Welcome to the Urban Archaeology blog. Freelance archaeologist Chiz Harward provides a range of on and offsite services to the archaeological profession, including running and working on excavations, post-excavation services, training and development work, and illustration work. This weblog will carry news of projects as and when they happen as well as wider thoughts on archaeological issues, especially recording, stratigraphy and training.

After the fieldwork, the hard work: post-excavation

Originally posted at The Day of Archaeology 2013

When I signed up to Day of Archaeology I thought I would be out on site, I didn’t know where–originally it looked like a big site in London, but that has been delayed, and then it seemed I’d be up the road on a site I evaluated a couple of years ago. As the recent heat wave began I became a bit apprehensive at the idea of digging 3m wide rubble-filled ditches in the baking heat, but that site slipped too…
jarkot temple nauli general

So I am in my office finishing off the report for some recent fieldwork I did in west Nepal for the Central Himalaya Project. The project intended (amongst other aims) to record a sample of medieval stone monuments belonging to the Malla dynasty, evaluate the suitability of recording techniques including photogrammetry, and try and develop a database for future assessment and analysis. In total we recorded 58 sites, with 32 temples, assorted other sites and monuments, and over 80 architectural fragments. The fieldwork was hard work –up by 6am, lug all the gear to site, work through the day with a short break and back at 7pm for data entry and downloading. But the team was good, the weather was hot, the beer was ice cold and the scenery and locals were fantastic. It didn’t exactly feel like a ‘jolly’ as all my mates called it, but it was quite nice to be sipping single malt looking at the stars and glad there wasn’t a CSCS card for thousands of miles.
waterpoint blacked
The downside of any expedition is coming home, and with archaeology that doesn’t just mean returning to work, but writing up your results. Fieldwork somehow always seems more ‘fun’ than the grind of office-based Post-Ex, and there has been plenty of checking and cross-referencing of records, data-entry, and form-filling to do. The monument gazetteer seemed endless, the temple terminology impenetrable, and there were seemingly hundreds of drawings to check, ‘ink up’ in Corel-Draw and work out exactly what each stone fragment might represent.


In amongst the grind there are moments when it all comes together, managing to reconstruct a ‘lost’ temple from fragments of stone, the satisfaction of finding that your thoughts on temple architecture were echoed by published works, the realisation that common motifs and styles were being used across hundreds of miles and on a wide variety of monuments of both Hindu and Buddhist origin.Temples at Bhurti Mandir, Dailekh
The draft report is now complete, its 160 pages, 42,000 words, and nearly 100 illustrations. At times when writing it I wished I hadn’t recorded so many monuments, but now, having completed the work I just want to go back and record more!

The Day of Archaeology 2013: In limbo: site slippage and juggling jobs

Posted as part of The Day of Archaeology 2013

I was meant to be working on site today; at less than an hour’s drive up the road it would have made a pleasant change from working several hours’ drive away, but the site start date has slipped. It’s a fairly common occurrence and can happen for any number of reasons, sometimes down to delays in planning permission or due to other construction work, the client’s cash flow, or sometimes just the weather. Sometimes sites go into apparent hibernation and only resurface months or even years down the line, when suddenly you get a call or an email saying that 'the footings are being pulled next week, where are you'!

On this occasion it is due to planning control and not yet having the Written Scheme of Investigation signed off –this is the document that says what we will do on site (and afterwards), and how we will dig and record it, and it has to be approved by the local Planning Archaeologist within the relevant local authority. Ours is still in limbo, so the site can’t start.

Managing the flow of work is never easy, and is part of the reason why site staff contracts are often short, and not extended until the last minute –no-one knows if the work will be there on Monday. When you are a sole trader it gets harder –you either need to be able to clone yourself to deal with a glut of work, or find something to fill the hours when a job slides. It is almost always outside your control, and sometimes there seems to be little that can be done to mitigate the problem.
My freelance work is luckily not restricted to site work –I’m also an illustrator, create training materials, do grant-funded research and I carry out post-excavation and publication work on various archaeological projects. All this work often has slightly less demanding deadlines than the fieldwork -it has to be done, but the deadline is usually 'tomorrow', rather than 'yesterday'. So having a mix of different types of projects gives me the flexibility to be able to deal with last minute delays to sites. Picking up and putting down projects every few days isn’t the most efficient way of working, but  sometimes you have to do it: its a juggling act.

Day to day the juggling of current jobs is usually ok, and you do get the occasional day off to counterbalance the runs of 18 hour days required to meet deadlines. The bigger impact of slippage is in tendering for future work as it may take a month or longer for sites or PX programmes to go live, and all the time all your jobs are slipping, being brought forward, and morphing from one day watching briefs into three week excavations. The Year Planner starts to look like 4-D Tetris, and its often only at the last moment that it all comes together.

So today, instead of digging a late prehistoric/Roman and medieval site next to a pub in the Cotswolds, I am finalising the report on a project I did in Nepal earlier in the year…