BAJR Federation Archaeology

Full Version: Curators - do you dig 'em?
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monitor lizard

Without knowing everyone's background, there are at least 4 curators in this forum, and I can only speak for myself and one other in saying that we've been through the trenches - and some fairly nasty ones at that - and have also had out fair experience of bad curators (see CK's stupid site strategy on the single-context thread for example).

Can I start this thread with 3 points?
1. What does a curator do?
2. what do you think a curator does (be reasonable, please, I'm a delicate soul!)?
3. what should a curator/curatorial service do?

I clearly have my opinion on number 1, and have ideas about number 3 (oh only if I had the time and resource!).

What do you all think?

ML Big Grin
OK can i follow this thread with three points:
1. What does a curator do? As little as he can we suspect.
2. What do you think a curator does? Makes life as awkward as possible for the people at the coalface cos he does'nt have to do that(but i did thirty years ago etc etc).
3. What should a curitorial service do? Look after our countries heritage and stop developers and money making scehemers from ripping it up just to give shareholders a fat profit.
Ps. before i posted this reply i did confer with several friends who are all diggers, this is how we feel.

deep
Good start.... twas as I suspected... though I think there are 3 classes of Curator.

Thos who Care
Those who Can't
Those who Lunch
The curators job: ie a local planning authourity archaeological officer

1. To operate the planning system from an archaeological point of view. This includes development control and strategic planning as well as enforcemnt.
2. To act as as the LPA in house consultant on archaeology for developments they are undertaking.
3. To compile and maintain a sites and monuments record and make that available
4. To advise on the conservation of Ancient monuments on land the authourity own and indeed the purchase of land with monuments on them.
5. To liase with other public bodies and other departments in the LPA with repsonsibilities for the historic environment such as Conservation Officers, EH, DEFRA, Environment Agency, DCMS, and similar.
6. To facilitate public awareness of archaeology in conjunction with other bodies particularly other LPA ones like a Musuems Service.

The one thing there job is not there to do is to stop developers making a profit. There are circumstances when development which involves the disturbance of archaeological remains is permissable.

Peter
I'm not a curator so I can't answer question one.

Question 2: well...generally not much really. I reckon they are too busy with other bigger projects, and probably overworked/underpaid as well. At least I hope they are. If not, then they have no excuse. I get ridiculous WSI's and mitigation by watching brief (see my rant about them elsewhere), occasional visits and advice, and sometimes annoying nitpicking about editing of reports, but very little of the stuff that is actually useful.

Question 3: By useful, I mean support for attempts at good field practice against A: my employer(sometimes) and more importantly B: the developer. Given a choice I will always favour what's least damaging for archaeology, or failing that what's best at getting a good record. This should ally me firmly with the curator in most cases. The curators on the other hand seem to view the contractor, ie. me, as an opponent.

Too often, there is no support at all. Recent examples include a development that has gone on with no notification to the archaeological contractor, in clear breach of the planning requirements. The curator has repeatedly been informed of this, to absolutely no effect. Too often we as contractors feel like the protectors of heritage, which is not our role at all. What are the curators doing?


Far too many responses to the questions you pose to chew at this hour but, one thing that I always meant to ask is this-what`s` the relationship between you the curator (council employee) and the planning officers? What frames of reference does your employer set for you? Does archaeology get what it deserves before the project hits the trowel? Are there any conflicts of interest where you find that your views as an archaeologist are at odds with the views/wishes/policy of your employer?
Just another thing..... Can I ask curators out there if they would be willing to spend more time on site and communicating with the diggers? One of those recurring problems is where the archaeology on site is presented to the visiting curator and almost exclusively via the senior staff. Not to put too fine a point on this but, MIFA is not a certificate of trowel-worthyness across the board for senior site staff. Diggers should be the eyes and ears of the curators-but, only when dialogue is encouraged and, facilitated.Big Grin
Quick and dirty answer.... which I am sure is repeated in many council archaeologist offices around the country.

