Monitoring Guidelines

Guidelines for the use of Archaeological Monitoring as an Alternative to Other Field Techniques

3/25/02 (NYAC adopted 4/26/02)

Policy & Purpose

monitoringMonitoring has recently become a more prevalent CRM practice. Although many archaeologists are uncomfortable with its use as a method of investigation, monitoring appears in many Scopes of Work and Memoranda of Agreement. Particularly in urban settings, traffic and other logistical considerations have led to a reliance upon monitoring, often as a substitute for archaeological testing, evaluation or data recovery.  Because power equipment is so costly, monitoring is sometimes presented to agencies and developers as a means to reduce costs of urban archaeological projects, although to their surprise the actual costs can be substantially larger. Too often there is much pressure upon the archaeological community to use monitoring in the compliance process as an alternative to other archaeological field methods.  Additionally, there has been little professional guidance on the subject and its appropriateness as an investigative technique remains an open question.

The existing Standards for Cultural Resource Investigations and the Curation of Archaeological Collections in New York State (NYAC 1994; adopted by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation) address monitoring in Sections 3.7 and 4.5.  Monitoring, according to the Professional Standards, may be acceptable under certain circumstances during Phases II and III as a “supplemental” technique. The Standards caution, however, that “due to the complexities often characterizing projects and sites located in urban settings, [the] guidelines apply primarily to projects situated in non-urban environments” (NYAC 1994:1). This suggests that there may be additional considerations during urban projects, in determining whether and under what circumstances monitoring is an appropriate field strategy.

The following guidelines have been written by a joint NYAC/PANYC subcommittee in order to clarify some of these issues in an attempt to make the existing Professional Standards more explicit on the subject of monitoring.  Input on these guidelines has been made by members of both NYAC and PANYC.


Archaeological Monitoring

For purposes of this document, we define monitoring as the observation of construction excavation activities by an archaeologist in order to identify, recover, protect and/or document archaeological information or materials. During monitoring, excavation is not under the control of the archaeologist although the archaeologist may be given authority to temporarily halt construction work to do his or her job, as defined in the scope of work.  Excavation area, location and depth are determined and directed by contractor(s), or the organization employing them.

The practice of monitoring should not be confused with the use of heavy equipment by archaeologists. In this circumstance, the placement, size and depth of the excavations  suit the aims of the archaeological research design and the operation of all mechanical equipment is under direct control of the archaeologist.

 When Monitoring is Appropriate

Experience at urban sites suggests that in a limited number of cases monitoring may be an acceptable approach.  As stated in the Professional Standards there are some circumstances during the evaluation and data recovery phases (Phase II and III) where monitoring may be used effectively to supplement other archaeological methods. There may also be situations where monitoring may be used during Phase 1B archaeological testing.  In general, however, monitoring should only be considered when all other alternative techniques have been examined (including mechanically-assisted archaeological excavation) and those have been determined to be not feasible.  Also, monitoring may be considered an acceptable alternative to other forms of archaeological testing when documentary research shows significant archaeological deposits are likely to be present, but are outside of the project impact areas or beneath the depth of project impacts.  In such cases, the appropriateness of monitoring must be thoroughly established before proceeding with contractor excavations.

If a decision is reached to proceed with monitoring, then a written monitoring plan or protocol must be implemented. The contents of such a document are described below. With the exception of extraordinary circumstances (e.g., excavations to permit emergency repairs) an acceptable plan should give the archaeologist the authority to halt excavations under defined conditions.

Specific scenarios based on actual examples are presented here to establish guidance in how and when monitoring is appropriate.

Scenario 1) Accessibility is often an issue when planning archaeological testing in urban areas.  Monitoring may be appropriate in projects where impact areas have the potential for containing archaeological resources but cannot be investigated in advance of construction due to the presence of  buildings, roads, or other structures.  Two examples where this occurred are Pearl Street, Albany and Pearl Street, New York City.  These were heavily trafficked urban areas where it was not feasible to excavate the streets twice, for both archaeology and construction.  As a result, archaeologists were not given access to the sites prior to construction.  In both cases detailed monitoring plans were developed whereby the archaeologists worked closely with the excavating contractors to document archaeological resources.


