Alabama Archaeology: Excavation Steps

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Archaeological Excavation Steps: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Step 1.

The first step is to perform an initial survey in which the goal is to identify if any archaeological sites are in the area. This can be accomplished in several ways.

One way is to scan the ground for artifacts, or perform a surface inspection. Plowed fields are often the easiest places to spot artifacts. If a cluster of artifacts are found near one another, this could be identified as a site.

Another method to search for sites is to dig holes about 30 centimeters in diameter (the width of a shovel, or about 1 foot) in order to spot artifacts buried in the ground. In Alabama the Alabama Historical Commission recommends that shovel tests must be spaced 30 meters apart in areas with a high potential for uncovering artifacts and 60 meters in areas with a low potential for recovering artifacts.

When artifacts are found, they are counted and their location is marked on a map. Areas where lots of artifacts are found may be considered an archaeological site.

Finding an artifact on the surface
Close-up of a projectile point found while surface collecting
During a surface collection, John has found a projectile point. Photograph courtesy of the Office of Archaeological Research, University of Alabama Museums.
Myron digs a shovel test while Ellen screens the soil
Myron is digging a shovel test while Ellen is screening the dirt. Photograph courtesy of the Office of Archaeological Research, University of Alabama Museums.
Illustrations by Roy S. Dickens, Jr. Reproduced from Frontiers in the Soil: The Archaeology of Georgia.

Roll your cursor over the above picture to see a difference in how the area surrounding a site might look today versus how it may have looked in the past.

The dark soil area near the center of the picture is a clue to archaeologists of where the village was located. Also, notice the fish dam, or fish wier. This was used by Native Americans to enable them to catch fish.

Next step, Step 2