Archaeological - ISGAP

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ArchaeologicalRecording PracticesGuidelines for archaeological excavationand recording

ContentsThis field training pack aims to support you with archaeological recordingprocesses. These will include:2Excavating a Feature3Recording Introduction4Recording Using Photography6Drawing Conventions9Drawing Sections10Drawing Plans12Levelling and Coordinates14Recording Cuts16Recording Deposits17Recording Interpretation20General Discussion22The Harris Matrix23Finds26Environmental Samples27Human Remains29Health and Safety30Glossary of Terms31Gemma Stewart 2013

Excavating a FeatureArchaeological excavation is the primary means in which we gather information.It is critical that it is carried out carefully and in a logical manner. The flow chartbelow has been provided to show the steps required for fully excavating andrecording a feature.Identify featureClean area to find the extent of the featureConsider if pre-excavation photos and plan are requiredSelect appropriate equipmentUse nails and string to mark out section for excavationExcavate the feature/deposit carefully removing the latest context firstIf finds are present bag finds from each context separatelyTake environmental samples if necessaryRemove any loose spoil and tidy feature ready for recordingTake out numbers (context, section and plan)Photograph the feature/sectionDraw the sectionDraw the planMeasure levelsComplete context sheetsFile paperwork3

Recording IntroductionExcavation results in the destruction of contexts, therefore, a detailed and correctrecord of the archaeology discovered is required in order to produce and maintaina permanent archive. This written account is the only evidence of the archaeologypresent after excavation so unique context, section and plan numbers are essentialas well as photographic verification.Remember that both the cutting and filling of a feature are separate contexts. Eachof these separate events should have an individual context number and contextrecord completed. It is important to understand a contexts formation and for itto be considered within the wider landscape.EquipmentBlack biroRubberRuler4 – 6H pencilPencil sharpenerSpirit line levelStringNailsMinimum of 2 tapesHandy hintsWrite clearly on the context sheet in black ink – print or use block capitalsDecide description, interpretation and key points prior to commencementAlways use a sharp pencil whilst drawingUse a nail file to re sharpen the edgesWhen drawing to scale remember 1 cm equals the value of the scale ratioFor example at 1:20; 1 cm 20 cm of the subjectBe sure to leave section points in (normally marked with a nail) to aid in planningOn plans and sections all writing should be at least 3mm highCross reference all relevant informatione.g. section, plan, sample and photographic numbers4

General registersRegisters are an important sequential list of numbers that are used for the purposeof archiving the archaeological information from site. Each individual aspect ofrecording requires its own register with allocated numbers.You should be awarethat some sites may have separate zones where different numbers series areemployed. Or that each test trench may have its own associated numbers.To use a register you simply take out the following number(s) in the sequence.The main registers you are likely to use are:ContextSectionPlanPhotographicGeo-rectified photographSkeleton Rectified Photography SheetLevelSmall findEnvironmental5

Recording Using PhotographyPhotographs can illustrate complex visual information better than either drawingsor words. A photograph should not be used as a substitute for other records, butto supplement the archive. These images may also be used for publication. Therefore,any images should be of high quality and the best you can produce.Record shotA record shot should be taken of every section or feature. A minimum of one photowith the board and one without is required. An appropriate sized scale should alsobe used in every photo. For example if a post hole is only 20 cm in diameter do notuse a 2 m scale.A photo board should include:Site codeSection numberContext numberNorth arrowSite codeSection numberContext numberShot numberNorth arrowPhotograph with the record board6Photograph without the record board

Working shotsWorking shots should be taken on every archaeological site. The numbers should betaken from the main photographic register. These can display:People workingPublic visitsThe overall site conditions – is the site extremely dry? Waterlogged?An area of specific interestInformation that cannot easily be conveyed in other recordsCCA at Barrowburn 2011 working shotsGeo-rectified photographsFace the same direction for each photo and take a minimum of 2 photographsA square or a rectangle of at least 4 targets is required for each photograph.Except for human remains, which require a minimum of 6.If multiple photographs are used make sure they overlap and 2 targets from theprevious photo are visibleTargets must be on the same level as one another and what is to be rectified.Hold the camera lens vertical using spirit levels for guidanceComplete record sheets and cross reference. Ensure targets are surveyed onthe same day7

