Alabama Archaeology: Excavation Steps

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Archaeological Excavation Steps: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

When archaeologists find features they excavate the features before excavating the rest of the unit. Archaeologists try to excavate the most recent soil first. According to the law of superposition, features are more recent intrusions into older soils. When archaeologists excavatre features first, they are insuring that not only are they collecting the more recent information first, they are also preventing the feature fill from contaminating the non-feature fill. The features below are postholes that have been excavated from Site 1Ma10 in Huntsville, Alabama.

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

Step 5.

Archaeologists working in the field are not only searching for artifacts. They are also looking for soil changes which are known as features. A feature is a disturbance in the ground. Features are often seen as dark stains that were created when the dirt there was previously dug or disturbed in any way. Prehistoric and historic sites often have a large number of features which could include postholes, storage pits, hearths, clay floors, etc. Features provide valuable clues as to how people lived at a site

One type of feature is a midden. A midden is an area that was used to dispose of trash and shows up in the stratigraphy as a dark layer of soil with a highly concentrated number of artifacts. Middens are actually exciting for archaeologists to excavate because they can provide much information. Archaeologists sift through other people's trash in order to understand what life was like for the culture they are studying.

Illustrations by Roy S. Dickens, Jr. Reproduced from Frontiers in the Soil: The Archaeology of Georgia.

In the above picture, the darker soil colors represent features. The small circles represent post holes. Notice their alignment. What do you think might have been here?

Roll the cursor over this picture to find out.

Step 6