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First Watching Brief Nerves
Dear all,

I hoping to conduct my first archaeological watching brief, and while I've done excavations before this is my first solo effort.

I presume it is normal for just one archaeologist to conduct the brief, therefore am I right in thinking that trench / land heights can be provided by the contractor, or is it normal watching brief practice (like all other excavations) to get another archaeologist to help survey the trenches to OS Datum?

Thank you for your time.
OOo interesting one. Mind if i start then somebody can shoot me down?! Big Grin

Watching briefs do tend to be solo efforts, unless of course you actually find more than was bargained for in which case having someone else on site is a bonus. BUT you must discuss this with your manager and the client as this has cost implications. On the odd occassion I have done watching briefs I have usually managed to get the plans etc from the guys onsite or the client. Such plans tend to comprise the technical details and should include heights- and often in CAD format. If you need a hand with levels you can always ask one of the other contractors to hold a staff. If you treat them with respect and do not p*** them about you should be okay.
My turn to get shot down too!

Recording standards for watching briefs should be the same as for any other piece of archaeological work - even for negative watching briefs. Features, deposits and intervensions should be accurately located (tied into OS grid and levelled with respect to Ordnance Datum). Depending on the scale of the project involved the developer may have already set up TBMs/survey points and it is often possible to use these for recording purposes. Its always useful to check how/where these survey points were derived from - sometimes for example level data on engineering drawings can be completely arbitrary but may appear by chance to relate to OS levels. On smaller sites such information may not be available, in which case you might need to call in a second pair of hands to transfer a TBM to site. There are shortcuts, but I firmly believe that you need to understand how something should be done properly, why its being done and in what order tasks should be carried out in order to know the difference between a short-cut and simply cutting corners.

I'm not necessarily suggesting this applies to the OPs situation, but many companies seem to treat watching briefs as a 'training field' for staff to get experience of running their own projects. There seems to be an attitude of watching briefs are 'easy' and are a good place for someone to gain experience before moving on to evaluations and other supposingly more complicated pieces of work. I'm not sure why this should be - to my mind a watching brief is something that needs an experienced archaeologist, someone who has the expertise to recognise (often ephemeral) archaeological features in non-archaeological conditions; someone who has the experience to know whether the flints they've seen at the bottom of a narrow trench are just a load of random natural flints or a past land-surface with in situ remnants of flint working and to be able to make quick and often unpopular decisions based on this knowledge without a second-opinion; and someone who has the expertise needed to decide quickly whether they need to stop construction works (not popular) and examine a feature in more detail and not just stand-by as archaeology is machined away. I've seen first hand examples of inexperienced archaeologists missing archaeology in a watching brief or simply standing by and watching it getting machined away because they didn't feel confident enough to tell the contractors to stop.

I also feel that watching briefs demand more knowledge/experience in construction terminology and methodology than is necessarily the case on an evaluation for example. Again I've seen watching brief reports where its stated (to paraphrase) - no archaeology was observed because the construction methods employed meant that archaeological observation was not possible :face-thinks: - well why not raise this whilst the watching brief was being undertaken and act - if the construction methods employed didn't allow for archaeological observation then something needs to be done before important archaeology is missed (speak to the local currator and tell them asap that the watching brief isn't working and agree a way forward).

