Alabama Archaeology: Excavation Steps

Home | What is Archaeology | Archaeological Methods | Prehistoric Alabama
Historic Alabama | Glossary


Archaeological Excavation Steps: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Step 4.

Once the grid has been established, the archaeologists can begin excavating. The archaeologists will be careful to excavate only within the excavation unit and to excavate within levels in order to determine the stratigraphy of the site.


What tools do archaeologists use?

Archaeologists use many different types of tools.† Much of the digging is done with shovels and trowels.† Occasionally they may call in large earthmoving equipment, like a backhoe or a bulldozer, when a large amount of dirt has to be moved. But these large vehicles must be watched very carefully.†† Machinery like this is only used in places where sites have already been disturbed or where deep testing is needed.

When small, delicate things are found, archaeologists may use paint brushes and dental picks.† Other items found in an archaeologists tool kit include string, a measuring tape, a plumb bob, camera, recording forms, bags for storing artifacts, flagging tape, bug spray, and sunscreen.

The dirt that is removed from the ground is screened to make sure artifacts arenít missed.† Screens are usually shallow wood boxes with a wire mesh, like a window screen, on the bottom.† Sometimes water is used with the screening, and this is called water screening.† The dirt falls through the holes in the wire and the artifacts are left behind.† The artifacts are then picked out of the screen and bagged for analysis at the lab.

Photographs provided courtesy of the Office of Archaeological Research, University of Alabama Museums.

Step 5

Square excavation units ease excavating in systematic levels.
A backhoe can be used when a large amount of culturally sterile dirt must be moved.
Donald has been screening and is now waiting for more dirt to be thrown into his screen.