We are now inundated with work... planning control, checking reports, advice within the council and for the public or developers. community projects, Rural Stewardship schemes (or CSS in england) HER enquiries, updating the HER, site visits.

Many of us are teams of one! some have two... but we are very very overworked... and think about this... we have to know wether the Building recording report is good, tehn a geophsics report... then an evaluation with a prehistoic pottery section...etc.... we are expected to be able to value judge everything... impossible!

We have to trust the contractors to carry out work... but if they do not communicate with us... !

Site visits and talking to diggers (which I do.. when I get to go out - not often) is often with people who have no ieda why they are there, what they are looking for and can't really be ####.... its justa job. I think it would be good to talk more and a change is required to create that climate.

As to relationship with planners! sigh........ "But why?" is one call.... another is often "Oh.... we did not think that conditions should be put on that"
The main thing to remember when it comes to our relationship with planning officers is that PPG16 is only guidance and isn't statutory, and that we're only advisors in the process. Therefore if a planning officer wants to ignore what we say, or decides it's unimportant he/she can. I've seen recommendations for work ignored or forgotten by District planners, conditions discharged early so fieldwork isn't finished or post-ex isn't done properly, and inadequate or wrong conditions put on by Planning Committees or Inspectors at appeal. I'm also one of only four archaeological staff (more than in most Counties I believe) working in a non-archaeological organisation of about 15 thousand, whose management pretty much (in my opinion) views the whole subject as being fairly insignificant compared to its policies on housing, schools, rubbish, council tax, bus services etc. There are loads of conflict of interests - especially when Government slaps your County with a massive great housing allocation to deal with as well. It's bloody frustrating and it would be nice to have some real teeth within the planning process to back up what we are saying.

To respond to some of the points posted so far: Perhaps some sort of National Curatorial service should be looking after the Country's heritage, but that's not what the current job description is - curators only work within planning and have little real influence outside that area. If an independent, decent, national heritage protection body is what you want you should join RESCUE (only ?15 quid a year) 'cos that's precisely what they are arguing for. I always support good field practice in archaeology but often get hamstrung by those outside (and sadly sometimes within) the profession. I'd love to spend much more extra time on site talking to diggers too, but as Mr. BAJR Hosty rightly points out, we've got loads to do and fingers in many pies. If this is at the expense of (for example) consultation work, giving an adequate response to one of the new Local Development Framework planning documents, or chasing up a dodgy developer, somewhere down the line this might mean losing a site. To be honest, I do most of my talking to site staff in the pub, and I don't get enough chances to do that as much as I'd like either.
My particular set up here means I am part of the Planning Directorate of the Local Authority. I work with legal teams and enforcement to put together planning conditions which are tailored to each case. Whether or not they are accepted is down to either the planning commitee or the case Officer. Generally they are pretty good about taking my advice, but some of the more lazy ones will see archaeology on the list of material considerations and put on a standard condition which is a watching brief.I think the assumption amongst planners and developers is that I personally want permission to come to the site with a trowel and start digging. To get diggers on site I have to firstly identify the site, assess the likelhood that there is something there, advise the developer through the planning process for a pre-determination evaluation, set a brief, monitor the works, sign off the works, agree a mitigation strategy with loss adjusting consultants,write conditions with enforcement and legal teams, get the advice I give accepted by a commitee of local councillors who have no idea about archaeology but who would rather like a housing estate with their names on the roads, agree a WSI from the contractor, monitor the excavation, sign off the site and wait lamely for the report and archive (which although has a time limit set on it in the conditions is un-enforcable). I currently have 32 sites on the go, seven of which are over 20 hectares and one windfarm.
I always talk to diggers on site and I personally beleieve that I am here to do the best possible job for the archaeology( and besides I rather like archaeologists) that includes providing a list of local b&b's to project officers and JCB hire company addresses, and lending contractors my level if theirs breaks, or printing documents off on my computer for contractors who are miles from head office.
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