The Oxford Archaeological Unit David Miles, the Director of the Oxford Archaeological Unit, explains the background to the Unit the Ashmolean Museum). The word 'rescue' which was fashionable at the time, was not incorporated into the title because we felt that our aims should be broader and more research and conservation based.
THE Unit was founded in 1973, when it was the first of the new generation of Units. By the early 1970s, there was a proliferation of excavation committees in Oxford shire. The first was the Oxford Exca vation Committee in 1966, but soon similar organisations had appeared for the M40, the Upper Thames Val ley, Abingdon and various other places. As local authority reorganisa tion got underway in 1973, it was felt that local archaeologists should rationalise and co-ordinate their activities. The OAU was the result.
The Unit was established as an independent educational charity with the support of the Department of the Environment, Oxfordshire County Council, the District Councils and the University of Oxford (particularly the Department of External Studies and
The Unit was a very much a grass-roots organisation. The enthusiasm and energy to promote it came from within the region, rather than being imposed by central government. Our prime aim was to promote archaeology in Oxfordshire but we did not see ourselves as limited by the new county boundaries. Abingdon, the focus of much of our work in the mid 70s and again in the late 80s, was once the county town of Berkshire; the Upper Thames Committee, which was absorbed within the Unit, had worked in the Thames Valley from Berkshire to Gloucestershire. In its early years the Unit also carried out projects in Towcester (Northants) and Buckinghamshire.
As an independent organisation the Unit lacked security but gained in flexibility. Our position as a charity also allowed us to badger, persuade and establish good relations with many different organisations.
A major break-through was winning the support of ARC, the largest gravel company in the Upper Thames Valley (and Britain). A covenant from ARC enabled the Unit to fund three environmental officers (Dr Martin Jones, now Professor of Environmental Archaeology, Cambridge, Dr Mark Robinson and Bob Wilson) at a time when such posts were rare in British archaeology. A strong emphasis on biological and environmental studies has been an important feature of the OAU's work since 1974. The success of landscape projects depends upon the close cooperation and integration of many scientific skills and techniques.
Tom Hassall, born and bred in Oxford, was the Unit's first director.
David Miles, previously directing the Abingdon Excavation Committee, was appointed as senior Field Officer, with particular responsibility for the Thames Valley projects. A number of field officers were also appointed, including Kirsty Rodwell, John Hinchcliffe (now the head of the Central Unit) and Brian Durham who is still with the Unit. A little later a new generation of field archaeologists appeared, some from the Oxford University Archaeological Society such as George Lambrick (now the Unit's Deputy Director) and Tim Allen. The Unit has also maintained particularly close contacts with Reading University, the alma mater of the Unit Manager, Simon Palmer, and Gill Hey, also a field officer. For the first decade the Unit had a core staff of about 14 and approximately three-quarters of its funding came from the Department of Environment.
In 1986 Tom Hassall left the Unit to take up the post of Secretary of the Royal Commission for Historic Monuments in London. Dr Ian Burrow, the former County Council archaeologist for Somerset, was appointed as the new Director.
CURRENT ARCHAEOLOGY 121