Time Constraints and Archaeology

I’ve sent a good bit of time this past fall peer reviewing manuscripts. This is a gratifying task which gives me a preview of some of the more interesting discoveries and directions in the field of archaeology. 

One thing I have noticed, however, in a number of these publications is archaeological projects declaring “time constraints” the reason for various archaeological field decisions. While I have done enough field work to know that time constraints are real. Field work in the Mediterranean often has permit restrictions, limitations on manpower and work days, and logistical constraints that stymy flexibility. Proverbial last day discoveries, of course, can be real, but they are always the produce of a decision to declare a particular day to be the last day of excavations and have limited flexibility to extend excavation beyond that to accommodate last day discoveries. It is impossible, of course, to anticipate every archaeological variable, but in many ways time constraints represent decisions on archaeological priorities. Efforts to maximize data collected in the field regularly push the limits of time and resources. 

Archaeological field work always has a set of research priorities which attract man power and time. Deciding to pursue one trench over another, to excavate one more context in the waning days of an excavation, or to limit the time spent collecting data at a survey site are all common decisions made it the field. They all recognize the limits of man power and time. They also all represent critical decisions where research priorities meet the contingencies of field work practice.

In recent years, archaeologists have endeavored to make the relationship between field procedures, methods, and research goals more transparent. Reflexive documentation practices have increasing come to the fore in archaeological scholarship. It may be time to recontextualize even something as basic and commonsensical as time constraints in light of the archaeological decisions making process.

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