​#268 The Driver – Pedestrian Problem

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You all know what I’m talking about. You’ve done it. You’ve been on both sides of the problem. I’m talking about what I call the Driver-Pedestrian problem. I’ll explain how this relates to archaeology later. First, what is it?

The Driver

You’re in a university parking lot — or a supermarket — or a mall — and you’re looking for a spot. You’re late. You don’t have time for this. All you want to do is park. It would be easier to find a spot if not for only one thing: THOSE DAMN PEDESTRIANS. Get out of the way! I have 2000 pounds of car and I know how to use it! Why are there so many people in the world? I just want to park!!

The Pedestrian

SLAM! You shut the door and become a pedestrian. All you want is to get to class; get to the front door; get out of the parking lot. Why are these people driving so slow? Why are so many cars in this parking lot? GET OUT OF MY WAY!!

How This Relates to Archaeology

I’ve told the story above to illustrate how our perceptions of a situation change as we change our roles. This is important for archaeological fieldwork in several ways. First, when resurveying previously recorded sites and second when going back to a site during a current project to either finish the recording or update your data in some way.

Previously Recorded Sites

How many crews have you been on where the crew discovers a previously recorded site on a survey and where you know which company recorded it? Probably more than a few times if you work in the West. What’s always said, almost without fail? “This company does shit work.” “This company doesn’t  have a clue.” It’s often that people think sites were shoddily recorded or that they likely “missed a bunch of stuff.” Sometimes this is true. Most of the time, though, the archaeologists probably did the best they could; just like you would.

It’s important to remember that different sites are recorded in different ways. Sometimes, if their job is to evaluate the site under Section 106, archaeologists will limit a recording in the interest of time if it is very apparent that the site is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. This isn’t necessarily what everyone does, or should do, but we live in a world where limited funds and time are available for projects and sometimes we don’t get to spend the time on sites that we’d like to.

When I record a site I try to record as much information as possible and as is feasible. When I write the site record, I imagine another archaeologist coming to this site and trying to piece together what I did. Are they able to figure out the site and my determinations based on what I wrote? If they are, then I did my job. Is it likely, or even possible, that I recorded EVERYTHING on the site? Probably not. So, if you go back to the site, are you going to find something I didn’t? Possibly. That’s not a bad thing; it’s a reality.

Revisiting Sites on a Project

This is an entirely different problem. I’ll give you a scenario and then we’ll talk about it.

Let’s say you’re on a project where you can’t take pictures of ANYTHING without a representative of the client present. There are probably many ways to deal with this. One way is to record the sites while you have your full crew. For the photos, take photo points in the GPS device and, if you’re digital, record the photo information on your tablet. You could do this on paper too. This way, if someone goes back out to take the photos, someone that wasn’t on the site initially, they can quickly find what they need and move on to the next site.

Now, if I get to a complicated site and choose to cut corners by not taking photo points or by not writing up the records, then I’m doing my future self, or my colleague, a disservice and I’m causing them to waste needless time. In this case, I’m the Driver.

As the pedestrian, I come to a site and I’ve got to recreate what happened and figure out where everything is. I’m on the other side now and I’m looking at everything my colleagues did and I’m trying to reconstruct what happened. How do I react if there are inconsistencies?

On the one hand we have archaeologists trying to record a site as quick and as accurately as possible. Perhaps taking the photo points on a large site is too much. Perhaps there isn’t time. “Ah, they can handle it when they come back to take photos.” On the other hand we have someone coming back to the site, possibly months later, that has to find everything and take the photos. I assure you, there are good ways to do this and bad ways.

What does this all mean?

Essentially, think of your colleagues when you either record a site or re-record a site. Is what you’re doing going to make sense to someone else? Maybe have someone else on your crew read your site record before you leave. Make sure it makes sense. Also, give someone the benefit of the doubt when you go back to a site. Remember those tough days you’ve had and remember that everyone has tough days. Also, remember that the earth and the earth’s weather move things around. Things get covered up and other things get uncovered. Archaeology is fluid.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the field!!