Some of the most challenging problems facing those managing archaeological projects centre on post-excavation work, in particular the widely acknowledged need to be selective when planning this work. It is therefore crucial that academic and archaeological objectives are carefully defined before any work takes place. This is essential to ensure that appropriate selection is made and a publication produced which accurately reflects the value of the data-collection (see section 1.5, section 3.4). It has become clear that, to ensure post-excavation funding is allocated to best effect, and post-excavation planning decisions are firmly based, there is a need for a formal review phase, here termed 'assessment of potential for analysis'.
The assessment phase is a pivotal point in the execution of' an archaeological project. Its purpose is to evaluate the potential of the data-collection to contribute to archaeological knowledge and to identify the further study necessary. The complexity of the assessment phase and the amount of time required will vary; for example deeply stratified urban sites will probably require more detailed work on the stratigraphy than rural sites with a limited occupation span. It should however be stressed that any work undertaken should be directed towards allowing decisions to be made about the potential of the data and the nature of the future programme; no detailed analytical study should be undertaken until the assessment phase has been completed. Considerable breadth of academic knowledge is needed to make the necessary judgements; the best available staff should be used for assessment. Alternative sources of expert advice should be sought if not available within the project team.
A key aspect of this assessment phase, which deserves emphasis at the outset, is the need for a co-ordinated approach. The importance of integrating artefact and environmental evidence with the stratigraphic record has long been acknowledged, but not always fully exploited. Too often programmes of analysis have been initiated on related groups of data with insufficient contact between the specialists concerned and no cross-reference made until the final stages of publication preparation. The assessment phase must establish the full potential of the properly integrated data as early as is practical.
The end product of the assessment phase is an assessment report, the contents of which are more fully defined in appendix 4. This report will include all the information necessary to make decisions about the future direction of the project. It is formed of three principal parts:
Costs and a timetable for the assessment phase must be agreed with the project sponsor before work can commence. If appropriate these may also be presented to those responsible for the care of the excavated site for their approval. Agreement to proceed may include provision for progress monitoring by the project sponsor.
The data to be collected at this stage are specified in more detail in appendix 4. In some cases the value of the material being assessed will be self-evident. If, for example, a large collection of securely stratified environmental data from a previously unresearched context type is recorded in the site archive, its potential can easily be characterised because it is known to be unique. Equally, a small collection of highly fragmented pottery from a site with high residuality and a long occupation span can be identified as having no apparent potential without supplementary records being necessary.
In other cases further work will be needed to establish the archaeological potential of the material. The methods used will vary according to the type of material and the extent to which it is already understood. For example collections of pottery largely represented in existing regional type series may be rapidly scanned to achieve all adequate assessment, whereas for environmental material such as parasite eggs or pollen a sample of the material may need to be studied in detail to estimate its potential. It must be stressed, however, that any processing and recording should only be done to demonstrate that a particular research topic has potential. It is important that those responsible for managing and monitoring the project during this stage should ensure that this is the case.
Before the bulk of the environmental and artefactual data is assessed it is important that all contexts containing residual or contaminated material are identified. In order to do this, initial artefact dating (eg ceramic, glass, clay pipes) should be integrated with the site matrix (see appendix 3). This will inform those working on material where contamination or residuality cannot be observed of contexts for which further study may be unprofitable.
It is of crucial importance that all assessors of material are adequately briefed. It is the project manager's responsibility to ensure that all those involved are provided with the material for assessment in a suitably ordered and accessible manner, and with the relevant background and contextual data.
Artefact and environmental specialists should be provided with:
Artefact and environmental specialists should liaise closely with conservators during this stage to ensure that appropriate recommendations can be made on both immediate and long-term conservation requirements
Assessment and selection of artefactual and environmental material for further study is now widely practised, but assessment of structural data is less commonly undertaken. More rigorous consideration must be given to justifying the degree of stratigraphic analysis proposed. For example proposing a forward programme which does little more than reiterate context descriptions and relationships that exist in the records and matrix of the site archive cannot be justified. Structural analysis should be directed towards establishing an interpretation of the site record and describing why a particular phasing or interpretation is suggested. Assessment should identify the need for further work on the stratigraphic records in these terms.
