Archaeology 101: The bulk finds process

Bulk finds are the most common things we find in the trenches, they are collected by context in the trenches then left in storage until they can begin to be processed in the following season. Bulk finds can include a number of different artefacts: including animal bone, shell, pottery, mortar, ceramic building material, stone building material and slag. Animal bone in particular comes out in abundance, and over the years we’ve recovered thousands and thousands of different animal bones, from dog skulls to cattle scapula to fish vertebra, many of which display butchering marks.

Just a tiny sample of the bulk finds from a season of excavation

Pottery at times can be a small find, for instance the aceramic nature of Trench 1 meant that all pottery became a small find, but when it is a bulk find it comes out in large quantities!

The first bulk finds post-excavation process is to clean the artefacts, whilst checking them over to be sure all small finds are recovered. The students painstakingly clean all the mud off of the finds with toothbrushes and dental tools, the joy of brushing teeth with a toothbrush never gets old! They then leave the finds to dry ready for the next step of processing.

Click here for a bit of footage.

Then the finds are brought up to the windmill to be sorted. The different type of bulk finds are separated before being weighed, tagged and bagged. All finds except for pottery are just weighed, but we count the number of sherds of pottery before it is moved on for further processing. However, all bulk finds once separated, weighed and bagged are recorded into a databased before being boxed and put into storage.

Again, follow the link follow the link to see Matius giving us a brief explanation of finds sorting.

Pottery then has some additional processes which it must go through: first each piece must be marked with india ink with the relevant site code and context numbers. This means that if the pottery is ever taken out of its bag for reconstruction the individual pieces provenance will always be recorded directly with the pottery. After being marked, the pottery is separated by context into diagnostic and non-diagnostic pottery: this means that sherds demonstrating features such as rim, base or handle and thus can be given an approximate location in the pot are separated from sherds with no characteristic features. The number of rim sherds, base sherds, handle sherds, decorated sherds etc. are then weighed and counted separately and recorded into a database, and the non-diagnostic sherds are similarly counted, weighed and databased before the entire context is boxed for storage with the rest of the bulk finds.

After storage some bulk finds can be sent to specialists for further analysis. For instance, some of our animal bone has been examined for the prevalence of fish bones within the assemblage and some of our pottery has had expert analysis, revealing the “Bamburgh Ware” and illuminating the chronology of our pottery. However, all the bulk finds whether researched or not will end up in storage here at the castle, as part of our ever increasing archaeological catalogue.

One thought on “Archaeology 101: The bulk finds process

  1. Pingback: Contagions Round-up 14: Medievals, Microbes and Methods « Contagions

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