Archaeology 101: Excavation

There are many elements to excavating and recording a site such as Bamburgh Castle. Over the next few weeks I will blogging about all the different things we get up to in order to provide an insight into the archaeology and interpretative process.

The excavation of a site takes on many elements. The initial process begins by identifying contexts (where possible). A context is an area that defines a specific event such as the building of a wall, the dumping of rubbish or the digging of a pit. Contexts are usually divided between deposits, cuts and masonry features.

A cut for a post-hole sat within a mortar-silt deposit

Once these have been identified we generally try and excavate the archaeology in sequence but the nature of the contexts can sometimes require a more fluid approach.

Here at the castle we primarily use trowels and hand shovels to excavate. Occasionally the site requires a heavier type of excavation whereby we use mattocks, spades and shovels.

Jon and Ian excavating using trowels and hand-shovels

Assistant Supervisor, Dan, modelling the trowel and hand-shovel combo

Throughout the excavation of single contexts we also take samples of the soil which will be processed through the environmental float tank and sorted to look for small organic material, finds etc. (See the earlier blog post for a more lengthily discussion). Furthermore, we sort the material we uncover into bulk and small finds. The bulk finds such as bone, pottery and shell are saved for mass sorting and the small finds, such as metal objects, worked bone and stone etc. are recorded individually (A more comprehensive discussion about the finds process will follow soon).

Once a context begins to be excavated the recording process begins, which is the area we will cover in the next Archaeology 101.

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