As I made my way around the stands at Sustainability Live, one company stood out. At first glance, it didn’t seem like they should be there. Amid all the companies showing off valves, pumps, safety harnesses, energy-efficient lighting and so on…
From the wall of their booth, a photograph of a human skull stared out sightlessly. This grisly centrepiece was surrounded by potsherds, and images of archaeologists at work – plus a few images of excavators, theodolites and assorted paraphernalia of the trade.
I think my face must have said it all:
It turns out that there’s a very good reason, and Marketing Director Rachel Cropper was patient enough to explain it to me. Imagine that you’re commencing a civil engineering project, and soon after your contractor breaks ground, you find that you’re digging up bits and pieces of our ancient history. That’s a problem, because you might wreck a priceless piece of our heritage – or turn up some human remains, halting work.
There are also more predictable occasions when you might need to call in the archaeologists as well, such as when conducting appropriate archaeological work is a condition of planning approval. A careful balance has to be struck between those who would like excavation to proceed at the speed of the archaeologist’s trowel, and those who would prefer that there’s no delay to construction work at all. Border Archaeology’s approach is to get involved early on, in order to reduce cost and time over-runs.
I’ve written before about how I feel that preserving our history is a part of sustainability. It doesn’t get as loud a voice as the efforts to “keep the lights on” or to delay the effects of climate change, and perhaps that’s only to be expected… but it is important. Future generations will not thank us if we always choose profit over heritage.
Border Archaeology particularly like working with water companies because such work is less vulnerable to the economic cycle. When a new pipeline is being laid the process might involve assessment and advice at the planning stages, monitoring the work being conducted and then stepping in to preserve any significant finds. Some pieces might be ‘rescued’ for analysis and perhaps public display, while others are documented and protected in situ, which is to say covered up again, and left alone: meeting the needs of future generations of archaeologists to have something to study, you might say.
Now, forgive my ignorance, but I’ve been watching ‘Time Team’ for decades now, and I just assumed that archaeologists either came from a university, worked for museums, or were volunteers. To me, the professional archaeologist was an entirely unknown genus – but Border Archaeology has about fifty of them on the books.
I’m told that an archaeologist will never get rich – and true enough, it seems that Indiana Jones has never been able to afford a new hat, nor Mick Aston from ‘Time Team’ a better jumper – but I’m still more than a little in awe of this, an industry that I never knew about until yesterday: protecting our past while simultaneously working with the construction industry to build our future.
Sustainability, it seems, comes in a lot of different guises.