ (testing is used in the same sense as evaluation). This is somewhat worrying. It appears to be in conflict with the normal implementation of the EU directive, which requires that assessment of the impact, and the necessary mitigation measures, are set out in the document. In purely archaeological terms, it leaves the door wide open for the late discovery of an archaeological entity for which preservation in situ is the only acceptable strategy. A theme emerges here and later in the book which indicates that a primary interest is to ensure the smooth running of projects and the reduction of costs and risk by adequate levels of assessment. However in terms of UK practice although there is an early stage of assessment, the full level required for an appropriate environmental statement cuts in far too late.

The new posts of Project Archaeologist are employed by the Local Authorities that host National Road Design offices and these appointments are equivalent to the curatorial or planning archaeologists of the UK. Their role is mainly to take an overview of the approach being taken to archaeology by the archaeological contractor, to supervise the preparation of the Environmental Impact Assessment and to specify and monitor all archaeological activities whether pre-construction, construction or post-excavation related. The Code of Practice underpins this whole realm. Much of the work is carried out by means of public–private partnership schemes (PPP) and there is a very good description of the contractual process in this area. The overall approach is to deal with the greater part of the archaeological workload prior to handing over to the PPP company, but there are arrangements in place to ensure that any remnant of effort required forms part of the contract. Examples are given of an archaeological work programme on PPP schemes.

The book contains a substantial section on archaeological assessment measures which are based upon a document called the ‘Framework and Principles for the Protection of Archaeological Heritage’. This document defines the purpose of assessment and again the emphasis appears to be on the reduction of risk, avoidance of delay and extra costs. The description of techniques which follow, which includes a section on terrestrial and waterborne geophysical survey is valuable and informative. It is followed by a substantial chapter on post excavation work, reporting, publication and dissemination. The section presumably is particularly inspired by the NRA’s concerns over the failure to deliver the goods. Overall, the work is undoubtedly intending to serve as a Public Relations exercise emphasising the due regard given by the NRA for the protection and recording of Ireland’s heritage. It also serves as an introduction and handbook to those intending to seek employment in the system, either as an individual or as a potential archeological contractor.

It is surprising that no paper at the seminars was concerned with the issue of effectiveness. Justification for money and effort spent ‘upfront’ on development proposals is a very live issue in the UK not only because of the risk element of expenditure but also because this process itself has an impact on heritage. Yet from the cover air photograph alone it is clearly evident that the Irish methodology is far more intensive than that deployed in the UK and some indication of the views of the practitioners would be most valuable.

Roy Canham
Wiltshire County Council

Review Submitted: March 2004

The views expressed in this review are not necessarily those of the Society or the Reviews Editor.

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