The Martian Chronicle I

Bulletin of the Monuments At Risk Survey
June 1994

This Chronicle, the first of a series of quarterly bulletins, marks the launch of the Monuments at Risk Survey (MARS). The Chronicle aims to communicate the progress and issues of the MARS work to a wide audience. By setting down the key principles, practical issues, and background information readers have the opportunity to communicate their reactions and views to the project team.

The bulletin will support a range of other MARS publications, such as journal articles, press releases and other publicity material, envisaged throughout the life of MARS.

The Condition of England's Archaeological resource

MARS is a nationwide survey of the survival and decay of England's archaeological heritage over the last 50 years. It has long been recognised as a crucial step in developing approaches to management of the archaeological resource. In summary, quantified results from MARS will provide the profession and wider public with baseline information about the state of the resource and the effect of impacts, such as land use, on it.

Although surveys on the impact of land uses such as agriculture are well documented, they only present a localised, often judgmental view of destructive practices. For the first time, MARS will provide a national picture, based on a representative sample, here 5% and in an objective manner. This information can be used to target strategic and lower level resources and will be a tremendously valuable tool in supporting archaeological elements of land management.

MARS is being carried out by Bournemouth University, under the direction of Professor Timothy Darvill, Project Director and Andrew Fulton, Project Manager, and has been commissioned by English Heritage. The work is being undertaken in association with the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. A steering group drawn from the sponsoring organisation and other key participating parties is overseeing and monitoring the programme. However, throughout the work great reliance is placed on assistance and support from local sites and Monuments Records (county and district), and from farmers, landowners and land agents whose monuments will be visited as part of the field survey.

The field work and other data collection activities are expected to be completed by January 1996, the overall programme by mid Spring of 1997.

Project Aims

There are three main aims to the Project:

  1. A systematic quantification of England's archaeological resource in terms of:
  2. An investigation into the implications of monument decay for different classes of monument, in terms of the information preserved at different states of survival
  3. The preparation of appropriate publications and presentation material to convey the project results to a variety of audiences

MARS and the question of survival and decay

MARS arose out of a need to understand and quantify the processes affecting the state of England's archaeological monuments.

There will be three main strands to the study. First is the quantification of the state of the resource in c.1995 through a national programme of field checking. Second, is the quantification of the changing state of the resource since 1940 through the examination and analysis of available aerial photographs. Third, is the researching of a series of case studies relating to defined classes of monument and tracts of distinctive countryside.

Overall, MARS will examine over 25 variables relating to the archaeological resource. Some of these will be considered and described in future issues of the Chronicle, here attention is directed to the approach that has been developed to cope with the two most difficult variables: "survival" and "decay".

Survival is taken as a point-in-time measure of the prevailing state or condition of a monument relative to some former state; a reflection of the cumulative effects of all the natural and man-induced processes that have come to bear on the monument. Ideally, survival should be measured with reference to the original state of the monument, but in practical terms it is almost impossible to determine the original state of all but a few particularly well-recorded and in general fairly recent monuments. Accordingly, it is necessary to estimate or project the original or greatest recorded extant. Rather easier is the measurement of the area of the monument and the height / thickness of deposits that remain. These measurements can be made for any point in time if the information is available or can be seen.

From these measurements it is possible to quantify survival in two ways.

Area loss is quantified as the percentage area loss (PAL) calculated as:

      A1 - A1
PHL = ------- X 100


Vertical survival is quantified as the percentage height loss (PHL) calculated as:

      H1 - H1
PHL = ------- X 100


Alongside these measurements it is proposed to use a more general appraisal of gross survival. This can be estimated as the percentage of the volume of monument lost between the projected original extent and the point in time for which the gross survival estimate is being made. This is known as the percentage volume survival (PVS). Gauging the PVS means taking account of the full intricacies of the shape and form of the monument under scrutiny, but because of these great intricacies there is no easy formula which models or describes such changes. However, the human mind is quite good at making general estimates of such changes, at least in terms of broad categories. Thus visual observations at the time of field checking, and visual analysis of aerial photographs and other sources for earlier data collection windows will give a reasonable general impression.

