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Project Managing Fieldwork – Building in Expertise before a Shovel is lifted

Fieldwork (usually) represents the later stages of an investigation of the archaeology and history of a site, but there is never certainty as to what will be uncovered; not even when loaded with data from desk based research and geophysics, or with aerial photographs and LiDAR. Only by physically digging can we test our hypotheses and expectations as to what we want and expect to find.  Our clients and stakeholders require us to be as well informed and prepared as it is possible to be. The key to this and to adding value to any archaeological project is to be on top of the data, and to always keep the end game objectives in sight. Nevertheless, surprises can still happen!

Newcastle excavation dans blog

A recent example of this was in 2014 whilst carrying out an evaluation under a demolished public house in North Tyneside, local archaeologists fully expected to find the waste and remains of a Tyneside Colliery but underneath that, unexpectedly stumbled upon a Roman period military bath house in splendid condition. See image left.

Best results from the least amount of excavation

Managing archaeological fieldwork both in the commercial sphere and the research or public spheres demands a rigorous application of specific aims and objectives for all projects. The first and most effective place to add value to any field investigation is by deliberately working to generate the maximum quantity of meaningful data out of the potential the site can provide. In other words, to create the best results from the least amount of excavation.  By thinking in this way from the outset, costs are controlled and the impact to the archaeological resource is limited – remember we can only dig something once, when its excavated it’s gone forever.

Every aspect of a fieldwork project is governed and measured by a Written Scheme of Investigation (WSI) or Project Design. Whilst the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA) regulates the minimum standards for all forms of archaeological work, talented and experienced archaeologists can design schemes that extract the very best data from any given site. The best archaeologists will always exceed the minimum requirements.

Excavations and evaluations can be logistically complex. Complexity does provide opportunities in which to build value into a project – usually cost benefits as well as intellectual value. By employing a robust WSI the fieldwork manager will allocate resources such as archaeologists, plant and specialists only when and where they are required. This of course, is good for cost control, but it also helps focus the work on those specific aims and objectives identified at the outset.

Every good WSI includes stages for progress review. Reviews are essential to see where the investigation meets the aims of the project, and measures the progress toward research objectives. Reviews can also show where certain lines of investigation are simply not effective and can be either abandoned or altered. Reviews and updates to the WSI provide opportunities to fine tune the project to allow the very best use of available resources and funding. The reviews also provide vitally important visibility to the stakeholders of a project – everybody concerned can see why the project is progressing the way it is, and where the resources are going.

If the unexpected does happen, then the more experienced the team – the better the result

The experience of the project manager should never be underestimated. In depth, hard won knowledge of archaeological periods, themes and research priorities coupled with professional understanding of local and regional conditions, are invaluable to the understanding of the archaeological potential of a site. By designing and executing field projects archaeological managers gain accumulated insights in to the logistics and efficiencies that can be applied to works of varying scales and types. Knowledge and experience is bought through diligent hard work and perseverance but it’s application can be limitless.

When selecting an organisation to take on your archaeological works:

Image: Tyneside dig reveals Roman military bath house

Blog written by Daniel Dodds 23 November 2016

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