Great Bowden Heritage and Archaeology

Excavation Notes     EN/01/17

We follow the same procedures on every dig.  This is a simplified version of methods carried out by
professional archaeologists, but limited by our lack of experience and equipment. 

Marking out.   The test pit or small trench is marked out using tape or string (a metre square has a diagonal of 1.41metres).  In gardens we restrict ourselves to a metre square pit but on field digs we may extend that to a small trench. A simple site plan is also needed, showing the location of pits, measured from fixed points. If possible the pit should be aligned north/south, making photos and drawings much easier. This should be drawn in the record book on the Test Pit Location Map page

Pit Excavation Record Book.  This is very important and records the progress of the excavation in detail.  It is an essential tool for the person who is writing the report of the dig, ensuring accuracy. The person who is ‘recording’ is in charge of that pit at that time and can halt the digging team when necessary to record changes which can be in soil colour, texture and the uncovering of features and finds.  

We have a booklet with a series of boxes that need to be completed for each context. This is the Context Record Sheet  Drawings for a large area will need to be made on a separate sheet or on the back of the Context Record Sheet.. There will be a large scale site plan for accurate recording of the pit site. Please make sure that all the boxes are completed and the sheet is signed by the person who has completed it, and that photographs have been taken. 
A new context (or spit) occurs when there is a change.  This may be a change in soil colour or texture or 
may be at the discovery of a feature such as a ditch cut, wall or perhaps a post hole where the original 
wood has decayed and a different colour soil is visible.  All will require a new context record sheet and a 
new context number. Inclusions are anything other than soil e.g. charcoal, stones, pot, etc. 

 Site Codes/Test pit number/context number - There is a space for this at the top of each context sheet. This code will eventually be written on each find to establish its position in the excavation.  
Each pit or trench will then have a number 1, 2 etc.  Each context within that pit or trench will then have a further number with the pit number written first e.g. 1.1, 2.3, 4.1 etc.  This code needs to be attached to the tray which is collecting finds from that particular context. 

Finds.  Finds are first cleaned with a toothbrush and then bagged. Later these will be processed by the Archive
Group, and identified.  Take care removing fragile finds from the soil.  It may be 
better to remove them
complete with a clod of earth and wrapped in a plastic bag, cling film or bubble
wrap which can be removed
carefully later. Plastic bags containing finds need a label with the site code 
and context number.
Finds that are too large for bags should be boxed if possible or left on a  labelled

Digging.  Turf is removed and stacked to keep it moist. It may need to be watered in hot dry weather. Don’t place the turf on the plastic sheet with the soil. It will save more space for the soil and it also makes it easier to lift and tip the plastic sheet for the final backfill. 
A spade may be used to loosen the soil but most should be removed by mattock and trowel.  Use the mattock and pointing trowel to scrape the surface if a change is noted. Heavy handed digging could destroy the evidence we are looking for.  Use shovels and buckets to remove the soil and tip it onto the plastic sheets in small piles in the order it was excavated.  We backfill in reverse order to ensure we leave the site as we found it.  Soil will need to be stamped and tamped down heavily as it is backfilled. Turf may 

need watering. The natural clay is usually at about a metre depth in this area.

NB Bones should not be removed from the pit until it is established that there are no further articulated bones associated with the find.

Trowelling method.  Use the flat edge of the trowel and draw it towards you.  The spoil tips can also be searched for finds by metal detectors.  Do not remove large stones or rocks.  They may be part of a structure and should not be removed until recorded and photographed.  If they are part of a structure they should be left in place until the whole feature is uncovered and recorded. Keep pit sides neat and straight.

Safety.  Follow the safety guidelines on the agreement you will need to sign. Be aware of others when using tools and take care on slopes. Report any injuries to the First Aider.  Be aware of your own limitations.