The British Archaeological Awards had their origin when Robert Kiln, then a Lloyds underwriter and amateur archaeologist, persuaded Bruce Norman, the producer of the BBC Chronicle series, to sponsor an award for amateur archaeologists and to make it into a popular TV programme.
Magnus Magnusson agreed to be the presenter, and the award was launched in 1976 with enthusiastic support of Current Archaeology and the backing of Rescue of whom Robert Kiln was the Honorary Treasurer. It was an immediate success.
The first award took place at the Rescue AGM in May 1977 when six finalists made a live presentation from which the winner – the Offa’s Dyke project – was selected. The awards grew rapidly, and two other Awards were added – The Times award for sponsorship of archaeology and the Country Life award for work by a Local Authority, both of which were presented by the Duke of Gloucester later the same year.
For the next three years the awards were presented annually, and grew rapidly. The Illustrated London News gave an award for the best presentation of archaeology to the public, the CBA and the Young Archaeologists’ Club under the aegis of Kate Pretty gave an Award for young archaeologists, and in 1989 they were joined by the Legal and General which presented its Silver Trowel Award for initiative and helped in publicity.
A committee was set up in 1984 to which the national Archaeological Societies sent representatives, a structure that has proved enduring. However the most successful innovation proved to be the appointment of Victor Marchant as Hon Secretary. Victor had been associated with the awards from the beginning, helping Robert Kiln, but having retired, he now turned the task of Hon Secretary into a virtually full time job and it was his skill and enthusiasm which carried the awards forward, particularly in finding new sponsors and keeping the old sponsors happy.
In its revised format the Awards became biennial taking place every two years. The Chronicle Awards now became the Pitt Rivers Award, sponsored by the Robert Kiln Charitable Trust and a major new award emerged as the Book Award, sponsored first by the David Thomson Trust and subsequently by Book Club Associates.
In 1986 two new Awards were established, the BP Award to encourage bulldozer drivers and other non archaeologists to report archaeological finds, and the Heritage in Britain Award for the long term preservation of monuments, sponsored jointly by English Heritage, Historic Scotland and Cadw.
1988 saw the most elaborate award so far, presented by Hepworth Building Products with the assistance of their advertising agency McCann Erickson, for the best presentation of an archaeological project to the public. Awards of UKP1,500 each were made to each of the six finalists while the winner, the Flag Fen Bronze Age village won a top prize of UKP10,000. The same year also saw the arrival of two other Awards, the Ironbridge Award for the adaptive re-use of a historic building, and the Channel 4 Award for the best British made archaeological film of the year.
In 1990 the Awards continued with two major changes in sponsorship, the Virgin Group taking over the Award for presentation of projects to the general public, while Thames Television took over the sponsorship award. In 1992 Victor Marchant who, as Hon Secretary, had done so much to promote the Awards retired as Hon Secretary and became a Vice President while John Gorton, a former executive of BP took over as Hon Secretary.
In 1994 the Awards expanded yet again with two new changes in sponsorship, the Silver Trowel Award being taken over by the Nationwide Building Society and the Sponsorship award was taken over by Wedgwood. There were also two new awards, the Press Award for the best reporting of archaeology sponsored by British Gas/Transco while the Royal Archaeological Institute gave a prize for the best student dissertation on archaeology. By 1995 the Awards had expanded to such an extent that the Council for British Archaeology was brought in to provide paid secretarial assistance. Another major new award was sponsored by ICI, for a British archaeology project offering a major contribution to knowledge.
The Awards then evolved into 14 awards in all, in three main categories. Firstly, the general archaeological awards covering amateur archaeologists, non archaeologists (the BP Award) the Young Archaeologists award, and the Silver Trowel Award, sponsored by Spear and Jackson. There were also awards for the presentation and preservation of archaeology – the Virgin award for presentation, the Heritage in Britain Award, the Ironbridge Award and the sponsorship Award, itself sponsored by Wedgwood. And finally there were the media awards – Channel 4 for Television, the British Gas Press Award and the Book Award.
The Awards have continued and are proving very successful in their main intention of promoting archaeology.
Andrew Selkirk, Current Archaeology
In 2014 there are six awards, with a further discretionary award for Lifetime Achievement. In 2012, this was won by Mick Aston, sadly no longer with us. We are delighted to honour his great contribution and commitment to the field through the Award.