48Always44Think about the outcome that you want to achieve4Boards are useful for identifying different features. Write neatly and legibly.Always ensure the board is readable. Take a separate photo of the board ifnecessary4444Ensure uniform lighting conditions. Ask for assistance with shading if necessaryPlace a scale truly horizontally or vertically to the camera viewpoint.If it is at an angle then it is distorted and therefore cannot be used as a scaleA photo needs a unique number. Fill in the register for every photo takenCheck the quality of your photographs and retake if necessaryConsider photographing the feature in its wider contextNever8Delete a digital photograph. This can un-synchronise the way the shot registerand photographic number from the camera correspond. If it is not to a highstandard just retake88Leave objects in view. Always clear area of tools/fence/buckets/clothing/spoil etcLeave the board in for all of your photo shotsCHECKLISTClean and clear areaScale(s)Check lighting conditionsShot with the boardShot without the boardCross-reference photo numbers onto record sheets8

Drawing ConventionsArchaeologists use standard drawing conventions when recording. This is to ensureuniformity in the written archaeological record so it can be understood by all.Cut NumberDeposit NumberStructure NumberSmall FindSoil SampleSeries/Monolith SampleDrawing PointDrawing Point with Orientation(minimum of 2 per plan)Grid Point(minimum of 4 per plan)Certain Extent of ContextExtrapolated Extent of ContextTruncation Affecting ContextLimit of ExcavationContinuationSection Line on Plans(Direction of arrows showing orientation of section)HACHURESShallow SlopeModerate SlopeNear Vertical EdgeHACHURES - Break of slope is indicated bythe Hachure tail ends and their proximity toeach other (like contours on an OS map)Vertical EdgeUnder Cutting9

Drawing SectionsSection drawings are done to scale. They record the vertical cross section througharchaeological features/deposits. Presenting, an accurate profile of a cut feature orelevation and the relative depth.In order to draw a section1 Clean up the area you wish to draw2 Set up a base line using a tape measure, with a minimum of 2 points3 Set up a string line using a spirit line level4 Measure along the base line - the horizontal measurement (“across the corridor”)and using a second tape measure the vertical measurement (“up or down the stairs”).This should be from your sting line not ground level5 Mark each recorded measurement with a point6 Repeat this process at regular intervals7 With fluid lines connect the recorded measurements8 Draw any inclusions present and label in the keySection CHECKLIST10Site codeOrientationSection numberScale barDrawn by (name)LevelsDateKeyTitle (e.g. Ditch [100])Context numbers clearly labelledScale (e.g. 1:20)Context matrix


Drawing PlansPlan drawings are done to scale. They create a bird’s eye map of the feature(s)excavated or present in the area of investigation. Plans show both relationshipswith other features (where present) and help locate the excavated area geographically.In order to draw a plan.1 Clean up the area you wish to draw.2 Set up a base line using a tape measure, with a minimum of 2 points. If a site gridis in place, use those reference points. If not, use the plan number for the drawingpoints (DPs), for example if the plan number is 102 use DP 102.1 and DP 102.2.If arbitrary drawing points are used these need to be logged geographically.Either by a surveyor (here you would leave tags marked in the ground with theDP and cut number clearly labelled) or by plotting the DPs with reference tolocal landmarks3 Measure along the base line - the horizontal measurement (“across the corridor”)and using a second tape measure the vertical measurement (“up or down the stairs”)4 Mark each recorded measurement with a point5 Repeat this process at regular intervals6 With fluid lines connect the recorded measurements7 Always plan the unexcavated half of features8 When drawing ditches plan at least 1m beyond the excavated slot9 If present ensure truncation, relationships, limit of excavation and feature shapeare accurate10 Display break of slope (using hachure’s)11 Section lines should be marked correctly with the section number and correctconvention12

Plan CHECKLISTSite codeScale barPlan numberLevelsDrawn by (name)Grid points/drawing pointsDateSection line and numberTitle (e.g. Ditch [100])Cut matrixScale (e.g. 1:20)Key (if required)North arrow13

