Methods of Excavation

   Let’s look today into the some methods of the Archaeological excavation of a site. Of course, before excavation can begin, you need to have an idea of the actual site. Just randomly picking an area and beginning to dig may produce disappointing results, not to mention wasting time and money. So a lot of research is first done on the site, both by visual observation and remote sensing. Remember learning about LiDAR? This is where it comes in handy – learning about the site!

   After the site has been thoroughly surveyed, and if it is found to be important somehow to excavate, then excavation will begin. One of the first things that will happen is a grid will be set over the site, which is then connected to a Datum. A datum is a fixed reference point, often set by the U.S.G.S. (United States Geological Survey) even in Britain. This is so that the site is fixed, and archaeologists working on the site can refer to different areas of the site without fear of getting different areas mixed up.

   The next step is to begin some test pits, to get a rough idea of the working conditions. This is all, of course, catalogued, and then the full-sized excavation can begin, which is much like a larger test pit. All finds are catalogued again, and because this is on a larger scale, more will (hopefully) be found. One important kind of finds are often ‘features’.

Sheffield Castle Excavations

   Features are evidence of human activity on a site, but evidence that is not moveable. These features often have a vertical component – such as the postholes mentioned in the dendrochronology post last week. One feature that is only horizontal is the remains of an ancient road – it is evidence of human activity, but it cannot be removed from the site. Another example is a frequently used fire place. When fires are used often, they alter the soil – but this evidence, of course, cannot be removed from the site.   

   Until next week,

Stay curious!