Archaeological Record Archaeology Context Excavation Museum of London Archaeology Service Ordnance Datum Project planning Recording Routine Science Surveying Time Team Timescale Trench

Excavation Routine

Time Team get a lot done in just 3 days – but they are professionals, and they know what they are doing. Their routines are just that – routine. What we see is really just the tip of a very efficient iceberg.

I found a guide to this archaeological routine in a publication by the Museum of London Archaeology, which they summarised (with a little simplification from myself):

  1. Clean Area
  2. Identify limits of trench [context] on the ground
  3. Photograph if required
  4. Identify location of trench on site grid
  5. Draw plan of feature (at 1:20)
  6. Use relevant type of ‘context sheet’ to record archaeology (depends on what is being excavated)
  7. Give the trench [context] a unique number (from site context register)
  8. Record this number on the plan(s)
  9. Take relative levels; mark spot heights on plan (record technical surveying details on reverse of context sheet)
  10. Convert relative levels to absolute [Ordnance Datum] levels
  11. Describe context
  12. Prepare ‘finds bag’ and enter site code and context number on label(s?)
  13. Determine suitable method of excavation, need for sampling and method of finds collection
  14. Excavate context, amending and adjusting description as necessary
  15. Take finds to an appropriate place
  16. Determine relationships of newly-recorded context to previously excavated [by overlaying plans]
  17. Cross-reference relationships on context sheet and fill in matrix
  18. Enter date and initials on context sheet
  19. Place plan and context sheet in with relevant ‘to be checked’ files
  20. All plans, context sheets and relationships should be checked before leaving site

Once the context (trench) has been recorded, and the finds have all been fully described and recorded, the trench needs to be put to bed, and then it must *all* be written up, including their interpretation. Only then is it advisable to open the next trench, based on what has been learnt from the previous trenches.

This is all new to me, so it may take days, or even weeks to complete all the paperwork. This is not a full time project. So I am proposing that volunteer days should be planned for one day per month, at least to begin with.

One reply on “Excavation Routine”

Revisiting this post I realise I still have some more studying to do to fully get my head around what is known as ‘single context recording’. A context is a single unit of archaeology – unified in space and time. It would represent a single layer of soil in a trench. Therefore each layer of soil (or stone in the case of a wall, etc) is a separate context and therefore requires a separate context recording sheet. The same context found in a different trench also requires a separate context recording sheet – I think! So my using the word trench as a synonym for context was too much of a simplification.

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