Drawing a straight line between given dots on a plane is considered to be an easy task, but it is the importance of every line you draw and the dots you connect that really matter in the world of archaeology. As you may or may not know, archaeology is a destructive science. As an archaeologist excavates to deeper depths in their unit, they are destroying each level of soil they remove. Any evidence located in the layer being excavated is only known and understood by the archaeologist that is excavating it. Once removed from the context of both the soil layer and the unit, the information is then lost forever. In order to prevent loss of information, archaeologists take precise, detailed notes of their excavations. These precise notes consist of pictures, forms and reports, profile drawings, and detailed field notes.
For a greater understanding of the different methods of archaeological note taking, one must first understand a few terms. The first, most used, piece of information is the provenience data. This data is repeated and copied on every piece of note-taking material. The provenience information consists of: the site number, unit number, level, date, initial of excavators, and bag number (if it’s a bag consisting of artifacts). A unit is the precisely measured off area where one will dig. In Annapolis, we have four units, each being a 5-foot by 5-foot square. The idea is to dig as wide as you would dig deep. It is known that we will not go deeper then 5-foot in Annapolis, therefore we dig 5-foot units. When digging down the unit, an archaeologist must have the keen eye for spotting changes in soil layers. These differences can be characterized by changes in soil color, soil texture, and presence or changes in amount of inclusions. These are then “translated” into a standardized description called a Munsell. Inclusions are any piece of material (gravel, brick, coal, oyster shell) that may appear in the soil. Once the archaeologist reaches a depth in their unit where no more artifacts or changes appear, they begin the units closing procedures. This area, with no more artifacts or changes in soil, is referred to as sterile. To ensure that they have reached sterile, the archaeologist will dig slightly deeper down.
Continue Reading »