BAJR Federation Archaeology

Full Version: Is a decent specialist report a luxury?
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Quote:Not so Much a Pot, More an Expensive Luxury: Pottery analysis andarchaeology in the 21st century"
Paul Blinkhorn and Chris Cumberpatch

In the mid-1990’s, Chris and I organized a series of TAG sessions which resulted inthe publication in 1997 of a selection of papers on approaches to understandingartefacts in the Oxbow Monograph ’Not so much a Pot, More a way of life’, with oneof the editorial themes being a critique of the way in which artefact analysis andanalysts were somewhat marginalized in the archaeological process. We were pleasantly surprised when the monograph sold well, and papers from it are now onmany university reading lists around the world

Exactly ... seems to be endemic in all specialisms... never mind the quality... what can you do for fifty quid!

That's a good article :face-approve:

I've been staggered on a number of occasions by how poor finds reports (and palaeoenvornmental etc) are in a lot of grey-lit reports, and the on-site discard of all 'post-med' finds seems to be becoming endemic - although I'm currently writing up a site where a C19th cesspit pot assemblage is going to get the full monty (by CC, as it happens) and the client's happy to pay for it and indeed wants some of the pots afterwards for a display
yet you can still send the same sherds to three different specialists and get three different answers - sometimes millennia apart
I have to say I agree with much that's in the article, although I need to read it again more closely as I wasn't quite sure what the IfA-bashing had to do with it. Certainly the on-site discard policy seems very poor in some cases, unless everyone on site is thoroughly trained in identification. It's not helped by at least some briefs I have seen stating that it OK to discard anything 18th or 19th century! How many people could really tell the difference between late medieval imported (and very rare) majollica and 18th century tin-glazed earthenware, especially while on site? I have also seen two recent evaluation reports on Roman sites that just recorded 'Roman pottery'. No-shit, Roman pottery on a Roman site, who'd have thought! The evident lack of specialist input in many reports is really not good.

Having said that, my criticism of the paper is that it's hardly fair comparing an excavation in the 1960s with one in the last ten years. The former was presumably targetting a known site of known (or at least assumed) date and so it would be quite reasonable to have an expert already lined up, while the latter might represent an unexpected discovery. The timescales involved, resources available, requirement of reporting (as dictated by the brief, not the IfA) might all be reasonable factors affecting the manner of finds reporting.
P Prentice Wrote:yet you can still send the same sherds to three different specialists and get three different answers - sometimes millennia apart

Actually, that's another valid criticism. They complain that metal finds, coins in particular, get more attention, but given that pottery (especially medieval) in some areas gives such wide date ranges this is perhaps not surprising!
the article carps on and on about a decline in standards from the commercial ceramists point of view boo-ha, but fails to acknowledge that the decline is indemic across the sector. pottery is only a small part of what we do and if the contextual information has low value, the pottery might have even less. a project manager can make this determination and allocate resources appropriately without the need to inform a commercial specialist
I took this a springboard to allow us to say that.

however... one has to ask...

How do we fund it?

I would love to do amazing work with full reporting to the nth degree... but would lose every job as a result. so is it time to be creative in making this happen?
BAJR Wrote:so is it time to be creative in making this happen?

Yes. Yes. & Yes (thrice-ly)
As one of the authors of the linked paper, a few comments wrt some of the points raised above:

P Prentice: 1) I'd seriously suggest changing your specialists! 2) we are aware that standards are falling everywhere, but we're both ceramicists and so we felt that was the area we were best qualified to speak about and you only get 20 minutes at TAG! 3) Not sure what you mean by "low value contextual information". Could you elaborate?

Red Earth: 1) The 1960's dig was done when medieval archaeology as a discipline was effectively less than 10 years old. The dig was a rescue job by some academics and students in a city. For nothing. The modern one was done in response to a brief in a well-known Roman and medieval town by one of the largest commercial archaeology units in the country, and produced a group of pottery that a specialist would have reported on (well, me anyway) for less than fifty quid. The report also did not fulfil the brief, as the local type-series wasn't used.

2) WRT to IfA-bashing, the point was that their standards are garbage when it comes to finds , and this has been pointed out many times, to no effect. They've been offered much better ones (ie those of the MPRG) but won't adopt them. We want to know why not. Are they seriously interested in upholding standards in archaeology or is it just a load of flannel? Why are they not interested to trying to get a better deal for archaeologists and the archaeology as the current commercial system is clearly not working and getting worse?

Bajr: Well, if everyone had to use type-series because the IfA had it in their standards, then the playing field would be level in that area at least. And if the IfA get their charter, then everyone will have to be a member to practice. Are there many commercial companies left now who aren't RAO?

right, beer.....
I attended the TAG session in was an interesting idea that approached the theme from a number of angles. Reaction from the audience was interesting. One suggestion regarding the proposed 'developer tax' was that it should actually be a tax on archaeological contractors rather than developers (presuming then the contractors would pass that on to the developers involved in projects with an archaeological component rather than all developers per se).

Paul also mentioned the Community Infrastructure Levy as an example of (in effect) a developer tax, but one to which, as it currently stands. archaeologists have no access. To my mind the problem with CIL or something similar is that it is based on square footage of the development and does not take into account the complexity or depth of stratigraphic deposits. This in effect could create a scenario where a deeply stratified, but relatively small footprint urban site got virtually nothing towards the cost of the archaeology, whereas a huge Tescos car-park on a relatively barren archaeological desert could be worth a fortune.

There was some consensus amongst the audience that inexperienced people had at times written ceramic reports. (Some people even owned up to the practice themselves!!)

It was also pointed out that Maureen Mellors 1994 study had been updated by the MPRG who were in consultaion with ALGAO about implementing her recommendations as policy in WSI, perhaps a more useful avenue than pursuing the IfA standards angle.

My question was on whether it was purely a matter of money and if any additional revenue raised would be better spent on recruiting additional development control officers to oversee and implement beefed up standards or on training and employing additional ceramic specialists....Paul answered that there wasn't necessarily a lack of the latter, but it was a question of the standard they were working too. To my mind that suggested it was actually an argument for 'adding value' to the current content of ceramic reports more than anything else.
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