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Archaeological Developer Reports!
Has anyone note the distinct downgrading of the standard of archaeological reports since the advert of PPG16?

I was recently looking at the OASIS data base of 'grey' literature and was horrified. True I only looked at three small companies in the south-east but the standard was dreadful. Maybe standards have fallen, but the reports of 3 were disjointed, with elements which should have come into a specialist section were included in the trench description. Location plans were vague, Photographs were proudly displayed showing trenches (not cleaned), sections (not cleaned), and then in the drawn record no levels or co-ordinates??

And these reports were written by IFA members and passed by the county mounty

What is going on?? In one report the site work took 'one day'! I know evals can be completed in one day, but surely a basic requirement of any work is TO CLEAN the trenches and sections (or am i being old fashioned?)

Come on, we are portraying ourselves to be professionals, and charging accordingly and then producing ?$@! like this! And then certain elements of our profession complain about volunteers and amateurs and how they de-professionalise archaeology!!! When in fact they are probably doing a better job (having a passion and time for their vocation !)

What can be done? I don't know....

It almost seems like our profession has suffered from corporate corruptness !!


The county mounty - well they have approved the report
The IFA - well they have often said that they can't police individual reports as that is the job of the county mounty
Office of Fair Trading??
The Police (Fraud)??

I don't know....

It is a sad day, at the end of the day we all profess to love archaeology and want the best. But at the end of the day every recent graduate wants to climb to the job of the tree as fast as they can, without gaining the appropriate experience!

Maybe the profession should introduce a 'P' grade, once you have qualified you should have undertake a probation period when you have to learn each of the tasks associated with the profession, digging, recording, photography etc. To many units with a MIFA at the head throw recent graduates into unsuitable positions, approve their work and then recommend them for promotion within the IFA.

Sorry about the rant. But some of the reports on OASIS are rubbish, and frankly one must consider whether their archaeological merit.

Can't really answer that yes or no, because we aren't comparing eggs with eggs.

Reports done before PPG16 were nearly always written as academic articles for publication, so the standard was necessarily higher than for 'grey literature'. However, there was a terrible problem with what was called 'backlog' - i.e. projects that were never reported on at all (often excavations on highly significant sites, with important results).

However, a high proportion of the projects reported now as grey literature would simply not have happened at all before PPG16 - in most of those cases, there would simply have been no archaeological intervention.

The great majority of grey literature reports produced nowadays derive from projects that simply did not have sufficiently important results to be accepted by an academic journal - so there is an argument to say that they don't justify the effort (cost) involved in preparing the grey literature to a standard equivalent to an academic article.

Having said all that, I am generally shocked by the poor standard of writing that I see from day to day, both from archaeologists and from a wide range of other environmental professionals.


to let, fully furnished
Sad but true... sad but true...

costs cut ... so reports end up as bare minimums... so, just good enough to meet exactly the requirements and not a full stop more...

"No job worth doing was ever done on time or under budget.."
#4 is the county mounty that is at fault here (after the professionals who are providing their client with an incompetent service of course). Me and my team go through very scrutinous editing from our peers and also the 'county mounties'* - maybe I'm working in the wrong part of the country!

However - I have seen some reports from other companies and think - jeez, if it's that low quality of reporting was going to be accepted, I could have costed that job at far less. However, I - like all readers of Bajr I hope - have professional standards, and do each project justice. I know that each county council has different standards of archaeological support, and some, I'm sure, have no idea of what they are reading and just accept this as the norm and that a box has been ticked in the planning process.

* where on earth did that phrase originate from?
This thread could go in various directions: cost cuts, cheap jobs on low winning tenders, poor training, lower standards, poor peer review, IFA, County Archaeologists, blah blah blah. Each job has its own constraints and targets. However....

As 1Man says, the effort for grey literature often reflects the costs but I also think that overall retrieval of information from site is at a low ebb and this may be mirrored in reports. On the other hand, I have noticed on several projects which I have 'observed' that the reports bore little resemblence to what I had witnessed on site. Nice reports but works of fiction. So, do we commend people for decent report writing in that instance?

