BAJR Federation Archaeology

Full Version: What recording system do you prefer?
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Having used both single and multi context recording I enjoy the single context recording system...what do you prefer?

May god go with you in all the dark places you must walk.
I did vote for Single Context system... (I am showing my YAT colours !) though only for Deep Strat sites ... I was happy with multi context recording ( on plan) for countryside sites... however... my only qualm about that is you don't know the complexity of a site until you dig it... so Single Contect from the start is the one for me!

"No job worth doing was ever done on time or under budget.."
I'd dug on quite a few deep strat urban sites before I encountered single context planning. Even though we'd coped very well without it up to then, I would choose single over multi in those circumstances every time now. Did take me a while to get over the slight feeling of guilt at the seeming waste of using one sheet of pre-printed permatrace just for one context, especially when it was just a diddy little posthole, but the unit planning maestros word was law though and one did not deviate from it[:0]

I'm also old enough (just) to remember the "trench book" system.too No single sequence of numbers, but groups assigned to each type of features. Totally unsuitable now as it's not really matrix or database friendly I would imagine.
Does this mean single or multi-context planning (as opposed to recording)?

We owe the dead nothing but the truth.
I guess I look at Single Context Planning... as the ultimate.. though we should all be assigning one context one number.. I do still see Cuts being given a single number along with all the fills .. not often though.

Orkney ... give us more about your poll

"No job worth doing was ever done on time or under budget.."
I think that there is a little bit of confusion here between Single Context Recording (where each context is given a number, but plans / sections etc show one or more contexts as appropriate) and Single Context Planning (as pioneered by MoLAS for use in deep urban strat., and where each context is recorded on a separate plan sheet and then overlaid to produce a composite).

Single Context Recording is the most widely used recording system in the UK, with a considerable amount of variation from unit to unit.

Single Context Planning can be useful in dealing with deep urban strat., especially if there are inexperienced diggers on site, but is not really very useful for other types of site. I found that the main problem with Single Context Planning was that diggers who had been trained only in this method were unable to easily adapt to Single Context Recording and the use of multi-context plans and phased excavation.

I also think that Single Context Planning is a step along the road to reducing diggers to 'technicians' as the excavation and recording is broken down to its most basic components. Perhaps the success of the Framework Archaeology approach was partially a backlash against this.

Both methods are just tools, not part of the Ten Commandments. A good archaeologist should use whatever methods are best suited to each individual (and unique) site.
Interesting post Beamo.
What would you say were the advantages of 'multi-context plans and phased excavation', (on any kind of site)?
1) For my money, multi-context plans don't record the intersection of two ditches as well as single context, let alone anything more complex.
2) Although I've read reports, I don't recall ever attempting to dig a site by phases. It is surely a process involving considerable a priori assumptions. Apart from better photos and perhaps a greater (not necessarily more accurate) impression of the site you are digging while you are digging it, what advantages are there to phased excavation?
3) Regarding the reduction of diggers to the role of technicians, well, that's what the interpretation box at the bottom of the context sheet is for. Some people write an essay, some people just write 'pit', but it's there for all your musings (you can tell a lot about a unit from its context sheets, and the size of the interpretation box is the first thing I look at).
4) I didn't work with with Framework Archaeology so I couldn't judge its success, but an excess of a priori assumptions, and their subsequent use in formulating excavation strategy, was one of the comments I heard more than once from participants. The idea was to concentrate resources on the important stuff, but how can one tell before it has been excavated, and is this just a way of justifying not paying to excavate some of the features? Perhaps this was just tea-hut grumblings of old lags; I'm sure it's a very partisan view. If you have a more rounded perspective on the advantages and disadvantages of the project I'd be very glad to hear it.
I voted 'a bit of both'.

For very extensive, plough-truncated rural sites, single context planning (as opposed to recording) is basically silly - very wasteful of both time and materials, without any real gain in precision or interpretative power.

On the other hand, multi-context planning just wouldn't work in deeply stratified urban sites.

There are intermediate sites, where you get an element of 'positive' stratigraphy but not deep, complex stratigraphy. Those are the ones where it is probably harder to decide which approach to adopt.

As far as I was aware, everyone in the country used single-context recording, and anyone recording a cut and fill as a single context is just poorly trained/supervised.


to let, fully furnished
Hi Tom

In reply:

1. Single Context Recording should lead to the clear recording of the intersection of two ditches - if it doesn't then whoever is doing the recording needs a bit of retraining. A multi-phase plan should show the relationship between the ditches, but the context record is the place that this relationship should be most clear.

2. Excavating in phase is a pleasant luxury that is often not available, either due to time or space pressures, or to lack of clear understanding. It is possible to dig a stratified site and keep it broadly in phase (emphasis here on the word 'broadly'). I always feel that a good site supervisor is one who can dig in phase wherever possible but more usually can dig out of phase but still be aware of which phase is being excavated in each part of the site / trench.

3. Interpretation box - agreed, this is the key to getting diggers to think about the features/area that they are recording, and the amount written in here is a good indication of how good the diggers and supervisors are as well as how good the system is. I have seen plenty of context sheets with a complete blank in this box.

4. Framework Archaeology - I have no opinion either way here, having never worked on an FA project. I was basing my earlier comment on the results of a previous thread on BAJR where those who had used the FA system seemed to be broadly in favour of it. I did think that some of the verbiage coming out of FA was a bit insulting, as it implied that no-one else had ever really allowed diggers to think for themselves, but I guess that FA had their own agenda for promoting their way of doing things and if the diggers felt more appreciated then this can't be a bad thing. If you want to see a 'more rounded perspective' then check back on the previous BAJR thread as this included contributioins from people more closely involved than I have ever been to FA.

1m1d - I'm not sure that I agree with you about multi-context planning of stratified urban sites. I thinl that this can work, but it needs a very good recording system and a highly trained workforce, as was the case when single context recording was developed and promoted. As I said earlier, I feel that Single Context Planning can be seen as dumbing down and does not result in a well-trained and 'reflexive' workforce.

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