As you know, our 2015 field school here at Strawbery Banke is right around the corner (about four days), where we will begin our excavations within the front and back of the Yeaton-Walsh home. Each year we get a surge of volunteers and students, many of whom are doing archaeology for the first time and aren’t familiar with the tools of the trade. With that being said, I thought now would be an excellent time to go over the universally agreed upon tools used to carry out an excavation. It’s important to note that not all sites are the same. Many differ in terms of location, size, and soil composition; because of this, tools can also vary between excavations, as well as between archaeologists.
In every archaeologist’s tool kit there will always be, guaranteed, a trowel. Out of much of the tools that comprise the tool kit, it is the trowel that is used the most. Trowels vary in size and shape, ranging from flat bladed trowels (which don’t come to a point) to your usual pointed trowel. Trowels are handy due to their compactness and their precision. They make cleaning up walls easier and allow for archaeologists to be precise when cleaning up floors or peeling back layers; This helps for when you’re digging cm by cm; yes, I do mean that literally.
To accompany the trowel, the dust pan makes collecting loose dirt within a unit quick, easy, and keeps the floor cleaner. Usually the excavator will sweep the loose dirt into the pan via a brush or a trowel, and then they will transport the soil into a bucket.
This brings me to an archaeologist’s need of buckets! Lots and lots of buckets, but be sure to make sure the buckets aren’t too big. Buckets filled to the brim prove to be hard to handle and sift through. Smaller buckets are much more accommodating.
When looking for artifacts, shakers are a must. These giant screened tables allow us to separate the soil from the artifacts. They can come with a combination of handles and legs (my personal favorite) or they can appear in the form of a tripod. When done digging, the archaeologist brings their bucket to the screens, dumps the soil, and then performs a back and forth motion – shaking off excess dirt.
Tape measures and rulers are also valuable instruments when it comes to the art of the dig. Archaeology is a science; A natural science, but still it remains a science, and as such, it is carried out in the most calculated of ways. It is important to make sure throughout the dig that you are constantly measuring the depth of your unit, as to record everything properly. They become handy when recording an artifact’s length, width, as well as distance in relation to another artifact. It is important for me to note that here at Strawbery Banke we use the metric system. Yay for centimeters and millimeters!
Next in our archaeologist’s toolbox would be the tiniest of tools: Line levels. Line levels allow for a more accurate depth measuring system. They, with conjunction of another tool called a plumb-bob, help to accurately map features, artifacts, and any other striking variance within the soil.
I hope that through the length of this post it has become ingrained that Archaeology isn’t random. Everything that occurs within it is highly scientific and calculated. Thanks to detailed notes and records, we can dig without destroying, which is so important. It is absolutely crucial to keep notes and to have objects such as notebooks, pens, pencils – basically any type of note taking device- in your kit. Any form of record helps. With the rise of social media and electronic recording, platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, etc. become great ways to record.
Last, but certainly not least, would be the shovel. This, alongside the trowel, is the most iconic tool. Shovels work magnificently with removing the top layer of soil and allow for smooth beginnings. They allow for the quick removal of soil, especially when soil starts to become sterile. Shovels come in all types of different shapes and lengths, the commonly used ones usually have a flat head.
See you all soon!