Archaeological Excavation for Beginners

With the 2014 field season at Tell Timai fast approaching, and with me being somewhat responsible for my friend Nurul who is going on a dig for the very first time, we spent a day digging around on my parents’ farm, looking for sheep skeletons. We didn’t find any sheep, because I don’t think we dug deep enough, but we did find some real artefacts, broken brick and glass, which we meticulously recorded and conserved, very exciting.
To help with me very crash course on excavation, I used The Archaeologist’s Field Handbook (Australian version) by Burke and Smith (coincidentally, I met Claire Smith at NASC14, but didn’t connect who she was until it was over). I can’t stress enough how much everyone who has even a fleeting interest in archaeology needs this book. It has everything you could possibly need to know to conduct a successful excavation. Buy it right now.
For a basic overview, and useful checklist, of the excavation of each stratigraphic feature, we used the following flowchart. I have photocopied it and will be sticking it on the cover of my field notebook. I did have to add a step, “record elevations” because it’s something I often forget to do before digging up the next thing.

excavation flowchart



Here we are…






Recording and mapping


Using a Munsell chart

We then made the executive decision to cease excavation (because it was raining and my mum had made pumpkin soup). We moved on to the lab (the dining table) to process our artefacts after lunch.


Cleaning artefacts (always dry brush first)


Recording (length, width, thickness and weight)



We’ll see how Nurul copes on field school, but I’m confident that she will do great and have a blast!





4 thoughts on “Archaeological Excavation for Beginners

  1. Pingback: Your REAL Dig Equiment List for Field School | Archaeology and Science

  2. Pingback: Archaeology Field School | Nurul Gets Lost

  3. Pingback: Young Archaeologist Kit | Archaeology and Science

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