Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page



The Business of Archaeology: Planning the Work of Cultural Resource Compliance

Janet L. Friedman

Table of Contents


For many, "the business of archaeology" is an oxymoron. But, increasingly, archaeologists are finding their way into the business of cultural resource management. If we are indeed committed to protecting archaeological sites and ensuring that the federal, state, and local laws established to protect those sites are used well, we must become increasingly knowledgeable about the business end of our business. Whether we act as the client, working for a federal or state agency that is contracting with a cultural resource management firm to conduct an archaeological survey, or as the consultant, working for the firm or university that is competing for the contract and accomplishing the task, we need to look beyond our shovel test pits and surface scatters to contracts, estimates, and scopes of work.

Certainly, we need to understand the significance of a rhyolite biface or an American brown stoneware rim sherd. But we also need to learn a range of business skills. We need to manage projects, personnel, budgets, and schedules; we must understand contracts and client relations; and we have to implement the historic preservation, archaeology, and environmental laws and regulations. These are skills that our schools rarely teach us, skills that we usually must learn by trial and error -- much too much error.

Writing the Scope of Work: The Client

Writing the Scope of Work (or scope) is an important key to a successful job. The scope is that section of the request for proposals that describes the tasks to be completed by the contract. It is written by the client -- a federal or state agency representative, for example, or a developer who must comply with a local ordinance or zoning proffer, or a private environmental firm that needs a subconsultant to complete the archaeological component of an environmental assessment. The scope is used by the consultant in developing the proposal and cost estimate. Most importantly, it is attached to the contract and becomes part of the requirement for the job and is the measure against which satisfactory completion of the task is evaluated.

The quality and usefulness of the scope of work are directly related to the familiarity of its author with the subject matter, the specific requirements of the job, and just what needs to be accomplished. And that varies considerably. Sometimes, the author is a contract specialist who writes a scope to "perform a Phase I cultural resource survey." Other times, it is an archaeologist who lays out in loving and excruciating detail the culture history of the region, as well as the number and size of excavation units and the number of palynology samples required.

No matter who is responsible for writing it, a good and useful scope requires hard work, thought, experience, and knowledge. A client cannot simply turn over the thinking to the consultant and expect to come out with a product that meets the agency's needs. The valuable scope is clear, reasonable, and fair. It is written with the goal of receiving the best possible product, not the goal of tricking the consultant. It is written to provide the maximum amount of information, not to force the consultant to find it out or make it up.

The more careful, thoughtful, and complete the client is in completing this task, the more likelihood there is for success -- a project that focuses on the client's real needs, not the archaeologist's research interest; a project that is cost-effective and efficient at the same time that it is scientifically valid; and one that meets the regulatory requirements and provides information about human history.

To the top of the page

Responding to the Scope of Work: The Consultant

The consultant is the individual, university, or firm that responds to the scope of work, writes the proposal, and agrees to produce an acceptable product that meets the agency's requirements. When the consultant responds to the scope of work in the request for proposals, he or she must recognize that they might actually win the job and have to do the work described for the agreed cost. With that constantly in mind, one must establish parameters, lay out assumptions, and be very clear about what will be delivered for the cost -- and what will not.

First and foremost, the proposal must be responsive. It must answer all of the questions posed by the client. If the consultant does not address the scope of work laid out in the request for proposals, the proposal might well be discarded as nonresponsive. One could as well have spent the time and money on a trip to the beach for all the good the proposal will do. However, there generally is sufficient room within the request for proposals to allow for creativity of approach, economical and efficient mechanisms for satisfying the requirements, and enough specificity to protect both the consultant and the client.

One can -- and should -- respond to the given scope by providing greater detail and specificity than called for. This approach demonstrates knowledge of the subject, understanding of the requirements, and ability to accomplish the work. It also sets the parameters within which the work will be done and for which the check will be paid.

The practiced consultant understands the variety of unknowns involved in any archaeology project and writes a sensible proposal to address those variables. We do have expectations of what we will find based on our knowledge of archaeology, our familiarity with the area, and our extensive experience. We can establish expectations at the beginning, clearly and in writing. We can make those assumptions up front and explain that they formed the basis for our costs; if the assumptions change, the costs may need to change, too. Then, if what we find deviates from what we expected, we have a basis for discussion with the client. The client does not feel ripped off; we do not feel that we are paying for the opportunity to do work.

For example, it is fine to agree that some of the tasks to be accomplished are washing, labeling, and analyzing the artifacts recovered during excavation. But what if you happen to dig up the proverbial "golden goddess with the ruby eyes?" And what if she was buried with enough grave goods to see her and all of her friends safely into the next world? That cache could shoot the budget. How much better to state up front that the estimate is based on the assumption that no more than 200 or 2,000 or 20,000 artifacts will be recovered (depending on our scientific knowledge of the popularity of the goddess and distance to the next world). Any more than that would be cause for discussion and possible renegotiation of project costs. If the client knows up front not only what the project will cost but the basis for those costs, he or she will be more likely to understand when changes in scope result in changes in cost.

To the top of the page

Working Together: The Client and the Consultant

The first line of defense for the scope of work is the client who is knowledgeable, has thought about the project, and knows exactly what is needed. The second, and equally important, line of defense is the consultant who is thoughtful, careful, and specific, understands the client's responsibilities and requirements, knows what it takes to get the job done, and makes it clear up front.

But the third, and perhaps most important, defense occurs when the two can establish a working relationship of mutual respect and trust. If both are honest and fair and maintain ongoing communication, they can arrive at a product that satisfies their needs. So many difficult situations can be avoided or relieved if we can learn to think at the earliest stages of project planning what the client really needs to reach a satisfactory outcome. These contingencies can all come together in a well-conceived and well-executed scope of work.

Writing a Successful Scope of Work

The keys to successful writing that are also critical in developing useful scopes of work include:

To the top of the page

National Preservation Institute

A new course in developing scopes of work for cultural resource managers is being offered this year by the National Preservation Institute (NPI). Scope it Out: Developing a Scope of Work focuses on the importance of developing a useful scope to help ensure that the product is satisfactory for both the client and the archaeologist. The course is team-taught by an archaeologist and an architectural historian, both of whom have experience in the private sector and the federal government. Both bring to the course a variety of specializations, frustrations, anecdotes, and solutions. The students are professionals who come with their own stories and expertise to share with the group. As federal and state regulators and land managers who want to learn how to get the best work done and as consultants, academicians, and contractors who want to improve their products, the participants are an important component of what makes the course work.

NPI is a nonprofit organization established in 1980 by a group of seasoned archaeologists and architectural historians to provide training in essential job performance skills for professionals in historic preservation and cultural resource management. NPI's instructors are experts in various cultural resource management skills who teach one- or two-day seminars to people who need to know.

National Preservation Institute is eager to serve the historic preservation and archaeological communities. Check it out at or at their email address: You could even telephone: (202) 393-0038.

Janet L. Friedman is with Dames & Moore, Bethesda, Md.

To the top of the page

Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page