When Archaeological Deposits are Found After Construction Begins
Most North American archaeologists work on projects that are required by law as part of the environmental mitigation for construction projects. Ideally, the archaeologists can get in and deal with all the archaeological features in a project area before the bulldozers and construction workers move in. If this isn’t possible, archaeologists often monitor the construction activities. They watch the earthmoving activities, and are on hand if bulldozers and backhoes uncover an archaeological feature. Some fragments of transfer-printed pottery or the base of an old bottle spied in the side wall of a construction trench can indicate that an archaeological feature has been found.
If an archaeological feature is found, the archaeologist must evaluate whether it is worth excavating further. Good historical records of the project area help the archaeologist assess whether the feature is worth excavating. If it is, a small crew of archaeologists will quickly excavate, record and remove the archaeological material so the construction work can continue.
Archaeological features recovered through construction monitoring can
give valuable information about the Past. From an archaeologist’s point
of view however, construction monitoring is not the ideal way to find
archaeological features. A construction trench or foundation footprint
gives only a very small window onto the historic ground surface where
these features are to be found. Often only a portion of an archaeological
feature, such as a privy, is
exposed and available for excavation. In addition, the archaeologists
are always under great pressure to complete their excavation so that
construction work can resume. The result can be a tantalizing but very
limited insight into the archaeology of an area. In contrast, open area
excavation reveals relatively large areas, with often many archaeological
features. These features, from different families or businesses, and
often from different time periods, allow archaeologists to develop a
more complex, richer picture of the neighborhood.