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Down to earth work

Your career : Heritage

Archaeological knowledge is increasingly useful in civil engineering, particularly in Britain's historic towns and cities. Many large-scale redevelopment projects in the City of London, including Argent's schemes at Governor's House and Alder Castle, and rural projects such as the proposed Stonehenge bypass, have called on the expertise of archaeological consultants.

'All England's landscape is now a man-made product, ' explains Richard Hughes, an archaeological consultant to Arup International, UNESCO and the Aga Khan's Cultural Service. 'Engineering desk studies for any site containing manmade structures benefit from some archaeological input'.

Sites may contain old tunnels, sewers, quarries, or even Second World War bomb craters.

'Brownfield sites are now as much the stuff of archaeology as older remains, ' says Hughes, 'And we see this with the increasing numbers of industrial archaeologists'.

The other extreme is where a site may contain 'high status' remains of perhaps Roman, Saxon or Mediaeval buildings - which also illustrate the history of foundation engineering. The question on such sites now is: 'Should the remains be excavated, and if not, what engineering techniques can be brought to bear on preserving them as a future heritage resource?'

With government guidelines ('PPG16' Planning Policy Guidance - Planning & Archaeology, Department of the Environment 1990) and most Unitary Development Plans insisting on the preservation of 'representative' archaeological resources in situ, the role of the archaeological consultant as part of a multi-disciplinary advisory team is set to grow.

Working with structural and geotechnical engineers, archaeological consultants help to mitigate potential hazards presented by pre-existing groundworks, as well as advising on the preservation of structural remains and artefacts. The Royal Mint Site near the Tower of London, where proposed new piles coincided with a series of old wells connected by adits, is a good example. 'Early archaeological research and investigations certainly prevented any mishaps, ' he says.

The scheduled ancient monument at the Governor's House site in the City of London, the Roman Governor's Palace, was preserved by Arup and specialist contractor Bachy designing new piles in place of old ones that could not be reused. This involved development of a process for drilling out the old piles.

And at Alder Castle, along the Roman city wall, the new piles were drilled down through old massive reinforced concrete pad foundations. Drilling had already shown that all the immediately underlying archaeological formations had previously been removed. Hughes says forthcoming projects include the potential reuse of old piles.

So archaeological consultancy is as important nowadays as it is fascinating. Many practitioners, particularly those working for the burgeoning number of specialist archaeological consultancies springing up around the country, have, like Hughes, a background in archaeology and/or geology and soil science.

But opportunities are out there for individuals with an engineering background and an interest in archaeology and the history of their own subject.

Several companies, including British Gas, have followed Arup's lead in establishing archaeological consultancy divisions, and more are set to follow.

Key points

Archaeological consultancy is increasingly important to both urban and rural construction projects Preserving or avoiding remains during construction is a necessity on sites An archaelogical background is not vital: interest in the subject combined with engineering qualifications can be enough

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