The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Monitoring and Pondering

I apologize for not posting so far this week. I have been monitoring construction in Fresno County, and working 10-12 hour days, so I have not had much time to write.

However, this monitoring project has got me thinking about the way that we mitigate impacts to cultural resources, including archaeological sites, and wondering about what is and what is not necessary. In this case, this is a location that had been surveyed for archaeological sites prior to the beginning of construction, and nothing was found. After the initial surveys, a few additional surveys were performed to spot check a few areas about which the regulatory agency issuing the permits for this project was concerned. Again, nothing was found. The area is located on the floor of the San Joaquin Valley, away from water sources and not in or near any known travel corridor that the people of the area would have used. In other words, the location was unlikely to hold any archaeological sites (in the professional jargon, we call this a low sensitivity area). Nonetheless, the permit-issuing agency either advocated or agreed to archaeological monitoring as condition of the construction permit. And I am left wondering why.

The project proponent has a good track record for protecting archaeological sites and environmental resources, so this is likely not a case of the agency not trusting them to do what they are supposed to do (report any sites that they encounter during construction). The area is, as noted, of low sensitivity, so it's probably not a case of the agency being concerned that archaeological sites are likely to be hit. So, I am left wondering, why is there a monitoring requirement?

This is one of those odd cases where I can think of many reasons why this requirement exists, both bad and good reasons, and yet there is nothing in the documentation that explains the decision. It makes it especially awkward as, being the monitor on-site, many of the construction personnel seem to think that I should explain and/or justify my presence, and yet I would not have put a monitoring requirement in place were it my decision - again, no known resources coupled with a low sensitivity, I have a hard time justifying monitoring - so I simply tell the people who ask that it is a permit requirement and refuse to elaborate further. But, again, if the justification were written into the documents, then I would be able to make a better explanation.

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