What is Grey Literature?

Grey literature is that produced in the form of reports for developers and local planning authorities by commercial archaeology units and historic buildings consultants.  It is in the public domain and an archive of such reports is held by the Archaeological Data Services (ADS) at the University of York.  The archive effectively starts around 2006 and there is up to a three month lag in incorporating new reports.  Unlike what might be described as the official or ‘black literature’, the grey literature has not been subjected to independent and anonymous peer review, which characterises reports published in learned journals.  However, most commercial archaeological units operate a system of internal quality control and tricky issues will have been discussed in-house and probably also with experts in museums and university departments.  Some of the more striking findings, first reported in the grey literature, are subsequently written up for submission to and publication in the academic journals.  Where this has happened, reference is made to the publication and references will be inserted for past reports as they become published in the mainstream literature.  However, there are many reports in the grey literature that do not merit full publication but yet contain snippets of useful information.

The planning process in England now requires developers and local planning authorities to pay attention to archaeology and the historic environment. Planners may require some form of archaeological assessment of sites and properties proposed for development or alteration.  In part, this is determined by what appears in the Historic Environment Record (HER) and other evidence of archaeological or historic remains already known from the site or nearby.  In the case of both districts the HER is often quite thin, which reflects the absence of archaeological investigations in the twentieth century, rather than a real absence of actual or potential archaeology.  The area is remote from favoured areas such as Dartmoor and Exmoor, and is also remote from most centres of archaeological expertise, which tend to be found in the south and east of the county.  Also, there were few nineteenth and early twentieth century amateur archaeologists active in the area and visits by those from further afield tended to be to Exmoor and very few seem to have ventured south-west of Bideford.

In the August 2014 issue of Current Archaeology, Andrew Selkirk argued that a useful task for local archaeological societies would be to review, synthesise, and assimilate the grey literature to what was already known in their local area.   The North Devon Archaeological Society has decided to endeavour to do this for the two local authority districts which it covers.  Sites are listed in alphabetical order of parishes in the annual reviews.

Northern Devon is the generic term used here for the two contemporary local government areas of North Devon District Council and Torridge District Council.


Torridge District  North Devon District 

Notes on use

The reviews of each district summarise the various grey literature reports and link the findings to the general picture of archaeology in northern Devon.   Should recourse to the original reports be required by users of the NDAS web site, then a couple of points need to be noted.

1. The ADS web-site (www.archaeologicaldataservices.ac.uk) has a search engine to enable users to search for specific sites, periods or locations.  For access to the original reports, the user will be required to consent to the ADS terms of use.  This prevents us from having direct links to the original reports.  We also found one or two errors in the links back to the original reports and informed ADS of this, which then made the necessary corrections.  

2. We also found in the reports produced by commercial archaeology units that there were sometimes errors in the grid references to sites.  The grid references given by us in the annual reviews have been checked with current OS maps at 1:25,000 scale.

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