Once assessments have been made of the individual classes of data the results should be integrated. This is the stage at which all the strands of evidence can be brought together for the first time and their combined potential considered. For example, in isolation a group of pottery from a pit may be of limited significance, but in conjunction with the study of plant remains and animal bone the potential of all the elements may be greatly increased. To be successful this will need a period of intense communication between all the specialists involved. This should be achieved principally through regular meetings of the project team. It is essential that the project manager makes all the material category assessment reports available to all members of the project team, so that the full potential of the site archive can be explored.
The end-product of the data-collection stage of the assessment phase will be an assessment report. Once this assessment report is written, the project team should review its contents to establish whether it is appropriate to proceed to analysis.
In some cases this review of the assessment report will reveal that an analysis phase is not appropriate. However it will still be necessary to prepare a report accurately reflecting the significance of the results for publication (see appendix 7), complete an SMR entry and arrange for the deposition of the archive.
Where assessment does demonstrate that the site archive contains material which has the potential to contribute to the pursuit of local regional or national research priorities appropriate data should be identified for analysis. When identifying such data it should be borne in mind that such work should be directed towards the final product of a project, the publication. Review should isolate:
The data identified as appropriate for analysis should be worked up into a formal proposal, which will be expressed as an updated project design.
The purpose of this stage is to put forward proposals for work to be carried out in the analysis phase. These proposals will be expressed as an updated project design, which will define the objectives of the analysis phase and the strategies and resources necessary to achieve them. This process is more fully described in appendix 5. The format of the updated project design is the same as that for the original project design (see section 4.8 and appendix 2) with an additional section. Summary of potential, which summarises those aspects of the data-collection selected for analysis during the assessment phase.
All the project team members to be involved in the analysis phase should contribute to the formulation of the updated project design. Some materials will need to be worked on sequentially by more than one specialist. It is critical that such sequences be identified at a sufficiently early stage in consultation with all concerned so that an achievable and agreed programme can be formulated.
Additional guidance external to the project team may be sought at this stage, both to focus and fine tune the formulation of research objectives and consider the available report format options. Academic and editorial comment can more usefully be canvassed at this stage than at a later stage in the preparation of a report text, when alteration is more difficult and more expensive.
Planning for the analysis phase should bear in mind the two objectives to be met, namely the production of a research archive and of a report for publication. Analysis should be planned with the publication firmly in view, and the research archive should only contain data which derive from the analysis of materiel intended for publication. The urge to accumulate data not specified in the updated project design as part of the research archive or publication must be resisted.
When establishing the resources needed for analysis therefore, allowance must be made for the cost of synthesising the research archive and of producing a report for publication. The scope of the report will have been defined in the updated project design as a publication synopsis. Preparation of a report to publication standard requires the performance of a wide range of related tasks which can be easily overlooked when planning for analysis: it is most important that these are identified at an early stage (see section 7.6 and appendix 7). Contact should be established at this stage with the proposed publication outlet to establish cost implications of editorial or reprographic requirements.
It must also be borne in mind that transfer of the report draft to an editor for publication is not the end of the process. Consideration must be given to the need for provisions once the editorial processes are underway, of time for team members to answer queries, correct proofs and act as general liaison in the period between delivery to the publishing body and the eventual appearance of a printed report. The timescale on which this will be done will depend on priorities established by the publishing body, who should be consulted about the likely timescale and editing needs.
Any additional resources necessary to complete the project archive (see section 8 2) must also be identified at this stage. The assessment report will have identified any material in the site archive for which special arrangements for long term curation need to be made. Discussion with the museum or other archive recipient will have been held earlier in the project (see section 4 10) and it may now be necessary to re-establish contact and make a formal agreement on a mutually acceptable transfer date for the project archive.
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