The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Monitoring is, easily, one of the least appealing tasks in standard field archaeology. A monitor watches construction or other ground disturbing activity in order to ensure that no archaeological materials are disturbed. At best, the job is mind-numbing boredom while you watch construction workers and equipment move about the project area, and find nothing. At worst, it's an exercise in frustration and resisting intimidation as you stop construction work because something has been found, and the foreman fails to understand that you are just the messenger and that if he wishes to negotiate with someone about continuing work it will be someone higher up the food chain than you. Depending on what kind of work you are doing, you may also have to dodge heavy equipment that moves at relatively high speeds while putting up with veiled (and sometimes not-at-all veiled) threats from construction workers who have got it in their heads that you want to stop them working.

Five years ago (it was five years ago this week that I complete my Masters degree!), I had thought that having an MA meant that I never had to do this particularly form of drudgery again. In fact, the first project I was on after finishing my degree involved me supervising (that is, sending out and receiving reports from) monitors without me ever having to do it myself.

However, I was soon disabused of the notion that I was free.

Most of the time, I am sent out because we have a people shortage - the field technicians are all away on other projects and we need someone to monitor right now. Other times, however, I am sent because an agency has decided that all monitors will be required to have an MA - which is unnecessary and tends to result in qualified people without degrees losing out on work.

The last two times I have monitored, it has been on ground that not only has no known archaeological sites, but (for various reasons) can be confidently said to not have any sites. In one of these cases, I had to monitor construction on fill soils imported from elsewhere - in other words, no intact archaeological deposits were even possible. In this latter case, most of the people with whom I came into contact A) knew that it was fill soil, and B) therefore assumed that I had somehow managed to force my client to hire me (how I would do this was never explained) and did not believe that my presence was an agency requirement that I would have been happy to not have fulfilled, and as such I had to put up with the daily asshattery as people made comments insinuating that I was just some gold digger along for the ride.

And all of this is a long winded way of saying that I am currently monitoring yet again, and that is why I am not writing as often as I would like. I will hopefully be writing on a regular basis again soon, but it looks as if the flood gates have been opened, and I will be quite busy, so please understand if I am not as prolific as normal.


Wetherwax said...

Being a monitor is never a popular position. On my last job I was a contract compliance monitor on a tree removal program, ie I followed the crews in the field to make sure they were doing what they were supposed to do and not doing what they weren't supposed to do. First thing I learned was that most had in fact never read the contract.

One of the issues I would run into was the crew thinking I was supposed to be their bud, and look the other way on contract violations.

The company owners, on the others hand, sometimes decided I was a foreman, and felt it was my reponsibility to give instructions to the crew and keep them from taking excessive breaks.

Anthroslug said...

I have had similar experience. I was on a project once where one of the workers spilled a huge amount of hydraulic fluid, and then asked me to not report it to the environmental office. He looked rather upset when I informed him that I was from the environmental office.