Subject Committee: Historic Environment Records

Lead mines

The HER Committee informs, advises and acts for the Executive Committee and membership of ALGAO on the development and maintenance of historic environment records, the database and GIS applications involved, data standards, and the relationship of these to database and GIS standards, development, provision and use elsewhere in archaeology and allied sciences, and in commerce.

Local authority archaeologists are responsible for maintaining a register of all the known archaeological sites in their county. These Historic Environment Records (HERs), Sites and Monuments Records (SMRs), and in some historic towns Urban Archaeological Databases (UADs), are the basis for all conservation and management advice as well as providing a valuable resource for education and research.

To be effective these need continuous maintenance and development. ALGAO is working in collaboration with national agencies and other organisations to develop data standards, ensure greater consistency in recording practices, and to increase accessibility of information to the public.

Standards and Guidance

Working with the national agencies and others, ALGAO has continuing involvement in a range of initiatives aimed at developing and promoting standards and best practice in order to improve the quality of information and ease of access for a variety of purposes.

Informing the Future of the Past

Informing the Future of the Past: Guidelines for Historic Environment Records(IFP2) (Second Edition, 2007) provides guidelines appropriate to all HERs/SMRs, and for all staff, volunteers and students involved in managing, running or supporting an HER/SMR. The revised edition (2007) has been produced by a collaboration between English Heritage, Historic Scotland, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW), the Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers UK (ALGAO UK) and the Archaeology Data Service (ADS). It is available free as a web-based document at the IFP website. PDF versions of each section can be printed out or downloaded from the website.

Data Standards

Management and development of data standards for the historic environment is co-ordinated through FISH, the Forum on Information Standards in Heritage.

The FISH website gives much more information about heritage data standards. Two important strands are:

  • MIDAS Heritage: MIDAS Heritage is a British cultural heritage standard for recording information on buildings, monuments, archaeological sites, shipwrecks and submerged landscapes, parks and gardens, battlefields, artefacts and ecofacts.
    The data standard suggests the minimum level of information needed for recording heritage assets and covers the procedures involved in understanding, protecting and managing these assets. It is used by national government organizations, local authorities, heritage sector organizations, amenity groups and societies, the research community and professional contractors.
  • FISH Vocabularies: Controlled vocabularies (for example, wordlists and thesauri) enhance access to cultural heritage information. They form bridges between concepts and ideas, material remains and people, and constitute a fundamental part of the documentation process. The FISH vocabularies consist of a number of structured terminologies for recording heritage assets such as monuments, buildings, maritime craft, historic aeroplanes, archaeological objects, components and landscapes. They also cover professional management and archaeological event terms (interventions), types of evidence and archaeological sciences (samples, ecofacts). They have been developed by various heritage bodies and are recommended for use in conjunction with MIDAS units of information.

In Scotland the issue of standards is being addressed by the Scottish SMR Forum, and agreement to work together to develop standards is inlcuding in the Co-operation Statement between SMRs and RCAHMS (2003). More detailed data standards are being developed in Scotland under the auspices of the ASPIRE (Archaeological Standard Protocol for the Integrated Reporting of Events) project and the Scottish SMR Forum. A standard specification for archaeological data generated by fieldwork and research projects and a protocol for its reporting has been developed and is available on the ASPIRE website.


Historic Environment Record Services and Research Projects in England

The Historic Environment Record Services and Research Projects in England advice note is for anyone planning to undertake academic research projects using data from Historic Environment Records (HERs). It outlines the current situation regarding HERs in England and identifies approaches that will facilitate the collection and use of HER data for research purposes.

HER Development

The Association works in partnership with national agencies and other organisations to develop HERs/SMRs.

In 1998, the Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers (ALGAO), the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England (RCHME) and English Heritage published Unlocking the Past for the New Millennium, a statement of co-operation on SMRs (RCHME, ALGAO and English Heritage 1998). This document emphasised the importance of SMRs for the conservation and management of the historic environment and the development and implementation of sustainable policies. The intention of the national organisations is to work toward a long-term vision of a series of locally maintained, computerised SMRs, compiled according to common data standards, accessible via networking to professionals and public alike.

In England, ALGAO, English Heritage,IHBC, DCMS and MLA meet regularly in an HER Working Party which has taken the lead in such initiatives as the publication of an SMR manual, Informing the Future of the Past (2000) (currently being revised), in the Benchmarks for Good Practice (Chitty 2002), Resource needs for SMRs and UADs to reach the first stage benchmarks (Baker, Chitty and Edwards 2004) and a framework document for Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) support for HER Outreach, Unlocking Britain's Past (1999) and Unlocking Our Past (2005). The challenge for the future is for the partners to successfully influence both national and local government to provide greater stability and increased resources to support the further development of HERs.

Similarly partnership in Wales between Cadw, Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW) , The National Museums and Galleries of Wales (NMGW) and The Welsh Archaeological Trusts (WATs) has led to the Strategic Framework for Historic Environment Records in Wales (2005).

In 2003 the Scottish SMRs and the RCAHMS published a Co-Operation Statement which sets out their aim to work together in a number of areas: liaison, on-line resources, user feedback and analysis, workshops and training, joint services, education and tourism and research.


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