Archive for Engineer Satisfaction


Archaeology in the Ice Age

Posted by: Chris | Comments (0)

Archaeology in New York involves the cold. Unless you have the luxury of summer field seasons starting in late June you are going to dig cold. Engineering firms with tight schedules need their projects shovel ready when they need it too. So HAZEx was started in the snow and has continued working throughout all four seasons in New York and the the Northeast helping our Engineer clients’ get their permits on time. My personal experience in Great Britain and the Deep South provided me with their own share of environmental challenges, constant wet and constant heat, but it took some serious thinking to work through out the year in Archaeology in New York.
I thought with the holiday season it might be nice to share our cold archaeology in New York experiences and methods in the following short list of projects.
First job we had was for a cemetery relocation in Delaware County. Though we found and reunited the remains in the summer and early fall, it wasn’t until November that we had the reburial. The site was on a wind-swept bare-knoll below John Burroughs ground-hog cabin. The graves were in frozen gravel and so we called on the local track-hoe operator to do the digging for us.
Later that winter we had two archaeology survey jobs for the New York State Office of Parks. This time it was in St Lawrence and Jefferson Counties (North County). There was a foot of snow on the sand ground and we were excavating test pits at 15 meter intervals across acres. First we tried filling tin buckets with red-hot coals and placing them on the ice, then we realized that if you tested the ground with a steel breaker-bar you could find areas with little to no ice just below the snow. These became our test spots and we took the frozen sod and thawed it in an archaeology double boiler consisting of a tin bucket filled with earth placed inside a large trash can partially filled with charcoal. WE put the lid on and by the time the hole was excavated into sub-soils the sod was thawed and could be screened despite the 0 degree temps.
Variations on this method have continued through the past five years and surprisingly we find that snow-covered soils seldom freeze below the sod before February even in frigid conditions. So then it just becomes a question of how to keep digging without your fingers and face freezing up. Luckily there have been plenty of products created for the insanity that is ice-fishing and late-season deer hunting that function just as well for the gonzo New York winter archaeological technician: hot-hands, glo-mits, snow-shoes, Mr. Heater, aluminum duct-tape.
But the greatest HAZEx success for a winter challenge has been site testing. We were asked for help with a farmstead site in Jefferson County three years ago and decided we’d give it a try. The shovel testing wasn’t hard as soils were loose and steamy having had an insulating 5 feet of snow protecting them from the -20 degree nights of February. But excavating units that took several days to complete was another story. So we dug down to our datums left over from the survey, put up strong pop-up tents sealed up with aluminum tape, turned on the propane heaters, and dug through 6 of the coldest days in the past decade for Watertown. Though the technician outside of the tent had to screen fast before the soils froze to the screen, the folks doing the digging were pretty comfortable. One of our more productive days was a day the entire region was closed down for a blizzard. We dug through the storm and, as luck would have it, the first plows of the day rolled by our little Outbacks just as we were packing up for the day. We have applied this method several times since and none of us dread the winter testing lie we did at first.
I found my new favorite winter sport Archaeology in New York.
Thanks for reading. For comments or questions email me at

The varied archaeological and historical services we provide as part of our Clients’ environmental permit processes aren’t always the usual. It would be so nice if all we had to do was walk into the local historical society and pull out the folder with all of the maps and records from the property under investigation then walk out into a freshly mown 500 acre lawn and dig and fill-in our test pits every fifty feet.

Unfortunately, archaeology in New York is more often a complicated process with conflicting requirements that have to be traversed in a timely manner. Field work has to be finished despite dreadful weather, rugged terrain, unhappy neighborhood dogs, and even escaped convicts. HAZEx Researchers have to work through piles of incomplete and badly cataloged collections avoiding recluse spiders within the ever shrinking office hours of underfunded state and local repositories.
Through all of the +100 HAZEx projects conducted over the past five years of operation in New York we have tried to keep our clients informed and satisfied. At the four-year-mark I decided to call or write all of our half dozen past clients and muscle up the courage to ask we had done. I asked about our Time Frame, Budgets, Communication Skill-set (written and spoken), and Results and I also asked for comments. I wanted some good criticism so that we could make them Happier with HAZEx 2009. I wanted to hear something positive that I might share with other great Engineering Firms considering using our services.
The results of my survey were helpful. We received feedback from all six Engineering firms with the following selection of comments from their project managers or engineers:
“Thanks Chris – Hope to work with you sometime soon”
“Nice work”
“I loved working with you and will do so again, next chance we get!”
“We appreciate your prompt, courteous and knowledgeable services”
Of the 30 questions answered all clients agreed that we met expectations and a whopping 90% agreed we had at least exceeded expectations. I felt pretty good.
But it wasn’t all wine and roses…I heard back from a Client that HAZEx needed to tighten our belts on some projects just like everyone else. So I went back to my younger days and took on more of the work that I had be sub-contracting (research, excavation, and report preparation) in order to save money for all us. Our budgets are now as streamlined as our schedules.
I also thought that new SHPO review guidelines for recorded sites were confusing my Clients so I put together an informal survey for fellow archaeologists and State Officials to see how we could get it right the first t ime. Now we have a tighter and more efficient HAZEx report. We are also holding a fire under our review agencies whenever HAZEx reports are sitting on their desks for more than 30 days.
Since I sent the survey out last Fall HAZEx has been committed to living up to the high regard we have been lucky enough to receive from our Great Clients.
Maybe we’ll have to get a little frost, spider and dog bit.
Maybe we’ll have to crawl for ten minutes through buckthorn and snowdrifts to get to the next fifty foot mark.
Maybe we’ll have to eat more canned sardines and less lobster-roll while in the field.
And because of this I am confident that this year’s Client survey will be even better.
Thanks for reading. If you have any questions please email me at or just use the blog.

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