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Longest Watching Brief
#1
What is the longest watching brief that somebody has undertaken without finding anything significant (med or earlier)? Back in the good old days (before ppg 16 and competitive tendering) there was talk about stopping watching briefs altogether because so little was found.

Is it days, weeks, months or years?

Peter Wardle
(I think it is a week or so for me!)
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#2
Do you mean as in an all-day presence on a site every day? Or just a project that went on for ages? I know of several that have lasted 5+ months every day watching pile arisings. I did a few weeks on one of them and then escaped luckily. Found nothing.
Same site had 6+ months of three people watching a secant trench, but used it to further evaluate the site. Was all machine dug though, and the observations limited to a very quick 'jump in and measure'.

Know of several cable trenches that had nothing but other pipes and cables, one ran for nearly a year until someone screwed up and went deeper to avoid some existing cables and went through a post-med burial ground. Bingo! twenty odd skulls, a rake of assorted long bones and a hasty cab ride back to HQ with 5 bin bags chock full of Death.

but sometimes WBs aren't about finding something, they're about not finding something, or avoiding it. Unfortunately if you can't trust contractors not to just dig a bloody big hole and take out half a SAM then you need a WB with a bored archaeologist on site. Come up with a better solution for all our sakes.

On the other hand I've got some really useful data out of apparently pointless WBs, admittedly in urban strat situations: confirming the course of roads or boundary ditches, or their absence. Other WBs have found loads and loads of really important features, finds, the lot, and ended up as published papers. But they may have really been intermittent excavations. Each one on its merits.

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#3
I mean more or less continuous periods of time but can be with gaps.

There are many reasons for a watching brief including "policing contractors" or finding sites. So far then over a person year worth of work without finding anything is not uncommon.

Peter

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#4
Quote:quote:Originally posted by drpeterwardle
... So far then over a person year worth of work without finding anything is not uncommon.

Eh? What? You mean based on what I wrote? That's a bit of an extrapolation!!

I thought I said that although nothing was 'found' on some of those sites, that wasn't necessarily the point of the WB. Hardly a valid argument to infer that all WBs are pointless or not uncommon?
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#5
Someone I know did an eight month watching brief watching the drainage guys replace drains. He didn't find much, and I think it may have been the beginning of the end of archaeology for him....

can't blame anyone for specifying a WB there though, certainly plenty of potential for archaeology
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#6
I am not saying wbs are pointless - far from it.

I am just trying to assess how common very long wbs actually are and how much boredom is suffered by archaeologists on site and indeed how much boredom can one individual take.

Peter
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#7
Quote:quote:Originally posted by drpeterwardle

I am not saying wbs are pointless - far from it.
I am just trying to assess how common very long wbs actually are and how much boredom is suffered by archaeologists on site and indeed how much boredom can one individual take.

Sorry, it was the way you appeared to extrapolate from one response...

boredom? one mans boredom is another mans cushy job though. I know people who love doing nothing, who dream of a year chatting to contractors and doing their shopping over a long lunch. They have taken it to the level of an art form and get quite grumpy when required to do anything. These people may have fully integrated into the construction industry! I'm the opposite and get bored easily if there is nothing to dig. Solution? Put me on a nice deep strat site with plenty of quality strat, and stick the lazy-arse on a WB for a year!
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#8
Test Match Special, even if you don't know much about the cricket. There's something in the jargon which is reminiscent of the hypnotic power of the shipping forecast. And something interesting happens about every ten minutes, what more can you ask?
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#9
As in a previous post some months ago I really must take issue with Dr. Wardle's assertion that only "med or earlier" is a significant finding. We can (and do) learn a great deal about the more recent (ie. post-medieval) past through watching briefs and all sorts of other archaeological activity. As award-winners on this forum can attest!

(see also for instance the most recent issue of British Archaeology).

Having said that my longest watching brief was 3 months which was, in fact, quite tedious.
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#10
About 4 mouths but it was part of a large scale strip and map (although there was nothing to map) i don't know if that counts, either side of those 4 months we found some really interesting stuff (mesolithic to Romano British)
If strip and map counts the quickest was about 3 hours, 3 machaines and the tops of about 5 Iron age houses(when dug the walls survied to up to a meter high).

On a pipe line at the mo which seem to be going well but found some Neolithic pits and then some cists, frankly i am glad
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