project management

Commercial geophysics for archaeology – a day at my desk

Cs mag survey around the long cairn

Cs vapour magnetic survey around the long cairn

We are a geophysical survey company working mostly in archaeology with some other shallow geophysical work alongside. This is ArchaeoPhysica’s second Day of Archaeology post, this time featuring mostly office work.

I’m Anne Roseveare, the Operations Manager, and I spend much of my time at a desk, make a few field visits and occasionally can be found in the workshop building and mending things. Unsurprisingly, my day involved quite a bit of time on the phone and emailing people about quote requests, ground conditions and schedules. Harvest dates are a hot topic at the moment as often fieldwork is held until the crops are cleared and we’re then wanted everywhere in a short time window. Our overall timetabling process has similarities to multi-dimensional tetris, or at least it feels like it.

We had fresh batches of data in from the previous couple of days’ fieldwork to process, visualise and prepare interim results to send to our archaeological clients. Kathryn’s been busy working through these, checking data quality and getting the data sets GIS-ready. I’ve also been working on the final stage of reporting for a multi-method geophysical survey on a deserted medieval settlement.

One of last week’s surveys was a couple of fields of magnetic data collected on a research basis next to a monument we surveyed using ERT (electrical resistance tomography) a few months ago. It’s not often you get to survey a neolithic long cairn and visit the excavation of the damaged part, so we were keen to see what (if anything) there was to see around it. Our work will inform the long term management plan for the monument.

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Our earlier ERT survey in progress

sloping slice across ERT profiles shows the internal structure

Sloping slice across ERT profiles showing some of the mound’s internal structure

some of the re-excavated internal structure in the damaged area - useful to compare with ERT

Some of the re-excavated internal structure in the damaged area – useful to compare with ERT results

talking through findings with one of the excavators

Talking through findings with one of the excavators

The rest of Friday’s workload was as usual completely commercially confidential – most of our work is development-related and is attached to planning applications (so no pictures from these).

I reviewed a WSI (Written Scope of Investigation) prepared by colleagues Daniel & Martin for a large project, updating the sections on soils & geologies. We often produce a WSI for large or complicated projects – sometimes it is required by the Local Authority Archaeologist or the client. It contains a summary of the purpose of the project and background information that will influence our geophysical work, including heritage and environmental information. Next comes the reasoning why our proposal is the most effective way forward and what the limitations are, followed by what the outputs from our work will be.

Another chunk of my time went into preparation for a forthcoming project, where there are multiple areas to survey and strict access arrangements as the site is sensitive. In this case, our project GIS will help us and the client to map out survey & no-go zones, schedule the different work areas (and re-schedule if needed as the work unfolds) as well as be the usual foundation for our reporting. We’ll be mapping visible signs of landscaping as the fieldwork goes on, too, to give our geophysical data local context.

Behind the scenes, out of sight of clients, there’s always other things happening. For example Martin was preparing a funding proposal to support a research project on a prehistoric mining site and there was unexciting but important maintenance of our internal project archive. Also, project Pegasus is moving along, with Martin & Benj on 3D design and construction (all will be revealed later this year). We usually have a development project on the go – it’s a case of fitting things round the commercial work.

I lost count how many mugs of tea and coffee we got through but this week’s Friday cake was carrot cake with particularly squishy icing – important fuel!

Louise Davies: Not a typical archaeologist

If I have a pound for every time someone had asked me what the most exciting thing I’d ever found was, or which exotic places I’d been digging in, then I’d be very rich. The truth is I’ve never found anything amazing, and I’ve never worked outside the UK (unless you count a month training dig in Menorca in summer 2000, although I wouldn’t exactly call that work). I’m not a typical archaeologist, but it doesn’t mean I love my profession any less.

As part of the project management team at MOLA we are responsible for all the unglamorous aspects of archaeological excavations; the planning and preparation, the costings, the invoicing, the endless meeting about piling, but without us then the exciting work would never take place.

We have often been working on a project for years before excavation starts; negotiating with curators, meeting with planners, quantity surveyors, architects, and demolition contractors. Poring over plans for temporary works and figuring out how we can stop the pavement falling into the excavation area with sheet piles, whilst not destroying any archaeology in the process of inserting the sheet piles. We have to make judgements about time and cost of excavations based on sometimes scant information, trying to do the best for our clients whilst ensuring the archaeology is properly recorded. Archaeology is never straight forward, and we generally have no say in when we can go on site to start work, but we will do everything we can to fill gaps in the MOLA excavation programme and try to maintain constant employment for our hard working field team.

So today, as I sit at my desk sending out invoices and thinking about all the amazing artefacts I have never found, I am happy knowing that my work means something. Without archaeologists excavating and recording the remains left behind by an infinite number of lost Londoners before they are gone for ever beneath another glass sky scraper, then the world would be a much more boring place.

A day of archaeological geomatics

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle in flight.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle in flight.
Image © Callen Lenz

Well, firstly, I can’t believe it’s been a year since last time! Doesn’t time fly? What’s happened since then I hear you cry? I’m still the Geomatics Manager for Wessex Archaeology, responsible for GIS and Survey. The big news is my desk is now paper free and I’m trying to keep to a paperless work regime, essential seeing as most of my workspace is taken up with computer equipment, leaving no room for unnecessary clutter. In the photo you can see not only my laptop but the recently rebuilt GISBEAST machine with it’s quad cores, 64-bit OS and 12Gb RAM, tooled up with all the software I need to do what I do. (more…)