berangere: (rizière)
[personal profile] berangere posting in [community profile] archaeology
  Yeah ! Three Weeks For Dreamwidth has begun and it seems I'll be the one beginning the festivities in the archaeological community ! Here is the article written for the first prompt requested in our 「Frequently-Or-Not-So-Frequently-Asked-Questions About Archaeology 」 event !

question by [personal profile] trouble

I would really like to learn more about archeology in cities. They're building a new library here and they're letting the archaeologists in to do some work before they start building. What do archaeologists look for, and what's it like with a really short turn around time?



  I will answer to this prompt for France and Japan only. If you have any knowledge of the situation in other countries, please feel free to write another article, in this community or in your own journal.
  Since I know more about French legislation than about Japanese one, I will present the situation in France in the most detailed way possible, and then highlight the differences that can be found in the Japanese system.
  I read a lot of archaeological publications in English, but since English is not my first language, I think I will mess up a few technical words : archaeological concepts are covered by really precise words in French, and I suppose it is the same in English, so please excuse me if I use a synonym to the terms generally used in archaeology.


The situation in France

Who performs the archaeological excavations ?

  In France, to begin a construction work, you need to obtain a license called "authorization to build". The law says that "the authorization to build can be refused, or only accorded under the condition that special dispositions will be observed if the construction works, by their emplacement or their type, could affect the conservation or the development of an archaeological site or of archaeological vestiges".
  When works that will affect the underground are about to be performed, the preventive archaeology process begins.

  First, a public organism (the archaeological service of the city concerned, or, if such a service does not exist, The National Institute for Research and Preventive Archaeology - INRAP) sends archaeologists to make a diagnostic : are there, or aren't there any archaeological remains in the ground to be dug ?

  The diagnostic is generally held by digging a few trenches in the ground. Then you can have an idea of the periods covered, and the scale of the site (if there is a site), and determine its scientific interest.
  With this diagnostic, the public organism will also estimate the length of the eventual excavation, the number of people and the type of tools needed (= determining the cost of the future excavation).

  Considering the reports written after this diagnostic, the State (= one of the six Interregional Commissions of Archaeological Research - CIRA) decides if the scientific interest of the site is worth an excavation. If it is, the excavation can be done by the municipal or departmental archaeological service, the INRAP or (since 2003) a private archaeological entreprise.

  The work has to be done in the imparted time, may it be 2 weeks or 3 months, even if it is raining or snowing : if programmed excavations in France are often opened to benevolent amateurs, rescue excavations are generally held by trained professionals : you have to work fast, and not to miss anything of importance because the site will soon be drowned under tons of cement.
  I know of one project (underground parking) that has been abandoned because of the discovery of particularly important remains, but this won't generally be the case.

Who pays for this ?

  If the works concerned by the "authorization to build" covers 1000 m² or more, the person (or society) conducting the works have to pay a "rescue archaeology fee". This fee represents (to be concise because the calculations are a bit more complicated) 0,5% of the building project value.
  For the projects under 1000 m², the fee is of 0,49 € per square meter.
  This is a tax, so as for every taxes, there are cases when people can be exempted.

What are we looking for ?

  In cities particularly, the diagnostic is often positive, since they are places where humans have generally been living for centuries, and remains date back at least to Middle Age, and really often even to Antiquity.
  As it is the case for any archaeological excavation, we are looking for remains of the previous human occupations of the site : architectural features and mobile artifacts.

  Architectural remains can go from beautiful wall of stones perfectly appareled to posthole whose limits are so shallow you hardly see it. The same goes for tombs that goes from dolmens (OK, rarely in urban context) to the simple pit in the ground.
  Archaeological objects... unfortunately I think that the most common artifacts on archaeological sites are ceramics. And by ceramics I do not mean perfectly conserved beautifully shaped pieces of artwork, but shapeless shards you'll have to classify during hours to sort the ones belonging eventually to the same object, before being eventually able to reconstruct a part of said object, and then consult endless typologies to determine where it belongs to. By this moment, the reader would have understood I loathe ceramology.
In addition to ceramics, you can have stone, metal (and do not imagine perfectly conserved shiny swords. First, consider the fact that iron rots. And then, incredibly tiny pins are far more numerous than swords), bone... Under particular conditions, we can even find wooden products and other perishable materials.
  I think kitchen garbage deposits can be separated from the "objects" category : animal bones but also plant remains, that are far more easily conserved than generally thought.

