Research is the search for new knowledge, and is the fundamental purpose of archaeology. As a moving and evolving
process of investigation and study, archaeology must constantly seek new data, ideas and interpretations in order
to survive. The way that archaeology is taught in universities and schools emphasises the continuing research
process and the many debates within archaeology, rather than a static set of facts.
Research may involve completely new discoveries, such as sites, finds or ideas. Another very productive area of
research is the study and re-interpretation of existing data. Museums and archives are full of finds, records and
illustrations of sites and material which have already been found (sometimes a very long time ago), but never
studied in detail. Re-examining these old discoveries can be every bit as exciting as finding new ones. All new and
re-interpreted data needs to be studied in the context of existing knowledge, so that fresh and better-informed
interpretations can be reached.
A first port-of-call for any project is therefore to find out what is already known about the subject or site
under investigation. For an individual site, this may take a few days in a library or archive. In the case of wider
and more complex research projects involving many sites or landscapes, it may take much longer. One of the purposes
of any new work is to test and re-evaluate existing information. The archaeologists should approach what they
read with a sense of critical inquiry. This does not mean that archaeologists are intent on rubbishing previous
accounts and descriptions: in many cases these are found to be surprisingly accurate and informative.
An awareness of the potential weaknesses in previous and present research approaches is essential. In many cases,
much of the significance of existing data was not realised at the time it was found or recorded. Modern
interpretations of previous work can often mean that old and new data, studied together, suddenly make a great deal
Learn more about Sites and Monuments Records (SMR), RCHME,
National Monuments Record (NMR), Victoria Country Histories (VCH),
or return to Pre-Ex.