Friday, January 21, 2011

Discovering the World of Archaeology

This week’s blog was written by one of our new volunteers, Shelia Dunn, who started in our lab after spending this fall volunteering on the excavation at Fort Hunter.

Location, location, location are the first three words I remember hearing early on at the dig at Fort Hunter. Location is the most important aspect of a dig. Having observed several "digs” as shown on television programs you see people on hands and knees, with a trowel in hand very carefully scraping a sliver of material away from an object. Watching them using a brush to carefully expose a surface of a piece of bone, or glass, or pottery, or possibly an arrowhead that had laid in that spot for hundreds or thousands of years is exciting – a historic moment in time and space. But what does it mean? Two more words – Human activity.

Human activity is apparent if objects are found like the ones mentioned above, then the fun begins for the archaeologists. The value put on the objects found is something money cannotbuy – it is our very own history. It is not the monetary value of the objects that is important but the picture that begins to unfold -like detectives solving a case, these archaeologists go to work putting the pieces together. So what is the next step?

Establishing the datum point and setting the grid for excavation.

The excavation begins with the placement of a grid to map the horizontal location of artifacts and a datum is established to measure the vertical location of artifacts. As the dig progresses, the objects that are exposed are mapped on level sheets and elevations are taken on each object. Once every object has been documented they are collected in bags and each bag is marked with the site, grid coordinate, level, date, and initials. . Daily logs are also kept to document progress and other significant information. Photo documentation occurs in the field before the objects are removed showing the location, date, and site number, sometimes using a very tall ladder. The bags are moved to the lab, entered into a database, washed and cataloged. In the lab, each artifact is assigned a catalogue number which represents a “code” for its location or provenience.

Sheila washing artifacts in the archaeology lab.

So, with trowel in one hand and a kneeling pad, bucket with a tape measure, paint brush, dust pan and brush, spoon or other small tools to remove material, I descend down the ladder into the dig to very carefully remove material into the dust pan and then a bucket. Taking the bucket to the screens and putting any flakes, pieces of pottery or glass into a marked bag. Some objects are pedestaled until the 3” level is excavated. Every object is documented, photographed, and bagged before a new level is started. FCR, (fire- cracked- rock) is common on this site and for the novice (me) can be a challenge not to step on or worse.

Mapping and recording FCR prior to removal.

After a good night’s sleep everyone is back and eager to again descend onto the dig. With trowels in hand we carefully proceed, waiting to see how the next object will add to and enrich the untold story of Fort Hunter through the artifacts and evidence of human activity.

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

No comments:

Post a Comment