A bit of methodology


  Really often, the superficial layers are removed mecanically. The more you dig, the older the layers are. We remove the earth layer by layer, registering the position (3 dimensions : on the map + the altitude) of the artifacts and architectural remains discovered. For a lot of things, high resolution digital cameras have changed our lives : just 10 years ago, we spent a lot of time registering manually the emplacement of everything. It takes hours to make a precise drawing of a wall or of a skeleton in a tomb manually.
  Layers and architectural remains are given names (really inventive ones as : A, B, C, D, sometimes A1, A2, B, C1, C2, C3... or 1, 2, 3, 4... ) and the artifacts are given a serial number. This serial number is written on the maps where their position has been registered and all informations about each artifact (serial number, layer in which it was found, coordinates, whatever you think is relevant) are registered on individual forms. This will be helpful after the excavations when you'll draw the chronology of the order in which the different layers and architectural remains have appeared, or when you'll make geographical surveys of the artifacts.

  The excavation generally deals with one problematic, essentially because archaeologists just love problematics, like... well... 「Were the banks of the river xxx in city yyy divided by categories of profession in the 12th century ?」 (= all the leatherworking people on the right, then butchers in the middle and... dyers on the left) and the final work generally proposes a chronology of the evolution of the urban occupation at the precise place where the excavation took place, and tries to connect it with the data we already possess about the city / neighbourhood.
(= "at the beginning, there was a stone building*, the walls have been mended/moved/destroyed several times, then the west wing totally disapeared and the east one was transformed into a chapel. On the west several wooden structures were built, that seem to have been used as cereal storing houses but they have been destroyed by a fire (insert here reference to a known fire in the city if relevant). The chapel was no longer used, except for funeral purposes and a cemetery was installed there until the developement  of the cemetery in the south of the city due to the presence of a Saint remains there." And so on, till the description of the trenches opened for electricity or gaz in the contemporary era, that cut the older remains)
* I should have written "we found small parts of three different buildings", since the zone opened for excavations rarely covers the exact emplacement of only one building...

  The material is classified, and potshards wait for years in archaeological services basements until a poor master's degree student decides (in fact, until his researches director decides) he wants to write his dissertation about them, brings the 6 plastic boxes full of potshards home and have fun sorting them (this is not a personal experience, I was lucky enough to escape this as a master's degree subject but... you can't escape ceramology in your archaeological life).


The situation in Japan

  In Japan, the archaeological surveys are not conducted at a national level : it is not the State, but the local prefectures or municipalities that deal with archaeological issues.
  There are archaeological services in every prefecture, and in a lot of municipalities. Since the begining of the 2000s, those archaeological services have begun to be sort of privatized (it is a complicated administrative status).

  There is no law that obliges people doing building works to proceed to archaeological excavations BUT archaeology is quite a big deal in Japan, being really favored by the public, and the public opinion often forces entreprises to conduct archaeological excavations before they build anything. Even with no legal structure, the number of archaeological excavations held per year is more important than the one in France.
  1/5th of the rescue excavations held in Japan are made with private funds (4/5th are made with public funds, and concerns for example excavations conducted before the constructions of roads and other public facilities), and, as far as I am concerned, I think this is a really respectable number. Do the same in France and no excavations would be done at all for sure.
  This explains why archaeologists in Japan really care about the diffusion of their work to the public : because this is the public pressure that ensures them they will be able to perform excavations in the future.
  A lot of above-the-ground surveys are held to determine the places where it is very likely there are archaeological remains in the ground, so that when a building work is planned, the public can be informed the place should be excavated.


  I hope I managed to answer correctly to the question, "archaeology in the cities" being essentially rescue archaeology, and that the legal part was not too boring... Well, that's not easy to be fun with legal texts...
  This article will be crossposted to [community profile] fonsfaq 

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