I am often puzzled by the definition of what people's define as a good report. For example, I once knew of two neighbouring county units who often worked in each other's areas. County archaeologist X didn't really appreciate other commercial units, barr those from county council Y, working in their patch. County archaeologist Y didn't really care as long as the job was to acceptable standards. The problem was that county Y was a quite a comercial area with lots of developments wheras county X was more rural. However, county unit X often worked in Y's area. It was noted by the county archaeologist Y that county unit X's report were sometimes rubbish in comparison with the units that county mounty X thought were unworthy of working in their area. Confused?
So, I'm often left wondering where's the consistency particularly when there is obvious discrimination by those who are meant to maintain standards.

How is one county archaeologist's good report another one's toilet paper? Where is the standard?
Indeed, what should be seen is a general consistency of expected content... each company should be allowed a house style, but content should be standard....

for example.... do you mention the Great battle of Futheringham 1345 even though it happened in the next field over and not in the development area? Do you have all available maps or just the ones you feel are enough?

It all comes down to what is enough... and yes each job has constraints and targets. Curators vary... (I feel that I can say that honestly) After all, in my past life... (a week ago) I would have to understand survey, buildings, excavtation, prehistoric, roman, industrial etc etc................. just to ensure that I recognised a good report when I saw it... Thats a tall order for one person! However, I always had one rule... >>> Did I read the report and feel I had learned something? If the answer was no...

Fortunately I have only ever seen one truely terrible report... and they no longer work in the area any more but boy was it bad! and once I had a report that was so thin, that the cover sheet was thicker... the evaluation had found nothing... I wanted to know why they were evaluating there, why they feel there was nothing, what does that mean for surounding area etc..... when asked why they were evaluating... " Becuase you said so!" was the answer .... that'll learn me!

ps... No Units were harmed in the writing of this post!

To return....

Solid guidelines (with room for flexibility) thats what is required in each case...

take this one..
Historic Building Recording - Guidance for Curators and Commercial Archaeological Contractors

A checklist, a clear expectation, a trust in the contractor, a measurable list to see if a report has met the requirements.
Both a stick to beat AND a way to ensure that the contractor knows exactly what is required. so both 'sides' are happy.

More of the above document required perhaps.... tested for a year now, and it does seem to work!

"No job worth doing was ever done on time or under budget.."
Hi Chaps
Just one question muddy. The reports you talk about, was there any actual archaeology recorded or were they "negative" records? I ask because there is clearly a difference between a report which encorporates archaeological recording and a HER record of an event. This is not an attempt to condone low standard work just making sure of the details.

I agree that curatorial rigour is variable across the country. I do appreciate that the resources available for 'policing' archaeological output are not always what they could be. There already exists IFA Standards and Guidance for fieldwork of various types by contractors. Perhaps we need an IFA Standard and Guidance on Archaeological Curation?
I sit in front of a very large series of bookcases which contain reports going back into the 1970s. Prior to PPG16, for a number of important sites, there are lenghty, well written and illustrated reports. For the vast majority of sites - and this is sites where there is archaeology - you are looking at 2-3 sides of typing, a location plan with trench locations sketched onto it and details of the trench sketched in these. Frequently there are no levels on sections or plans and in many occasions it is not possible to locate the trenching within the site. This is before you ask questions, or even try to find the answers to, the extent of sampling, specialist reporting etc. I have had one or two of these sites re-excavated as it has not been possible to tell the extent to which the archaeology was actually cleared. This modern work has resulted in large, detailed mapII assessments.

IFA curatorial standards: read it and comment. If you get past about page three without stuffing pencils up your nose ready to bang your head on the desk you are a far better person than me.
Just to comment: having recently been on the receiving end of an IFA inspection, I was greatly impressed by the rigour and standards they applied to their inspection of reports (and a large number of them at that). However I don't know how often RAOs are subject to this rigour, and ultimately it should come down to the county curators to apply the same standards.

Perhaps the discrepancy lies between the level and quality required by planning guidelines (can be forulaic/target driven) vs. those aspired to by the IFA (more in the interest of archaeological understanding). This is without doubt an over simplification, but perhaps if this could be addressed it may haul the standard up.

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