Now that discussion has returned to original topic…Brian Durham’s contribution seemed by far the most sensible .


My first WB was as a school boy in Dorchester Dorset 1956- when workmen dug trenches by hand and kept little piles of finds for my after-school visits- and some had had training at Maiden Castle!  On one occasion I was offered a bag of finds on condition I scarpered and stopped visiting, ’holding up the work’, etc.-  I never did because I couldn’t, as an amateur. Enough reminiscence.


The point is that WB’s must not be an excuse for doing the bare minimum, going through the motions, doing it on the cheap  so as not to impose extra costs on the poor local developer,  attitudes that still exist …… They must also allow an immediate upgrade to more serious investigation as BD outlined.


But to carry out this sort of WB the person must have the eye and local knowledge or breadth of experience to be able to peer into a small hole and say ‘could that be a corner of a so and so – stop!’.  And then have the judgement to be able to quickly say ‘no it isn’t, carry on’. I know from experience how difficult it is sometimes to see anything, especially in a machine trench and it is very tempting to be mesmerised into just watching. I have observed one inexperienced watcher identify a Roman road surface as a wall- a mis-identification confirmed as such by another experienced field worker.


Watching Briefs are particularly useful for service trenches in areas of rich urban archaeology under streets where formal planned excavation may be difficult to arrange, although some utilities like Transco seem reluctant to allow even watching briefs. There must also be cases where WB’s  can complement more formal investigation in resolving particular problems about the limits of an amorphous site or for  checking on uncertain records or site locations.



Christopher Sparey-Green

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