Levelling and CoordinatesLevelling is required on archaeological excavations to find out the relative levelof deposits and features in comparison to others.Levelling TermsTBM Temporary Bench MarkBS BacksightIH Instrument HeightFS ForesightRL Reduced LevelLevellingSet up the dumpy level ensuring that the feet are pushed firmly into the ground,the level head is secured to the tripod and is level with the bubble in the centreof the spirit levelPut the TBM number and value on the Level RegisterTake a backsight reading on the TBMTake levels on your section line and a minimum of the top and bottom of yourfeature/deposit (which is the foresight)Show the location of each level with this symbolWrite the reduced levels on all drawingsCheck your results – this is done by comparing them with previousmeasurements and the TBM – are your calculations correct?14

How to reduce levelsThe formula is TBM BS IH – FS RL. Which looks scary but if you stick by theformula you will be fine.An example of the formula in practice is if the TBM height is 7.41 and the BS is 2.56the IH will be 9.97 (the values of the TBM and BS added together and gives you theheight of the instrument head). If the FS is 3.76 then the RL will be 6.21 (the FSbeing subtracted from the IH to produce the RL).TBM BS IH -FS RL7.412.569.973.766.21Please note that all reduced levels are in metres above Ordnance Datum (mOD)CoordinatesWhen using coordinates the Eastern coordinate is written first, followed bythe Northing. For example, 4000E/5000N (remember “across the corridor andup the stairs”).If you are using a site grid ensure that every grid peg and drawing point onevery plan and section is clearly labelled with the correct coordinates.15

Recording CutsThe purpose of recording your cut is to discuss what the feature might be andto verify your evidence for this interpretation.CHECKLIST16KEYWORDSShape in rvilinearAdd ‘sub’ if the shape is not completely regularOtherDimensionsLength (L)Width (W)Depth (D)Diameter (DIAM)In metres vexStraight / nAlignment of the feature e.g. north to southTruncationIs it truncated? If so, by what?Other commentsAny relevant information to assist descriptionor justify interpretationSketchShow contexts, dimensions, truncation andannotate with useful information. Include anorth arrow

Recording DepositsThe purpose of recording a deposit is to create a permanent record of the nature ofthe deposit and to help determine whether the formation process was anthropogenicor natural. It should be done in enough detail that comparisons can be made betweenone deposit and another.CompactionRefers to the amount of force needed to excavate the layerSediment typeTermCoarse grainedCompactRequires mattock for excavationLooseCan be excavated with hoe or trowelFirmMoulded only by strong pressureSoftEasily moulded and spreads between fingersFriableCrumbles, will not hold togetherFine grained sediment(including peat)DefinitionColourWhen describing the colour of a deposit use one word from each of the columns ishBlueGreyishGreyWhiteBlack17

CompositionComposition is a description of the type of sediment which forms the deposit, witheach component accumulating to more than 10% of the total deposit. Consider thesize of the different grains present. Generally it will be a mixture of one from thefirst column and one from the second.ClayeyClaySandySandSiltySiltPeatyPeatFor example if there is more clay than sand it would be ‘sandy clay’ meaning that thedeposit is not pure clay but has some sand in it.Grain sizesType of GrainGrain SizeClaySilt18Fine Sand0.02 mm – 0.06 mmMedium Sand0.06 mm – 0.20 mmCourse Sand0.20 mm – 2 mmFine Pebbles2 mm – 6 mmMedium Pebbles6 mm – 20 mmCourse Pebbles20 mm – 60 mmCobbles60 mm – 200 mm

InclusionsComponents that are less than 10% of the total deposit.QuestionsPossible answersWhat type of inclusions are they?Chalk / flint / stone / charcoalHow frequent are they?Frequen

Archaeological excavation is the primary means in which we gather information. It is critical that it is carried out carefully and in a logical manner. The flow chart below has been provided to show the steps required for fully excavating and recording a feature. 3 Identify feature Clean area to find the extent of the feature Consider if pre-excavation photos and plan are required Select .

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