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What happens if we find an archaeological site on a construction site?

11/10/2021 | 04:35am EST

As a technical engineer specializing in geotechnics, I took the position of Project Manager for High Speed 2 (HS2) at Ferrovial four years ago. During the first two years, my role was to manage and supervise archaeological prospecting work prior to the construction of the platform that runs from Birmingham to London for the British high-speed rail line. This project consisted of two parts: first, the preliminary preparation and reconnaissance of the terrain, and second, building the road itself.

During the first part, one of the essential steps is locating possible archaeological sites that may be impacted by future construction work. The goal is to find them, identify them, and decide what will happen with them: they will either become part of a museum's collection or, once located, they may be hidden again, leaving a record of the site's existence in historical archives.

Archeology is the critical path to take during this phase, and in the United Kingdom, it is always necessary any time terrain is going to be altered in projects. This is why I took on a role that I'd never had for any other project and that, until then, I wasn't familiar with.

To this end, I set up a team of archaeologists and engineers to manage all the tasks as safely and efficiently as possible. The team included Jay Carver, one of the country's leading experts in the field. His advice was vital in determining the prospecting strategy and carrying out this part of the project aimed at preparing the land.

What happens if we find an archaeological site?

To find archaeological sites on a site, there are three phasesthat must be addressed. First, there are investigations to identify the areas that most likely contain archaeological remains in the subsoil. In this case, we used non-intrusive geophysical methodsthat reflect the waves at a certain depth and create a map of terrain anomalies.

In the second phase, these maps, which already have the critical points analyzed, are compared to the road's route to assess how its construction will affect them. Trenches one and a half feet deep are dugto confirm the existence of any remains that are of historical interest and then to determine their importance for the country's historical heritage. At this stage of the project, the decision is made as to whether the archaeological remains found should be preserved, either through documentation and on-site conservation or transferal to a museum.

Once these tasks are completed, we've reached the final phase: the mitigationphase. After the area has been demarcated, the top layers of earth are removed. Then, archaeologists carry out investigation and conservation of the remains. These areas can cover anywhere from a few square yards to ten hectares. This is where the most time and money are spent. This is because all the work must be done by hand to uncover any archaeological deposits without damaging them.

Roman settlements and burials from the 19th century

In this phase, archaeologists analyze and evaluate the remains by taking data, samples, photographs, and videos. The time they spend at the site depends on the artifacts' complexity and historical value. In every phase, my job was coordinating the technicians and supervising the work, ensuring it was carried out according to the project's requirements and the United Kingdom's regulations on managing archaeological sites in construction.

My personal and professional experience with this project was very enriching. Of the remains we located, it was particularly exciting for the entire team to excavate the deposits at a Roman cemetery with human remains, or to discover the very first evidence of an abandoned settlement dating back to the Middle Ages.

We had to be especially careful and respectful when surveying the site where a church had collapsed in 1860. As is common with this type of structure, the area around it had been burial grounds since at least the 11th century. We had to exhume the remains of people whose descendants are still alive. The last tomb was dated 1845.

These experiences helped introduce me to the field of archeology, which was previously unknown to me; furthermore, it was a challenge to get out of my comfort zone and work with such a diverse team.


Ferrovial SA published this content on 10 November 2021 and is solely responsible for the information contained therein. Distributed by Public, unedited and unaltered, on 10 November 2021 09:34:07 UTC.

© Publicnow 2021
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