As with a big project in any walk of life, planning a major archaeological fieldwork requires a large administrative input. It’s not just a case of turning up on site with a trowel in one hand and a finds bag in the other. This means that although we’ve not started fieldwork at Binchester yet, we are already in the midst of project planning and getting all the important paperwork in place.
A key job for us is the creation of a formal project design. This sets out the research aims of the project, and lays out the methodologies we will use to tackle them. It also contains a lot of information about the systems which we will put in place to manage our time in the field, the post-excavation process, as well as the finances.
Putting together the project design is not a simple process; in England, the standard format for a project design for a scheme that aims to carry out research within the historic environment is English Heritage’s document Management of Research Projects in the Historic Environment, usually known as MORPHE. This provides a framework for a project design that covers everything from the project research aims to the detailed management structures linked to the execution of the fieldwork and post-excavation, as well as the inevitable financial issues. It is certainly a complicated document. In theory, it might be possible to carry out a field project that did not adhere to MORPHE guidelines, but for any piece of work that involves working with English Heritage (EH), its essential to use the template it provides.
The Binchester project involves EH for a number of reasons. Most importantly, the Roman fort is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. This means it is a nationally important archaeological site, as defined by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. Crucially, this imposes a measure of protection on the site, and prevents it from being destroyed or damaged by building or development work. However, the protection extends to damage by other parties, including archaeologists. Archaeological work (both intrusive and non-intrusive) can only take place with the formal permission of English Heritage (so-called Scheduled Monument Consent). Obviously if permission is going to be obtained, EH need to satisfy themselves that the work will be carried out in a professional manner, hence the need for us to provide a MORPHE compatible document. Getting all the plans for the project into a format that complies with MORPHE is not an enviable task. The current document is over fifty pages long, though considering this project will take over five years and cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, this is in fact not unreasonable.
We’re not just working on the project design though. There are a host of other jobs that need sorting out. We need to think about the logistics of running a six week field project; how will we get the students to and from Durham? How will the element of community involvement work? There is also further funding to be applied for, which involves filling in forms, producing smaller project designs and liasing with potential referees; there is more than enough work to keep the project team busy.
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