Advice to lone researchers

Some respondents to these Abstracts have been lone surveyors who prefer to work along, or if they are members of archaeological societies, not to introduce their work into them. These workers suffer two related problems. They are not able usually to attain 4* as they cannot excavate. They complain of difficulty of getting their material recognised and published. We suspect there are probably more of these surveyors who have not come into our catchment net. As a whole a lot of information may be being kept back from others who could benefit from it.

To obtain an excavation it generally means interesting a local society, who has the equipment, expertise, manpower, and reputation to insure that worthwhile results are recorded on the County Sites & Monuments Record (SMR). These societies also have contacts and experience in dealing with land owners, plus insurance cover. SMRs are now really the depository of archaeological knowledge - rather than the plethora of academic, commercial and archaeological society publications. Though these SMRs are only citation indexes - there has to be a write-up which can be cited. There are special Roman Road sections because of the special problems that these elongated features pose.

However, these local societies pose difficulties for the lone surveyor. It is probably necessary, but local archaeology etiquette is that a society does not venture into the territory of another. Hackles are raised to a field walk, it is almost war to carry equipment into another's territory. Since archaeology is organised by counties, county boundaries are impenetrable frontiers which cannot be breached without agreement. Arrangements exist to handle cross frontier work, but there is always tension.

A Roman Road surveyor may be faced with half a dozen petty jurisdictions through which his alignments run, and he may prefer not to become embroiled in local politics. If he does, he may be perplexed at the tension flair ups over the obvious need to continue the work in another county.

If he does approach a society he may find he is welcomed and his work enthusiastically explored - all societies have a need for new members and excavation sites. Or he may be greeted with civility but with clear not-invented-here-hostility - coupled with the pointing out of his inexperienced efforts by an experienced investigator. However, these Societies' publications editors may be of the opposite attitude.

Quite likely the ultimate outcome will be that his work is filed. In most local societies projects only proceed if there is an official or unofficial project leader - who plans the work, gets it into the society's field programme, leads the field exercises, interpretation and write up. Trying to do this in half a dozen societies covering a Road is obviously impossible.

Yet we advise lone surveyors to devote some of their time to the local societies, even if he wishes to maintain his independence. Not all societies despite their names are diggers - the ultimate objective of involving them. One may waste time finding out that currently they do not dig. Advice may be obtained from the County Archaeologist. These are officials in the County Councils (usually planning departments) there to insure builders do not dig up archaeological sites, and are in charge of the SMRs. They will provide a list of societies and contacts and advise on their activities.

Be prepared to pass on your findings to relevant local societies, and to show them field evidence. These societies have a wealth of knowledge of their local area, and may already have or had a similar project. They will have old maps and documents - such projects should start from sound document research, and discussing the project with them initially may be worthwhile. Take every opportunity to write up for their publications what has been done. Some county societies have posh refereed journals. These are so expensive to produce that space is limited too around 4* reports. Local society publications which report individual field exercises informally are more suitable in the early stages. These are often short of material.

The importance of these write-ups is that they provide citable references - needed for SMR entries, and for entries in these Abstracts. Societies are asked to make available these reports to other workers - though it is expected that a reasonable charge be made for providing copies.

It is a good idea to write a simple account when significant evidence has been accumulated, and offer it to a local society. These projects can take decades to reach 4* - years later it may be very difficult to sort out field notes. The writer started much of his field work in Dorset where his parents lived. Here he learned how to recognise Roman Roads in hills. But he thought his work would not stand scrutiny of expert workers, and did not pass any on to local societies. It is now apparent that expertise does not exist in the field to recognise Roman Roads in hills - they get lost not found there. But now, several decades later, with no connection with that county, at the very best it is a retirement project to attempt to get a readable account from the copious field notes. It should have been done, in reasonable chunks, at the time the field work was done.

With this strategy, with several societies along a route under investigation, there will be more profitable reaction from some societies than others - and one can concentrate one's time on these. But keeping them all periodically informed of progress, interest should rise as more is found on the whole route. Once one society does a successful excavation, chances are they will all want to get in on the act.

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