BAJR Federation Archaeology

Full Version: Is there a North-South divide?
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Well, we have certainly been able to do so at hearings although not just by turning up. We had to announce our intention to do so in advance. I don't know if the procedure varies by council, but we represented the views of our street regarding a proposal at one recent planning hearing; went along to it with speech all prepared and presented it, only to be met with a comment by one of the councillors to the effect that we would just have to live with the proposal, although less politely phrased. This, for me, represents the planning process. Effectively, it felt as though the decision had already been made and that they were just following procedure for show and not because they had any intention of taking into account people's views.

Gentleman Adventurer and Antiquarian

Manners maketh the man
Many thanx to you both.Will certainly study the links and see what can be done. Think there may just be some potential in this approach although I do of course take Eggies experiences on board. In the past, I have found that good old name and shame of councils/individul civil servents who behave like Mugabe in the press seems to have the desired effect.Big Grin
I've just found a startling example of an excavation mitigation in a northern town that would not pass in a southern one. (In my experience)

The site was a high profile and, I gather, controversial excavation in a deeply stratified and waterlogged area of a historic town, in which the archaeological contractor seems to have convinced the curator that rather than single context recording, a Mortimer Wheeler like grid of box trenches was the way forward.!!!!????????

The reason? I will paraphrase from the publication to protect the guilty as per the AUP.

"...the complex and disturbed nature of the archaeology... would be impossible to interpret by stratigraphic hand excavation. This was due to ... conditions rendering edges and interfaces almost invisible."

Unsurprisingly, the report is full of gems like "The majority of these pits were only recorded in section in the machine cut sondages..."

So presumably the features that were almost invisible in plan were perfectly visible in section? Sounds to me like archaeology done on the cheap, and the curator has allowed it.

Having myself recently done an evaluation in the same strat and waterlogged conditions in the same town I now feel very put out. Yes, it was difficult to see edges, but they were there and urban archaeology is often like that.

If I didn't feel that I would be breaking many of the IFA guidelines to best practice (despite not being in the IFA, I hasten to add), I might think that a precedent had been set and that I've massively overdone my site. Keep in mind that my site was an eval. dug single context plan! (not just single context recording), while theirs was an excavation. I hope the developer doesn't find out as he will rightly feel cheated.

So, my question to the southern curators out there? Would you have accepted this on your patch?
Hi Mercenary.

I'm really hesitant to comment on the idiosyncracies of a particular site without knowing the full details, as sometimes there are site-specific reasons for seemingly peculiar methodologies (health and safety, access issues and contamination spring immediately to mind). It would be interesting to understand the whole chain of work on the site, to see how the mitigation methodology was arrived at. However, it doesn't sound much like what I would accept as "best practice" from what you've said. Single context planning/recording was specifically developed to use on complicated urban strat anyway, so I certainly wouldn't abandon it in the face of a "complicated" site with "almost invisible" feature edges. Quite the opposite in fact.

Thanks CK. I won't abandon single context recording in the town either, although I feel a bad precedent has been set.

I don't know the full story either, but the publication makes no mention of contamination, H&S, or access issues in defence of the methodology. The trenches were safely stepped and not deep, and staff were not wearing contamination PPE in any working photos. Access likewise seems good, with the excavation located in an open site. Following stepping, an area of about 300m square remained to be excavated to satisfy the mitigation strategy, of which I estimate about 40% was dug, all seemingly by machine. The only real problem appears to have been waterlogging, which was the same on sites I have dug in the town.

Merc. Just wanting a level playing field.

So, is there?

What? A level playing field? I won't know that until I try a Mortimer Wheeler like excavation, which I couldn't in all conscience ever do.
I never noticed this one before - am I too late?

Putting my professional Northerner hat on...

I have noticed a tendancy to play-down the potential of sites in many cases in North-west at least. This seems partially a result of the assumption that there is probably nothing to find so why ask for anything more extensive than a watching brief, and then, funnily enough, nothing is found. Part of the problem is that certain periods (the Iron Age, the Early Medieval in particular) are virtually invisible, and the less people try to look the less they find. This is then compounded by people who aren't used to the area seemingly confusing the diference between these types of sites producing very little in the way of obvious remains and them not existing at all (this isn't just a way at sniping at Southerners!)

The whole thing then falls into a vicious circle - we little idea know what to look for in terms of certain sites, so we aren't even sure when we've spotted them. Hence recommending only a WB when an evaluation might be more effective. This also leads to ludicrous situations where watching briefs might be carried out for weeks across say an entire pipeline of several kilometers, when evaluation of targetted areas would be more useful and cheaper.

The difference between what might turn up is also problematic from the point of view of what is important - a single ditch containing a few scraps of Iron Age pottery or any other finds would be regionally important in most of the North-West, I'm not sure it would cause the same level of interest in other parts of the coutry!
Hi Chaps
In certain ways every local planning authority has its differences and individual planners can have an impact on whether archaeology takes place as pre or post determination work.

I had a look at the Eden (Cumbria) Local Plan as a quick north-west example and the Archaeological Policies (which have been retained during the LDF phase so are still active) are well worded and strongly indicate that pre-determination evaluation is required on known or potential sites.

So, if the Eden Local plan is reflective of others in the North West, in theory (i.e. in policy terms) there is no difference between the north and south. However, elected members and by extension their employees (planners) have to take account of all material considerations and reach a balanced decision. This can mean (for example) that members decide a development's positive economic value outweighs the need for pre-determination evaluation.

I deal with seven different LPAs and I notice very different approaches to my advice. It is particularly noticeable that pre-determination evaluation is less accepted in the more economically deprived District than in the others.

I'm not suggesting that the counties in the north aren't interested, it's perhaps more the case that the perception, even amongst some archaeologists is that there is nothing to find. This often based on the assumption that all regions are like the south-east and that A: the sites are huge, B: They always have loads of finds, C: developers can afford to pay.

When faced with archaeology that is potentially significant, but not spectular to look at, it is difficult to appreciate if you've spent most of your career dealing with massive multi-phase sites with loads of treasure. If I had a pound every time I heard someone complaining about the archaeology being boring, even when it was quite good for the region, I would have at least £6.50! (As an aside, it is quite depressing how close in mentality to treasure hunters many supposedly professional archaeologists can be).

Anyway, this is probably straying from the point, which was that the perceived differences are largely in the eye of the beholder - it's just a bit unfortunate when the beholder happens to be someone writing recommendations at the end of a DBA.

As for developers being able to pay, it is obviously true that most of the country is not going to see a development the size of, and therefore with the financial imput of, T5 for example. Many parts of the country simply aren't going to see the sort of huge developments that provide the opportunity to have a really good look at the archaeology. Of course, if they did come about, it would probably be considered only worth a watching brief based on the 'negative' (in every sense of the word) results of previous work nearby. The difficulty is that if you work in an area where some periods are apparently almost devoid of artefacts finding a ditch on an evluation or watching brief is hardly likely to be a justification for further work. Elsewhere in the country the same sort of feature might have dateable pottery in it that points to something more significant. The ability to demonstrate that the former example is important would be quite a rare gift.
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