One of the most stressful parts of being Campus Archaeologist is the task of monitoring construction projects. Monitoring is necessary under a couple of circumstances. Occassionally, such as at the Brody Complex where I was earlier this week, the archaeological deposits are located much deeper then we are able to reach through traditional means.
Since our business is time constrained by the project timeline, it is more practacle to excavate these materials while the construction is being conducted.
Another scenario is one where our archaeological survey did not find anything, although the historical documentation indicates that something should be visible. Site monitoring allows us to be on hand in case something is discovered. A third scenario is when a project has been started without our knowledge, meaning that no archaeological survey was conducted.
What makes monitoring stressful is that construction work is always under a deadline. Just the presence of the archaeologist puts contractors in a defensive position: I represent the potential for the project to be haulted, which makes the deadline more difficult to meet, which costs more money. Mentioning my title at planning meetings is typically met with a look of fear and the question: “you aren’t expecting to find anything, are you?” Decisions about what needs to be recorded and what can be destroyed need to be made in the moment, and often, the methods used place getting the data recorded quickly ahead of getting it the best possible way. The latter often takes longer.
I am not suggesting that contractors and construction workers are not accommodating, they often are. They typically assume that I want to find artifacts, which means that I want to hold up the project. Often, that is not the case. Sometimes, I am only looking for certain types of data: a wall profile, or the boundary of a large feature. I am doing my best to accommodate their work as much as they do mine.
One of the best strategies has been through education. I spend a lot of time talking with the construction workers about why I am there, how archaeology works, and what I can learn from the dirt and artifacts. They are often very interested in what I am learning, and, since most of them have more experience digging on campus than I do, typically provide me with information about other possible sites around campus. This has been extremely helpful, and has provided a way for the Campus Archaeology Program to interact and educate a population of people that are typically ignored by the University community.
On the flip side, I am learning a large amount about aspects of construction management that I would have otherwise ignored. It has provided a new found respect for the hard work and service that these individuals provide our community. This effects my work, since it provides an even greater appreciation for the workers who built and constructed the historical landscape that I excavate and study everyday, and a realization that buildings at institutions of higher education are not only for those who reside inside them, but also for those people who built them in the first place.