Scenario 2) Monitoring may be appropriate when known archaeological resources are in close proximity to the footprint of planned construction excavations or when known archaeological resources are located at a depth below which construction excavations are planned.  In such circumstances monitoring is undertaken to ensure that construction stays within specified limits and/or, should the site be more extensive than previously defined and archaeological remains encountered, to ensure that they are documented or avoided.

One example occurred in a historic district in Jersey City, New Jersey where construction was planned above the depth of an historic sewer.  Monitoring was done to ensure the contractor did not exceed the depth of planned construction and that the historic sewer was not disturbed.  Another example was in Philadelphia where park landscaping had the potential to disturb an historic burial place.  The archaeologists worked with the contractor to document any exposed remains which were then protected in situ and trench depths modified.

 Monitoring Plan

When monitoring is planned, a clear understanding between the archaeologist and construction excavation team (from the management level down to the equipment operator) is required prior to commencement of fieldwork.  A protocol for construction work stoppages must be developed to enable archaeologists time for recordation and for any archaeological data recovery that may be needed.

For projects in which monitoring is being proposed, a written protocol or monitoring plan should be prepared and agreed to by the consulting archaeologist, the review agency archaeologist, the undertaking agency representative, the developer (where applicable), and the construction contractor.  The monitoring plan should include a number of essential elements:

1.  The authority of the archaeologists to halt excavations to allow for agreed upon investigations should be clearly stated.  This authority should also be conveyed to all levels of the contractor’s on-site excavation team, including the equipment operator(s).

2. The amount of time during which construction excavations are to be made available for archaeological work should be clearly stated in the plan.  This should be specific (e.g., the plan used for Pearl Street in Albany specified the archaeologists could inspect the construction trench for 1 hour per every 20 linear feet of trench).  A formula appropriate to the nature and size of the site should be developed.

3.The nature of the archaeological work within the contractor’s excavations (e.g., photography, drawing of profiles, screening of removed soil for artifacts, taking of soil samples, hand excavation, etc.) should be clearly stated as well as the objectives of the archaeological work.  The types of resources which may be encountered based on preliminary research or the results of prior excavations in the area should also be stated.

4. The actions to be taken by archaeologists, should remains requiring further study be encountered during construction, must be explicitly stated.  The protocol for consultation and decision making required in order to slow down or halt construction activities (e.g., consultations with construction, engineering and agency personnel), including identification of specific persons to be contacted, should also be stated.  The amount of time that archaeologists will have to record and/or excavate such remains should also be agreed upon.  This can be stated as an amount of time for each cultural resource encountered and/or a total amount of time for the entire project.

5. The assumptions under which time estimates are made should be clearly stated, both relating to physical site conditions and to archaeological situations.  For example, if the monitoring plan assumes warm weather conditions, the need to change the plan or schedule under winter conditions should be stated.  The need for a change in scheduling due to unanticipated archaeological finds should also be spelled out.

6.  Assistance to be provided to the archaeological team by construction personnel (e.g., pumping of water from excavations, shoring of trenches, construction of shelters under winter conditions), including those actions mandated by OSHA regulations, should similarly be specified.

7.  Actual procedures should be specified in case construction plans are changed during the course of the construction work.  These procedures must provide adequate time for the archaeologists to consider the sensitivity of the additional locations and/or depths of construction to be affected by the new  plans and to enable all parties to consider and agree to any modification of the monitoring plan which may be necessary.

8.  As with any archaeological plan, treatment of artifacts, technical analysis of samples, curation, preparation of reports, etc. should be addressed in the monitoring plan, as specified in the Professional Standards.