IPERION HSIntegrating Platforms for the European Research Infrastructure ON Heritage Science

Historic England, Heritage Science

The Historic England provides a national facility for the study of human-environment interactions over time, including how people procured their livelihoods and their social relationships with animals, plants and the world around them. The strength of the laboratory lies in the range of disciplines brought together under one roof at Fort Cumberland. This provides conjoined insights into the understanding of the historic environment. The laboratory holds unique biological collections, an array of instrumentation and facilities, and a nationally respected scientific staff. The laboratory provides high quality, consistent, individually tailored advice to the sector and produces best practice guidance of international repute. It convenes a number of SIGs and carries out teaching and supervision of students and manages on-the job learning placements. HE-FC retains five archaeological reference/research collections of national and international importance, as they are designed specifically to support archaeological research. These are: zooarchaeological collection, archaeobotanical collection; human skeletal collection; the dendrochronological collection; and the archaeotechnology collection. Archaeological archives consist of the records and finds made during an archaeological project. The documentary archive includes written records, drawings, photographs and digital data. The material archive includes artefacts such as pottery and metalwork, or environmental remains such as animal bone. The dendrochronological collection is unique and, given its timespan and geographical range, is a fundamentally important collection. For the others, a small number of similar collections exist elsewhere (eg Zooarchaeology: British Museum; human skeletal: Museum of London; archaeobotanical: Kew), but only the London human skeletal collection has been assembled specifically with archaeological research in mind. The collections are used for post-graduate research, commercial archaeology research and collaborative research projects. The laboratory facilities at Fort Cumberland provide excellent staffed access to the collections and space for research. There are 14 full-time scientists supporting or working with these collections. The Zooarchaeology reference collection contains c 3.300 accessions, representing 390 different taxa. The collection includes large research collections, for example 356 sheep, of a single breed, with known life histories. We are included in Annex B of the Natural England Class License WML-CL01 which allows possession of specimens of wild animals listed in Annex IV of the EC Habitats Directive. The Archaeobotanical collection currently includes around 5000 specimens of seeds and fruits of mainly British and European species. Most are dried, with some experimentally charred items. We also hold collections of wood and charcoal, pollen, charred tubers, mosses and animal and plant fibres. We hold reference sediment collections and a thin section reference collection consisting of known materials. We are responsible for collections of archaeological human skeletal remains, representing about 5.000 individuals. They mainly date to the Roman and medieval periods. The dendrochronological core collection numbers over 15.000, drawn from both archaeological and historic building samples. The archaeotechnology collection holds several thousand samples taken from archaeological artefacts, tools and production waste from metal and glass manufacture. Our collections also include a range of slags and other production waste, which are used for teaching and training.


  • Cultural & natural heritage

  • Cultural heritage

    archaeological object and site, faunal remains, mineral preserved organics, plant remains, sediments, soils, wood

  • Natural heritage

    animal product, botanic collection, mineral, other, Shell, Skeleton


  • inorganic

    ceramic (clay/mud brick/terracotta/earthenware/stoneware/porcelain), charcoal, charred tubers, glass, metal and metallurgical By-Products, mosses, pollen, stone

  • organic

    animal fibres, animal parts, bones, plant fibres, textiles, wood


Open collection days are held on 2nd Wednesday of each month. Access to the collections at other times is by prior arrangement Destructive sampling of bone reference collection and other non-replaceable scientific reference material are considered on a case by case basis. The general presumption is that destructive sampling of significant and hard-to-replace material should only be allowed if: (a) if there is a clear and valid research question and research design; (b) if there is a reasonably good chance that it will provide useful results; (c) if the potential results are of greater value than the destroyed material; (d) if this appears to be the best way to produce the results (and, in particular, that they can’t reasonably be produced by an alternative non-destructive approach). People wanting permission to sample significant and hard-to-replace material (the reason for this wording is not to require undue bureaucracy for the destruction of reference material that isn’t – e.g. a few seeds from a large sample of a common plant) destructively must provide a written case • setting out the rationale of the project to which they would contribute, the potential value of the results and the probability of getting a successful result; • discussing alternative ways of getting the same results, and, in particular, establishing that they cannot be obtained non-destructively; • describing in detail what would be destroyed and how; • providing an assessment of the value of the material that would be destroyed; • giving information about funding and publication plans, including submission date for dissertations and theses;. • stating affiliation and name(s) of supervisor(s) Historic England staff should be provided with copies of the raw data obtained from modern reference material before departure from the facilities, or as soon as feasible upon completion of the recording stage. The data will be stored securely but it will not be used nor distributed by Historic England staff. The request for the raw data is in order to ensure a permanent archive is available in the event of non-completion of the study. The data will not be used nor distributed without permission of the researcher, or appropriate supervisors/authorities Historic England staff at Fort Cumberland should be provided with a copy of the dissertation, thesis or published articles based on the study of material in the collection. Historic England should receive acknowledgement in any published articles based on study of remains in the collection. Whilst working on the remains at Fort Cumberland, all reasonable requests from Historic England staff should be complied with. Historic England reserves the right to confer additional terms of access in individual cases as it sees fit.