Decay is a through-time measure of changes to the survival of a monument and elements of it. The archaeological record is a product of human activities. Inevitably, individual parts of the record for example earthworks, timber buildings, bone needles or ironwork - begin to decay from the moment of deposition. The rate at which decay occurs depends upon a range of factors. If decay is regarded as a continuous process then it can be measured in terms of the degree of change between one point in time and another. The time period over which the decay process is measured is suggested here as 10 years, this being a realistic interval during which even fairly slight changes in survival can be observed. Viewed graphically, decay is measured in terms of the declination of that part of a decay curve which lies within the purview of the time unit under scrutiny.

Decay is thus measured as a decade factor (DDF) using the following simple formula in which PVS1 is the percentage volume survival as the beginning of the decade block under review and PVS2 is the percentage column survival at the end of the block.


The 10 Phase Project Model

MARS is a considerable undertaking and the first study of its kind. In total, ten main phases can be identified;

  1. Pilot Study Phase (Sept. 1989 - Mar. 1991)
  2. Pilot Review Phase (Mar. 1991 - Sept. 1993)
  3. Project Design Phase (Sept. 1993 - Feb. 1994)
  4. Decision Phase (Feb. 1994 - May. 1994)
  5. Set-up Phase (May 1994 - Aug. 1994)
  6. Data collection Phase (Jul. 1994 - Jan. 1996)
  7. Assessment of Achievement Phase (Jan. 1996 - Apr. 1996)
  8. Formal Analysis Phase (Apr. 1996 - Dec. 1996)
  9. Completion Phase (Dec. 1996 - Apr. 1997)
  10. Publication Phase (Feb. 1997 - May 1997)

The current programme has been running for about 8 months. The release of this Chronicle coincides with the end of the "Decision Phase" and the start of the "Set-up Phase". Recruitment for the main posts on the project will take in June 1994, with appointments expected in July and August. In the meantime, Andrew Fulton and Mark Bell are continuing to develop and test the computing side, set up the management and quality control systems, and put in place the range of equipment and facilities that will be required once the fieldwork element gates underway.

Life on MARS

At its peak, there will be 30 people working on MARS! The work has been divided between four groups, forming the four main elements to MARS.

Regional field survey team
Six teams of two will be dispersed throughout England, tasked with observing and recording the condition of monuments within 1301 sample units each measuring 1x5km. Three regional supervisors will co-ordinate the work of these teams. Each can expect to handle data for approximately 3200 monuments. (In total, the 5% sample will yield data for some 19,500 monuments).
Aerial Photographic team
A small team of four, three interpreters and one assistant, will provide data for the condition of the same monuments being field checked. (This work represents a big proportion of the MARS archive, providing information for each monument, for the five decades leading up to the 1990s).
Central research team
A team of five researchers, led by a research co-ordinator will carry out work on the study of the recorded resource as well as case studies, currently numbered at 59. By December 1995, the working archive, from which many avenues of analysis can take place, will be completed.
Administrative Support
All of the three groups mentioned above are supported by two administrators. Their task is to co-ordinate all the teams and to ensure smooth communication throughout. They are the first point of contact for the MARS project.

The value of MARS

The MARS Archive will be of immense value at county, regional and national level, in terms of setting down factual and representative information about the state of the resource now, the real effect of impacts on monuments, and where the resource is likely to be in years to come. The information should be seen as being fundamental to the archaeological elements of what in its widest context can be termed "land management".

Comments or Queries

Mr Andrew Fulton, Project Manager
Department of Conservation Sciences
Bournemouth University, Fern Barrow, Poole, Dorset. BH12 5BB
Tel: (01202) 595430 Fax: (01202) 595255

© The MARS Project 1996.