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Chapple, R. M. 2014 ‘Oh, Margaret the lapping waves are licking quietly at our ankles’ | The fall of commercial archaeology in Northern Ireland. Blogspot post

Chapple, R. M. 2014 ‘Oh, Margaret the lapping waves are licking quietly at our ankles’ | The fall of commercial archaeology in Northern Ireland. Blogspot post

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Published by Robert M Chapple
Chapple, R. M. 2014 ‘Oh, Margaret the lapping waves are licking quietly at our ankles’ | The fall of commercial archaeology in Northern Ireland. Blogspot post
Chapple, R. M. 2014 ‘Oh, Margaret the lapping waves are licking quietly at our ankles’ | The fall of commercial archaeology in Northern Ireland. Blogspot post

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Published by: Robert M Chapple on Jul 17, 2014
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‘Oh, Margaret the lapping waves are licking quietly at our ankles’ | The fall of
commercial archaeology in Northern Ireland
 Originally posted online on 20 February 2014 at rmchapple.blogspot.com (http://rmchapple.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/oh-margaret-lapping-waves-are-licking.html)  Looking back on that time in my life where I attempted to make a living from archaeology, I see that I went through a regular cycle. About once a year, from when I was awarded my MA in 1998 up until I finally left field archaeology in 2011, I would convince myself that I was going
to do a PhD. I’d get deeply entranced by a single
 subject and decide that
 this time
 finally
 I was going to settle on a subject that I could work on for several years and emerge as the all-
knowing expert on. That’s how it started. Invariably, something would happen along the way
to put a halt to the
se grand plans. Sometimes it was my realisation that I just couldn’t afford
the time and money at that point in my life. At other times it was the feeling that the topic
 wasn’t sufficiently interesting to sustain me over the long
-haul. On the few occasions I had sufficient motivation to approach a university department, it was them who though the topic
 wasn’t sufficiently interesting. The worst one was always when I got so far, only to discover that I’d been beaten to the topic and all I thought I could pot
entially add to the discussion was already said, and generally with deeper thought and more eloquence than I could have managed. One of my worst experiences in this regard was around 2000 when I was working in the Drogheda region. I spent an awful lot of time commuting on the train between there and Belfast. The frequent journeys gave me ample time to read and reflect and I decided that this  was
definitely
 the year I was going to start on a PhD. No doubt about it! I had been reading a little about Bronze Age burials and thinking that it was an area that could do with a serious re-examination and I was going to be the guy to do just that. I got pretty far before I encountered the writings of Charles Mount [ Website |  Academia.edu | Blog | LinkedIn | Twitter]. The short  version of the story is that pretty much every avenue I thought might make an interesting research pathway, Mount had been there first. I was horrified. I was desolated. I was
remarkably annoyed with him! I’d like to say I learned a valuable lesson about creating
impressive research proposals without being fully aware of the current research landscape, but subsequent events have proven otherwise. The one salient point I did take from this experience  was that Charles Mount bears watching! To this day, if I see something written by him, I know
it’s worth taking the time to engage with. In recent years I’ve followed his blog posts with great interest. They’re invariably educational, entertaining, and well researched. In recent times he’s
developed an interesting series of posts chronicling the decline (and slight rise) of the archaeological profession through a series of proxy data sets.  As far as I can ascertain, his earliest post on this topic was in October 2011 when he published 
. In this he correlated the decline in excavation licences issued from 2008 against the Production in Building and Construction Index, produced by the Irish Central Statistics Office. In this piece
he concludes that: ‘The correlation between archaeological licenses and construction output
suggests that any future increase in the latter will be preceded by an increase in the numbers of the former. By keeping an eye on the relative numbers of licenses issued and making quarter on quarter comparisons economy watchers may be able to pick up an early signal of a return
to construction growth.’ In January 2012 he returned to the theme with
. Here, based
on the number of excavation licences issued, he correctly predicted ‘a further decrease in archaeological activity during 2012’. An update
in April 2012 (
) confirmed the trend. Further results along the same lines were
 