I'm not sure if you're doing the watching brief as a self employed archaeologist or as part of a company, but if you're unsure about what's involved is there an opportunity to shadow someone who is experienced in undertaking such work? To be brutal - if your not sure what a watching brief involves then perhaps your not ready to undertake such work on your own?
not sure why Recording standards for watching briefs should be the same as for any other piece of archaeological work - even for negative watching briefs. my gripe with watching brief is that there should have been an evaluation first. Watching briefs without an evaluation are pure speculation by some relative of .....
Having watched the results of hundreds of watching briefs of all types over (intermittantly) 20 years with one company, it's not surprisingly the old hands who tend to find/recognise stuff more often than the inexperienced, so I concur that it's not a good idea using them as a way to give less experienced staff experience! On several occasions when I've been having to 'ghost-write' WB reports back in the office due to people moving on/illiteracy/just-can't-write-reports I've identified what was obviously archaeology in the records which the person on the ground completely failed to recognise - bit late by then! The more experience of a wider range of archaeology the better, for instance I've got no interest whatsoever in industrial archaeology but from long experience I can recognise residues from most industrial processes etc (A-level chemistry helps), or just stuff that doesn't belong there, and phone someone who has. Just being able to recognise what the strange rusty thing sticking out of the machine bucket is can make or break a WB....
YEs watching briefs should never be used as training grounds... its a sad thing that on a 'potential of finding nothing' intervention - you have to have experienced staff, because only experienced staff have the ability of knowing when they do find something...
Agree with tmsarch, in terms of knowledge and experience needed - my first solo job was an watching brief, and to be honest, I still find them a lot more difficult than the subsequent evaluations and open excavations that I have done. It is important to note, that it is really important to get a good working relationship going with the gang who will be doing the actual digging. Also, make sure you have your breaks in time with theirs, and (if you can) get on site when they start. The gang will have a deadline, and won't wait for you even though they probably should. :face-thinks:
A watching brief is a highly specialised piece of work, required to answer specific questions. They are often done in less than ideal conditions, with contractors who are working to their own schedule and costings. The last thing a developer needs is to be held up by an uncertain archaeologist. However there are times when the archaeologist must step in and say STOP you have hit significant archaeology which will need to examined before you can continue. Hopefully this procedure has been fully explained in correspondence before the start of the watching brief and money allowed for unexpected discoveries. The key to a successful watching brief is communication with the contractors. Take some time to explain why you are there and how the development site fits in to the surrounding area/landscape ie “there was an excavation in the neighbouring field, and it is possible that some of the features seen there may continue”.

All the information you need should be in the brief and project design (WSI). The ability to recognise a wide range of features and assess their relative importance to the projects aims is a must. The methods employed on a watching brief need to be adaptive. Accurate location of the areas observed is essential, in some cases levels can be useful, in others depth below existing surface will suffice. Even a seemingly negative watching brief can answer important questions relating to the extent of surrounding areas of known archaeology.[FONT=&quot][/FONT]
Just a quick note to say I completely sympathise with Thundercat. I've not worked on site for a few years, and before that I worked more as an illustrator than excavator, but was occassionally drafted in to work on site. On one occassion, due to a logistical balls-up by the hapless management, I was sent out to work on my first and only watching brief. Luckily for me it was only a domestic development so no machines or contractors to worry about, but I really had no idea what was involved and was utterly unprepared for it; sending me out was just a symptom of how WBs are percieved as low-grade and unimportant.
Recording levels should be equivalent to any other site work, an systems and procedure should be clearly spelt out; all to often it appears to be left to the discretion of the staff.
This thread raises some interesting points.

1. I personally don't have a problem with watching briefs being used for training. My first 'solo job' was a large complex watching brief on a scheduled monument. Working with the support of an experienced PO who kept 'popping out' of the office to check up on me, I learnt more on that job than I ever learnt machining blank eval trenches. Watching briefs can be tough when archaeology is encountered, I know I have found loads, but this experience is vital for graduates to learn how to work with contractors and make the transition from being an 'academic' to being a 'proffessional' archaeologist. The key issue is training, I know that budgets are tight, but I believe that people should always be sent out with an experienced PO/ Supervisor first.

2. Ideally the developer should send copies of their plans to the unit in advance and these should be provided to the person going out to site. If they are not then the first thing I do when I arrive on site is ask the builder if I can make a quick tracing of their foundation and/or drainage plans onto permatrace, I have never encountered any problem with this. I then plot any archaeological features or blank representative sections directly onto my tracing of the contractors plans.

3. I have never had a problem asking a contractor to hold a level, however if you need to walk halfway across town to the nearest benchmark, you should ask your employer to send someone out to help, although as one of the respondents has commented this has cost implications.

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