The BBC has learned that troves of ancient artifacts discovered during construction and infrastructure projects are collecting dust in warehouses because England's museums are at capacity.
This, according to archaeologists, is a lost opportunity for people to discover their heritage and history.
The items include everything from bronze age pottery to exquisite Roman metalwork.
Before clearing land for construction, developers hire archaeological contractors to find them.
These contractors, also referred to as "commercial archaeologists," are responsible for some of our most significant historical discoveries today.
In Southwark, during a regeneration project, the largest mosaic discovery in London in fifty years was discovered, and archaeologists constructing the HS2 high-speed rail line discovered a vast, prosperous Roman trading settlement.
However, according to Historic England, museums may soon run out of space for such artifacts. The amount of material emerging from the ground will soon exceed the space available to store it, according to a report that was commissioned by the public body and Arts Council England.
Barney Sloane, national director of specialist services at Historic England, warned that time is running out before serious issues manifest themselves.
He noted that archaeological archives have a lot of potential. "It would be a terrible shame if we were unable to find a way to guarantee their protection in the future. ".
While Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland manage archaeological finds differently, all three nations have also voiced concerns about storage.
Numerous museums have already ceased to collect archeological records. This means that although many contractors grant access to researchers who want to study them, they remain hidden from the general public.
Tom Booth, a researcher at the Crick Institute who collaborates with museums to gain access to samples for research, said, "There's literally nowhere to put them. He continued by saying that a lack of devoted archaeological curators as a result of funding exacerbated the issue.
If a museum doesn't have an archaeological curator, they might not be as eager to accept the assignment because they don't think they could properly care for the finds, he said.
According to the Society of Museum Archaeologists, less than half of England's museums currently have an archaeological curator.
According to Historic England and Arts Council England, at least a quarter of the excavations carried out by archaeological contractors in England result in collections that never make it to a museum.
This means that although some do try to make objects available to local communities, contractors are left holding the bag when it comes to storing them and are ill-equipped to show what they have found to the public.
According to Victoria Sands of The Colchester Archaeology Trust, a nonprofit organization that also performs contract work and found the location of a Roman circus, "We have a small visitor center at our office where people can come and view some of the archival material.". "However, it's clear that we're not a museum because it isn't on permanent display or anything of the sort. " .
The National Trust, Arts Council England, and Historic England are in preliminary discussions to advise the government on the establishment of a national archive, which they claim could address the issue of storage for the ensuing 100 years. Whether the government will provide funding for that solution is still up in the air.
According to Historic England, if storage space runs out, councils might no longer be able to require developers to excavate sites of archaeological interest, which would mean that a great deal of history might be lost for good.
Restoring discoveries to their original underground location is one creative approach to the storage issue.
Cambridgeshire County Council has chosen Deepstore, an underground storage company with limitless space to store their 20,000 boxes of historical artifacts that they can access as needed. Deepstore is located in a former salt mine in Cheshire.
The University of Cambridge's After the Plague project has asked for hundreds of boxes of human remains from their repository at Deepstore, which came from burials at the Hospital of St. in Cambridge, John.
The first concrete archaeological evidence of the plague in Britain was discovered as part of that project, which employed cutting-edge methodologies to learn more about the effects of the Black Death in Cambridge, including how epidemic diseases affect our evolution.
According to Mr. Sloane of Historic England, "that benefits medicine, it benefits genetics - it's not just about heritage.".
The items from two graves at the possible burial site of a Saxon princess are currently on display at the Ely Museum. Finds from the stores can also be loaned out to museums for transient exhibitions. An ancient brooch and amethyst beads from a necklace are among the artifacts from the collection in Deepstore that are used in that exhibition.
According to Sally Croft, the archives manager for Cambridgeshire County Council, "the whole point of storing this material is to tell stories about it, to show it to people, and to make them aware of their own history.". "And the only way to do that is to display it and make it visible to others.