posted in June, July , October, and December 2012. March 2013 brought a return to the topic in 
. In
this he noted that ‘A worrying trend is that the
rate of decline in archaeological activity has  barely slowed and is now running at more than twice the rate of the decline in construction activity. This may indicate that there are other factors causing the decline of archaeological activity other than ju
st the aggregate decline in construction activity.’ In two posts in April
2013 [here | here] Mount argued that there were reasons to be hopeful, if not for recovery, then that the recession was slowing. By July 2013 he was confident enough to publish the self-explanatory post: 
  Again, his data was based on the numbers of archaeological excavation licences issued, along with information from Ulster Bank Construction PMI Report, and the Irish Central Statistics Office. In October of that year, this was followed up with: 
; followed by  
 in December. Admittedly, it is only the most modest of recoveries, being marginally better than the egregious previous year. For anyone wishing to pour over these rather brilliantly written and researched, but quite depressing, posts I have created a comprehensive Charles Mount  bibliography at the end. But
 
I’ve followed these posts from the beginning and devoured each as it was posted. In my
post 
 I used the same form of data (reports on archaeological licences published in the annual
 Excavations  Bulletin
) from Northern Ireland to examine how excavation rates do not match publication rates. At the same time, as a means of examining
the health of commercial archaeology, I’ve
never been happy with it. The biggest problem I find with this form of data is that all excavation
licences are not created equal. It’s a simple point, but deserves stating. One licence can cover
a huge excavation that lasts several months and employs dozens of archaeological staff
 think of the scale of the Drumclay crannog, for example. At the other end of the
scale, I’ve done more
than enough jobs where the same licence covered a just me watching a mechanical excavator
trenching for half a day. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way criticising Mount for using this
proxy data. As the best available measure it has functioned well as a means of recording the  vicissitudes in the profession. In conjunction with other data, he has even used it as a
predictive tool. It’s just that I’ve had a nagging suspicion that there
 
must 
 be a better way to see the true scale of the recession and how it has impacted on commercial archaeology in Northern
Ireland … if only I could find it!
 Turns out there is!  Annual Returns for each company in the UK must be lodged with Companies House in Belfast. Quite a lot of that data is available on the internet
 for free
 if you just know where and how
to look. I’ve been able to examine outline accounts from the
 before the beginning of the recession
 until 2013. True,
the data lacks the immediacy of Mount’s interrogation of the licencing data,
 but it does have the advantage that it sets out the positions of each individual company with actual pound signs attached. My initial intention was to anonymise the data, so that it could not be linked back to any specific company. However, on the basis of legal advice received, I have taken on board the need to prove that the data presented is verifiable and correct. For this reason, though I will not name any company directly, I will refer to each by their year of incorporation. Anyone wishing to examine my baseline data and interrogate it for themselves  will find an Appendix where the companies are listed by date of incorporation and linked to their current records in CompanyCheck [here].
I’m going to start with the oldest archaeological consultancy in Northern Ireland. They were
founded in 1990 and have two registered directors. From the graph and corresponding data
 
table we can see that they went from closing 2007 with just £69 in the bank to £8.7k the following year. In the years since, this has dropped to £109 (2009) and £115 (2010), before falling to a zero balance in 2011
 the last year that accounts are available. The Current Assets for this company go from £706k in 2007 to just a shade over £1.9m the following year. This  value dropped to £1.4m in 2009 and £381k in 2010, before making a light recovery in 2011 to £526k. This represents a high to low drop of 80%, or a 72% drop to the 2011 level. A similar tale is told by the Current Liabilities. These go from £625k in 2007, to a peak of £1.7m in 2008, falling back to £737k and £511k in the two years following. This increased to £590k in 2011.  Again, this represents a high to low fall of 70%, or a 66% drop to the 2011 figure. However, the real story is told by the valued Net Worth of the company. In 2007 this was listed as £128k, increasing to a maximum of £329k in 2009. This plummeted to -£105k in 2010, recovering only slightly in 2011 to -£37k. This represents a maximum to minimum drop of 132%, and a drop of 111% from the maximum to the 2011 figure. 1990 Company 2007-2011
2007
 
2008
 
2009
 
2010
 
2011
 
Cash at Bank 
 £69 £8,719 £109 £115 £0
Net Worth
 £128,146 £231,231 £329,155 -£104,541 -£37,190
Current Liabilities
 £625,202 £1,719,715 £738,270 £511,421 £590,987
Current Assets
 £705,774 £1,900,282 £1,040,469 £381,245 £526,497

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