Three months into my PhD I have already begun to see the complications which occur when undertaking original research. A problem which has been limiting in the past but never as frustrating as during a PhD is the lack of organisation for research collections and unpublished archaeological reports. The main issue is that records are rarely, if ever, kept to track the changing location of resource materials. This results in a kind of detective game involving several museums, archive offices, and sometimes private organisations.
This digital quest usually involves several steps which ultimately end in emails between several departments of one organisation due to there being confusion over whether a report exists, if it’s in their archives, or whether it’s in a different museum entirely.
The Museum of London Centre for Human Bioarchaeology is a huge relief for the weary data scourer. Although not an exhaustive list of cemeteries, the museum holds a large collection of skeletal remains from around London for every time period, and there is extensive data available to download freely. More locally, the West Yorkshire Archives Service is a wealth of historical records for the area and is freely available to visit for research purposes. A fantastic example of a published site report is St. Martin’s Uncovered: Investigations in the churchyard of St. Martin’s-in-the Bull Ring, Birmingham, 2001. This volume not only covers all aspects of the site but contains appendices on a CD, with the original osteological analysis results sorted by skeleton.
Spending hours searching for resources has been an experience which has highlighted the importance of open access resources, well-informed websites, and the responsibility of authors to mention the location of collections after excavation. It also stresses the need for standardised approaches to recording the location of collections and resources, and for these records to be made available for researchers.
Brickley, M., Buteux, S., Adams, J., Cherrington, R., 2006: St. Martin’s Uncovered: Investigations in the Churchyard of St. Martin’s-in-the-Bull Ring, Birmingham, 2001. Oxford: Oxbow Books.
West Yorkshire Archives: http://www.archives.wyjs.org.uk/
Best of luck in your search!