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HERFORUM  December 2004

HERFORUM December 2004

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Subject:

Re: Watching Briefs - A Useful Form of Archaeological Mitigation?

From:

"Newman, Richard" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Issues related to Sites & Monuments Records <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 6 Dec 2004 11:29:12 -0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (74 lines)

Louise 

Watching briefs as a technique are a perfectly valid type of
archaeological response but they are misused which is why there value is
reduced. Amongst the problems are:

Curators often apply a watching brief as an easy get out response to an
archaeological condition applied to a planning consent.  They are seen
as the lowest level of archaeological response and applied in
circumstances where no archaeology is known but the possibility exists
or where for various reasons it may be difficult to get a developer to
finance an excavation.  This is lazy, sloppy and spineless thinking.
Where a site's potential is unknown it should be assessed and evaluated,
preferably as a pre-determination exercise and then the most appropriate
form of mitigation applied.  Using a watching brief as a soft option
often leads to a developer wasting their money and an archaeologist
their time as a pointless condition is discharged.  Conversely,
misapplication of a watching brief condition can lead to an
archaeologist trying to deal with 'shed loads' of archaeology on a site
which should have been excavated.

Contractors will frequently send out inexperienced staff to reduce costs
and because so many watching briefs are a waste of time they do not wish
to commit their best qualified staff.  Yet watching briefs often require
the recognition of ephemeral archaeological indicators within less than
ideal circumstances as well as the ability to deal with developers via
liaison, negotiation and explanation.  Thus watching briefs require a
contractor's best and most experienced staff not their least
experienced.

Watching briefs are applied to sites and in circumstances where they
cannot possibly succeed.  Little will be gained watching a drot tear
through a greensand landscape.  There may be archaeology to record but
it is doubtful if anyone would notice!

Watching briefs should be applied as a mitigation response in
circumstances where the presence of archaeology is known but where it is
considered that a watching brief will provide adequate opportunity to
answer the questions being posed of the archaeology.  Often this will be
a part of a suite of archaeological mitigatory responses.  Sometimes
they will be the only appropriate response for technical reasons related
to demolition or other programming issues.  They should not be applied
speculatively.  Even the permanent presence watching brief on a pipeline
is a misuse.  Here, as with some quarries, in areas where no indication
of previous archaeology came from assessment or evaluation strip and
record excavation should be used if remains are subsequently discovered.
Again watching brief recording should be confined to areas of known
archaeology where full excavation is considered unnecessary or is
impractical for sound engineering reasons.  

There is a problem of terminology here.  Observers in areas of unknown
potential in quarries or on pipelines or other major earth moving
projects should not be considered to be undertaking a watching brief but
should be seen as inspectors who call in an excavation team where
required.  They may undertake watching brief recording if such a team is
not required to carry out an emergency excavation.  Watching brief
recording should only be undertaken when it can  be defined clearly as
the most appropriate response.  Watching briefs should not be undertaken
as a safety measure where a smaller discrete development has been
evaluated adequately and no archaeological remains encountered. 

In Cumbria Watching Brief conditions are most often applied to small
projects, ie a single house plot or smaller, and are usually applied
following a site assessment but not necessarily an evaluation, because
of the small size of the site. Of these in the past year 40% have
produced findings of archaeological significance but only 10% have
produced datable features or structures.  To improve these percentages
we consider that better targeting is required.

Hope this helps

Richard Newman
County Archaeologist, Cumbria County Council 

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