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MZS Excavations / Introduction

Identification of errors and accidents

Giorgio Buccellati – August 2010

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The goal of total transparency that I have set for the UGR system entails the recognition, and in fact the highlighting, of substantive errors and accidents that have occurred in the process of excavation and of the subsequent record. This follows naturally from a basic premise, about the centrality of the primary input. I see the retention of all primary observations as the key element in assuring a minimum degree of objectivity.

Identification and correction are the two mechanisms with which the problem is met.< We use this with a healthy respect for common sense, meaning that the corrective mechanisms are used only when the substance of the communication is at stake. The goal, in fact, is not to provide a philologically accurate edition of the original written record as such, but to protect the fundamental substance of the original observation.

Three main types of errors and accidents may be distinguished, as follows.

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These are primarily errors that pertain to language. Those at the lowest level of substantive import (spelling, grammar, lexicon) are simply corrected without any identification or retention of the original. Those that can more easily affect the substance of thought but do not obscure the original meaning are simply retained, without any explicit identification. This pertains in particular to matters of style, which emerge often as the authors are so many, most often not using English as their native language.

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Errors in the record pertain generally to the way in which the observation has been recorded, and to its notation. Where this does not affect the substance the correction is made without identification – e.g., when a switch in roster labels seems advisable, or when an entry is moved from incidentals to topics.

On the other hand, when a number originally written on a sherd is washed out and lost, its replacement is explicitly identified.

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Error of judgment are obviously the most serious ones, and thus the ones that must most scrupulously be retained, even when they cast a negative light on the record. Observations may have been done hastily or under adverse circumstances or by inexperienced individuals. Interpretive conclusions may be drawn prematurely. Strategy decisions that affect the course of the excavation may not have been made sufficiently explicit, a fact which would obscure the course of the excavation itself. Omissions of significant factors may hamper the understanding of subsequent results (e.g., the use of a large pick where more caution ought to have been exercised). These errors are retained, but corrected in additional entries.

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Field description of objects

A special case s the systematic treatment of descriptive notations given in the field to objects. The definition and the measurements may be inaccurate because of the particular circumstances that realistically affect all such operations (rush, fatigue, weather, interferences, etc.). Even more routinely, measurements are wrong because they are taken when the object is dirty – as it well should remain until proper conditions obtain in the Expedition house that will allow careful cleaning. They are essential as a means of identification in such cases as when an object is placed in the wrong bag, or tags are switched among objects. But they are automatically placed in a separate and secondary category, to be replaced by the accurate observations that are possible in the laboratory.

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